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September 25, 2023

Dirawong must be ‘properly managed’ and ‘free of development’

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Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Contractors who cleaned toilets, removed rubbish and managed the Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head were told by the Dirawong Reserve Board at short notice that they had lost their work after Crown Lands failed to either reappoint a board or set up an alternative management structure for the Reserve’s management. 

The Board managing the Reserve came to the end of its five-year term onTuesday 8 August leaving board members frustrated by what they say is the failure of Crown Lands to provide information on the appointment of a new board, or on how the site would be managed. 

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

No handover arrangements

‘The Board was finally forced to write to Crown Lands last week, less than seven days prior to term expiration enquiring as to the future management of the Reserve as it had heard nothing,’ said former board member and Evans Head local, Dr Richard Gates.

‘The Board received a response indicating that “The finalisation of the appointment of a new board will not be completed prior to the expiry of the current board” and that “Upon expiry the management of the Dirawong Reserve will revert back to the Minister” (that is, the North Coast Crown Lands team reporting to the Regional Manager).

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

‘Crown Lands also indicated that they would “make arrangements for a staff member to… organise a soft handover” to ensure that the reserve continues to operate as normal in the interim.

‘The Board heard nothing more about “handover” arrangements.’ As a result the Board could no longer legally pay its contractors, purchase consumables for toilets and a variety of services needed from time to time for the Reserve. Therefore the Board had to let go of its contractors at short notice. Board members are volunteers and receive no payment.  

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Laid off

‘It is extremely difficult to tell loyal, effective workers that they can no longer be paid because Crown Lands had failed to put an appropriate transfer mechanism in place particularly when it has had five years to do so,’ said Dr Gates. 

‘The laying off of workers and being unable to pay regular accounts also has other consequences and one of these is the maintenance of toilets. With no-one looking after them the problem of public health arises. The Board had an excellent management and cleaning regime in place and adapted it to accommodate busy periods such as during holiday periods with more frequent cleaning. The Board itself was actively involved in the toilet program with a role in regular maintenance of the digestion tanks in the Reserve’s “stand alone” toilets.’

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Another of the consequences is that Richmond Valley Council has withdrawn its garbage bins for the site and there is no longer a garbage collection.

Dr Gates is encouraging anyone using the Reserve to go to the toilet before your visit and make sure that you take away your rubbish.

‘There is a great deal of affection held for the Reserve by the public meant that most visitors would do the right thing. We have noticed over the years how folks care for the Reserve and make repeat visits to do so.’

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Native title

Dr Gates said today that there had been a lot of community discussion about the Reserve in relation to native title which was granted ten years ago this December. He noted that Crown Lands had indicated that it was ‘…currently reviewing …greater involvement (by native title holders) in the management of Dirawong Reserve…’ but had not been specific about the nature of this involvement.

Massacre site

Dr Gates said that the Aboriginal community had been actively engaged for many years in both the establishment and management of the Reserve and that the Dirawong Reserve Board had given strong support for the native title claim over the Reserve in the Court system as it had recognised the strong cultural connection to the Reserve. The fact that there had been a massacre on the Dirawong in the 1840s cannot be ignored, he said.

Dr Gates said that the Board has repeatedly sought the advice of Crown Lands in writing about the intersection of legally-determined native title rights, such as non-exclusive fishing and hunting rights, with statutory legislation, rules and regulations at all levels of government, and the gazetted purposes of the Reserve, but that Crown Lands had failed to provide written advice. That request had also recently gone to the minister. Matters relating to these issues remain unresolved.

‘There is little doubt that the Dirawong Reserve is one of the finest pieces of coastal landscape in northern NSW with many people from Qld and NSW seeking regular refuge on the many beaches and bushwalks. They also often seek a better understanding of the Aboriginal cultural connection to it,’ explained Dr Gates.

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Development risk

Dr Gates, who served three terms on the Trust and regards himself as an ‘old Evans Head boy’, said that his greatest fear was that developers might get their hands on Dirawong and destroy it as has happened in many places elsewhere.

‘The North Coast is clearly under threat from inappropriate development and has been for a long time. Governments at all level don’t seem to appreciate that we are already past the “carrying capacity” of the land and that they are sewing the seeds for future overuse and destruction, the very circumstances from which the community rescued the Dirawong.  

Dirawong Reserve.

‘We must have a guarantee from governments of all persuasions that they will not destroy the much-loved Dirawong or allow it to be destroyed. It must be properly taken care of for all users and particularly future generations. It would be a sad day if it was lost to the public.’

The Echo understands that there are no plans to develop the site and a spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Environment told The Echo that:

  • Crown Lands is currently finalising its assessment process for membership of the Dirawong Reserve Land Management Board.
  • There is no change to site management arrangements at Dirawong reserve, including the engagement and payment of contractors, for cleaning and rubbish collection, and these existing arrangements will continue under the department’s administration until a new Statutory Land Manager board is appointed.
  • It is intended a new board comprising seven members will be established in coming weeks once the assessment process is finalised.


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