With more tossing and rolling and tumbling than a storm at sea, last night’s Council meeting at the Lismore Chambers was so confusing that even some Councillors were having trouble keeping up.
One of the big issues of the meeting was a motion to revisit the last Council’s resolution to allow the owners of the land called the Sleeping Lizard to ‘own’ it on white fella’s terms.
Always was, always will be…
Hundreds gathered outside the offices of Council to remind those debating the topic that Banyam Baigham always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
Public access was bookended by two strong and passionate Widjabul Wia-bal women, Aunty Thelma James and Aunty Marie Delbridge.
Aunty Thelma thanked Council for letting her speak on behalf of her ancestors. Ms James recounted a story told by her grandmother who had a house on the hill facing the showground. One day she and her children went to town. When they came back, they were locked out. ‘They were met by Council, Sheriff and the police and were told: “You don’t belong here, this is not your home”. And she found herself walking away with her three babies.’
Ms James said her grandmother never left the area of her Country and most of Lismore North people continued to be on this land up until around 60 years ago.
‘Fences were put up and we were denied access to go up the hill to play our games, to do the things that we had done, to go down to Sandy Point at the river because the Italian Club had moved in and they put fences up – we were denied the access to all our cultural areas.
‘With that, we were alright. We managed to stay together and we’d come back into town in North Lismore and there were five extended families.’
Ms James says Lismore would have had at least 50,000 to 60,000 (Aboriginal) people in the area because it was abundant with food and fresh water. ‘Through our cultural practices, we managed to maintain that, we managed to keep the water clean, we managed to take care of the animals.
‘We were always taught our culture. We couldn’t speak it because to do so would have meant that we would have been punished and children would have been taken away from their mothers and fathers. In our little society we maintained and looked after each other.
’People say to me, “we need housing”. There’s housing everywhere. We’re only asking for this very tiny, minute bit of land, which is worthless to anybody else.’
Many others spoke against the motion including Uncle Mickey Ryan who proudly lifted several reams of paper containing 20,000 signatures on a change.org petition started by ex-councillor Eddie Lloyd, against the takeback.
‘I want to introduce myself to the new councillors that don’t know me. My name is Mickey Ryan. I’m an elder of the Bundjalung Nation in Lismore., we are the Wia-bal people.
‘I am fighting to stand up like my old people taught me to do – and that’s not back down. We own that land. I don’t know how you acquired it, but that’s our land up there, and it’s very significant to us.’
Mr Ryan read out a statement on behalf of his mob.
‘The North Lismore Plateau is of immense cultural significance for Widjabul Wia-bal people. Sleeping Lizard Hill is part of our Dreaming and our ancestors lived there, hunted there and some are buried there. It’s part of our home. It’s part of a broader cultural landscape that unites Widjabul Wia-bal people.
‘We are responsible for looking after that area and there are spiritual consequences for us if it isn’t managed it properly. I don’t know if you know about spirituality, but it’s so important to us.
‘In July last year Council made a bold decision to return the Plateau to the traditional owners of the Widjabul Wia-bal people – thank you Vanessa [Ekins] for leading the charge. We were overjoyed by the respectful and progressive decision that council made. It was a big step forward for Council’s Reconciliation Action Plan.
‘To renege on that decision now will be devastating for us and overturn the healing that it promoted.’
Neil Marks returns
Neil Marks was one of the councillors who voted to hand back the land last July. He also spoke during public access.
‘I didn’t think I’d be back in this chamber, so soon, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was the Chair for many years of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee so I thought this would be an opportunity – to not speak on behalf of the Aboriginal community because I would not be that stupid – but to maybe give you an opportunity to hear the processes that were followed.
‘First of all, when the Notice of Motion came through in July last year, the outcry from those I know within the Aboriginal community via that committee was, “My God, they didn’t talk to us”. There was a lack of respect shown – a trust was broken in doing that.
‘The process that we went through once the Notice of Motion was through, and ultimately was unanimous, bar one, the councillors at that particular time said, “This is about doing the right thing. It’s about making some positive change within our community,’ said Mr Marks.
‘Those of us who had been on Council for quite some time, understood what the asset was. As far as an “asset” is concerned, it’s not a great deal.
‘When this particular motion came forward again, my phone rang and I started talking to people and again, people within the Aboriginal community hadn’t been consulted. The trust and the respect was not shown, again.
‘And I guess the frustration is after thirteen and a bit years – and it started at the beginning of my term on Council that people paid their respects to the Elders past and present and emerging for our local Aboriginal community – that respect shouldn’t be just words.’
Aunty Marie Delbridge closed the public access with a very simple ask: ‘Please give the land back. I think we deserve something. It’s a very significant place to us. Please hand it back to us.’
Cr Big Rob moved a motion that:
Council take no further action in relation to its decision of 13 July 2021 (Item BP21/567) to hand back all Council-owned land at the North Lismore Plateau to the traditional owners; staff prepare suitable information and budget estimates for consideration in the upcoming Operational Plan and budget process to investigate options for Council to realise a financial return on its R1 zoned land at the North Lismore Plateau; the information above include an analysis of Council’s obligations and associated costs to rehabilitate the quarry having regard to the North Lismore Quarry End Use Plan 2012, the North Lismore Quarry Rehabilitation Plan 2012, with a particular focus on the E2 and E3 zoned land; and, 4. Council provide in principle support to transfer ownership of the E2 and E3 zoned land owned by Council at the North Lismore Plateau to the traditional owners and prepare budget estimates and supporting information to allow further consideration of this matter in the upcoming Operational Plan and budget process.
Cr Rob’s supporting comments were that considering Council’s current financial position, together with various complicated compliance concerns, the outcome sought will ensure Council does not try to prematurely dispose of land prior to exploring various options and issues, including examining any risks, benefits, costs and potential for profit associated with each option and issue. This will allow Council to make an informed decision about how it should or should not proceed.
He said a rigorous analysis process, followed by the preparation of a business case, should always be undertaken prior to Council making decisions to develop, sell or otherwise dispose of any Council owned land. Moving forward slowly should also considerably reduce the risk of a substantial financial burden being imposed on ratepayers.
Most people seeing that would agree that it read like a proposal to reverse the hardback decision.
We shouldn’t be here, but we are
Cr Adam Guise said this whole issue shouldn’t be on the table. ‘Here we are. We shouldn’t be here, but we are.
‘I really want to acknowledge the Elders and the Aboriginal people here and all the wonderful colours of our community who are here standing united on this issue, to honour the decision that Council already made, and a decision in my view, that Council has already begun actioning.
‘This is simply an example of us doing revenge politics, by trying to turn back decisions that have already been made by this Council, it shouldn’t even be considered tonight,’ he said.
‘We’ve already actioned it in the 13th of July 2021 resolution we’ve engaged with NTS Corp to work with and identify the Traditional Owners, the Widjabul Wia-bal people of the Bundjalung nation. We’ve had a briefing where we’ve learned about the complexities of the processes involved, and we’ve ensured that there’ll be an inclusive and consultative process that works with the Indigenous peoples to take them on the journey.
‘What this motion does is in fact attract more uncertainty and expense on the Council. This is from a councillor that purports to be saving Council money. It will require further expensive consultants and reports, and still be left hanging in the air with reliance on the future of Winton’s housing development, which could be decades away. We’ve heard tonight, it could well be thirty years away from ever realising access to that land.’
Cr Guise went on to say that to support this motion would be a betrayal of our original peoples. ’It’s also turning our back on our established policies and promises of reconciliation, the true acknowledgement of what we’ve done, which is the dispossession of the original peoples from their land from their Country.
‘For those of us in this chamber, who are connected to Country, who are connected to our homes, to our special places in the world, think about that for a moment. Because we get up and we give empty platitudes about acknowledgement for Country and say how important it is for us, but we haven’t had our homes, our culture, our children, our livelihoods, or our health stolen from us.’
No one likes a thief
Cr Guise went on to say, ‘I can tell you now, no one likes a thief. No one likes being ripped off. I can tell you you’ll remember if you’ve been ripped off in life, and you won’t forget. And so keep that in your hearts when you vote tonight. We owe something to our original peoples. We owe true reconciliation. We owe true actions of actually handing back Country that we acknowledge deep in our hearts.’
Walk with us, work with us
Cr Vanessa Ekins was clearly distressed by the notion of reversing last July’s decision. ‘I spoke to four Elders last week about this matter. They said, “walk with us, work with us”.
‘There’s a real opportunity there to share education and cultural exchange. It’s a real opportunity for a whole community and what we did when we handed that land back is we gave agency to the Widjabul Wia-bal people.
‘I’m just really upset that we’re stopping this – stopping all the good work that’s happened from July and I just urge you all to consider deferring this matter to a workshop so that you can become fully informed about all the work that’s been done, and meet with the traditional custodians as Uncle Mickey offered. That’s a really important thing for you to do.
‘But don’t stop the process now and then go and have a consultation because it’s, it’s going bring really, really bad blood.
‘One of the Elders said to me, “you can’t show leadership if you break promises”. And that’s what this motion does. So don’t break the promise. Stick with the decision that was made in July and defer this matter for a workshop.’
A foreshadowed motion, an amendment and so many ‘point of order’ were issued during this part of the meeting that many viewers lost count.
An amendment was proposed to workshop the handback.
Cr Elly Bird says she understood the intent of the motion to go to a workshop. ‘But honestly, I don’t actually believe that we need to move a motion that this matter go to a workshop because the original motion as it stands, clearly says that Council will embark on a process to discover the pathway forward to undertake this work and that we would engage in a consultative and properly consultative process with our traditional custodians.
‘In my opinion, this is going to happen anyway,’ she said.
After much circling and confusion, it turns out Cr Rob didn’t actually want to take back the land.
Cr Big Rob said the motion was to remove uncertainty. ‘That’s what it’s (the motion) there for. It’s not to take the land back. It’s to remove the uncertainty of an uncertain resolution last year.
‘There is no condition to rehabilitate this land. There’s no requirement to do it. I think it’s something that Council should do – not to give back land is dangerous. We should rehabilitate it. We should rejuvenate it we shouldn’t make it better.’
Cr Rob said we need to identify who the actual owners are going to be. ‘We can’t just put any name on it. We have to put the correct names on it.
‘One hundred per cent of ratepayers are adversely affected by land giveaway that’s done badly. This tries to address that and makes this so it’s affordable.
‘Council has no money to fix anything. If we can find the money somehow doing this, to progress this a lot quicker and give back much better land, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.’
The vote that took almost an hour to arrive at an amendment then became a motion to workshop the handback – and the motion was moved unanimously. What was proposed as a vehicle to tidy up the issue ended messier than the issue itself, but the Lizard can sleep easy – for the moment.
Fixing something that wasn’t broken
It appears that Council thoroughly fixed something that was absolutely not broken.
Recent Councillor Eddie Lloyd summed up the issue by saying the community was outraged by this attempt to steal back the land. ‘I felt it was a national issue and so that’s why I started the petition and it went viral across Australia and the world.
‘This gathering brought our entire community together and it was incredibly positive,’ she said.
‘We are all so worried about the direction this council will take under a new regime at Lismore. Our community will be watching this council very closely and calling them to account.’
“Always Was & Always Will Be.” Many thanks Thelma
& Aunty Marie.
The land was almost stolen twice!
There was absolutely no sound argument raised that would support the motion by Cnr Big Rob. Council staff are already doing what he said was the purpose of his motion.
So you have to ask why? Who amongst the councillors or their associates stood to gain?
Wonderful article BTW.
Lismore City Council Meetings on-line will get top ratings in the next couple of years. Packed with intrigue, mesmerising motions , points of order that puzzled the Mayor, emotion laden apologies for not understanding meeting procedure, and a constantly changing CEO. When the Ghost Who Walks takes over the whole cast, especially council workers, who might find themselves without a script unless they learn the right lines.
Can’t wait until the next one!
Well you vote for an [(^^)&)&)] like big rob, ( really in his own mind), just councillor rob from now on, and this is what you get. He talks about financial problems and yet supports the payout of the now replaced ceo with 2 years salary at least to be paid. Now that’s financial planning with more to come with the likelihood of another one with the new ceo already having left Richmond valley and Kalgoorlie council under a cloud.
It seems no one took notice what Big Rob said.
Ths is issue is off the rails as it is not an Aboriginal issue.
Here is what Big Rob said:
‘Council has no money to fix anything. If we can find the money somehow doing this, to progress this a lot quicker and give back much better land, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.’
Lismore Council has an economic issue.
Council has no money, seems to be the issue. There needs to be a workshop for Council to discuss the finances of Council. A brand-new General Manager is not in the position to do that. It has to be done in conjunction with the General Manger to bring him up to speed that Council has not money.
If council has no money why are they spending it like drunken sailors?, the roads are going down hill fast, a lot of them are death traps, try a drive to Cawongla.
Why are the first motions from Big Rob about red tape for various organizations he has a personal vendetta against and a scungy old pool out near the lake?, all the while giving the outward appearance of being a petulant child, I watched the council meeting online, I had pangs of pity for everyone in the room every time cr rob opened his mouth, it was painful to watch yet intriguing, like a train wreak .
Cr rob also said it was crap land, he’s now part of council’s Aboriginal Advisory Group.
Emily, ignore Cr Robs attempted backtracking in the media, his Motion was to stop the handback, to sell part of the land, and to consider giving some part of the land back but even that was to be subject to further consideration of this matter in the upcoming Operational
Plan and budget process (ie him and his fellow cronies would further consider whether the Council would give anything back – which, in my opinion, would likely mean that they gave back nothing, because there would be even further money to be made from this portion of land)
The Motion was:
1. Council take no further action in relation to its decision of 13 July 2021 (Item BP21/567) to hand
back all Council owned land at the North Lismore Plateau to the traditional owners;
2. staff prepare suitable information and budget estimates for consideration in the upcoming
Operational Plan and budget process to investigate options for Council to realise a financial
return on its R1 zoned land at the North Lismore Plateau;
3. the information above include an analysis of Council’s obligations and associated costs to
rehabilitate the quarry having regard to the North Lismore Quarry End Use Plan 2012, the North
Lismore Quarry Rehabilitation Plan 2012, with a particular focus on the E2 and E3 zoned land;
4. Council provide in principle support to transfer ownership of the E2 and E3 zoned land owned by
Council at the North Lismore Plateau to the traditional owners and prepare budget estimates and
supporting information to allow further consideration of this matter in the upcoming Operational
Plan and budget process.
An extract from Midnight Oils classic song, ‘Beds are Burning’, says all that needs to be done…”It belongs to them, Lets give it back”.
Just make it a park. Jez
Just give it back…..that was the original well researched/ consultation with First Natiosn people …..it was ALL sorted Thanks to Ms Ekins & others….don’t steal it twice. Just shows how many people are still in denial about our destructive & appalling colonial past.
Give the land back to the traditional owners of the land and let them live in peace ☮️.There is significant reason for this… Family burial ground, history, culture and the old ways …The indigenous people maintained the land and made it what it is… Don’t forget us white people invaded the land. We white people never owned Australia.