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April 22, 2024

New board announced for Dirawong Reserve – no former members selected

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Dirawong Reserve. Photo Dr Richard Gates

A new community board has been appointed to oversee the management of the popular Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head more than six months after the previous boards five-year appointment had finished. 

The a new seven-member board for the Dirawong Reserve Land Manager have been appointed for up to five years. They are Mary Ward, Stuart Bunn, Timothy Smith, Tara Mercy, Muhammed Khan and Rebecca Cowan, with the CEO of Bandjalang Aboriginal Corporation Prescribed Body Corporate RNTBC, Rebecca Greer, appointed as an ex-officio member.

No previous board members appointed

It was with some surprise that no former board members who had applied for the positions were reappointed. This was particularly surprising considering the Crown Lands in the Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) had only a few years ago nominated the previous board for a Crown Lands award for which they were the state runner up. It also means that there is none of the historical knowledge that is held by former board members being brought to the table. 

Simone Barker. Photo supplied

The other surprise omission was Bandjalang elder and knowledge holder Simone Barker (nee Wilson), daughter of the late Lawrence Wilson who was key in the process of securing the reserve, who had applied for a position on the board. 

Range of experience

Despite these omissions Crown Lands stated in their press release that, ‘The new board members have public and private sector experience, are culturally diverse, and bring a wealth of local knowledge to their role as Crown land managers.’

Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper said the incoming board will oversee the management of Dirawong Reserve for recreational and cultural uses, protect its values and be attuned to local cultural sensitivities.

‘I thank the previous Board for their service and congratulate the new board members on their selection and thank them for volunteering their time and skills to help manage Dirawong Reserve on behalf of the community,’ Mr Kamper said.

‘The reserve is a 300-hectare coastal paradise that attracts thousands of people each year for its natural beauty, beaches and bays, walking tracks, diverse ecology and Aboriginal cultural history.’

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Community fought for the creation of the reserve 

Both Indigenous and non-indigenous members of the community came together from the 1970s and fought for the Dirawong Reserve to be preserved for the community. 

The Crown land reserve was then gazetted on 9 January 1987 for the purposes of Aboriginal heritage, preservation of fauna and the preservation of native flora.

In the mythology of the Bundjalung Nation, the Dirawong is an unseen spiritual creature also known as the goanna spirit.

The reserve is significant to the Bandjalang people with the Federal Court in 2013 recognising their non-exclusive Native Title Rights over the reserve. 

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

Conflict of interest

The former board had been seeking guidance from Crown Lands following the awarding of Native Title regarding the non-exclusive rights of native title holders regarding activities such as hunting, camping, fires etc that were not permitted for other users of the reserve. 

‘How were we to deal with the problem of deciding who was legally entitled to undertake such activity? Were the managers of the Reserve to be the ‘King Solomons’ of who could and couldn’t undertake such activity? And how were the managers to deal with the inevitable backlash which would arise as a result of there being two sets of rules for those with and without Native Title Rights?’ former board member Dr Richard Gates had asked in an open letter to the Minister responsible for Crown Lands in November 2023. 

Dirawong Reserve. Photo Richard Gates

‘The Dirawong Reserve was established with the concerted efforts of the whole local community including Aboriginal Elders nearly forty years ago,’ explained Dr Gates in his letter. 

‘The Reserve came from the working together of the community to protect the Aboriginal Heritage of the site as well as protection of flora and fauna. That enormous effort paid dividends with much of the Reserve protected from rampant abuse consistent with the Tragedy of the Commons where there were no rules governing what happened. The Dirawong was being trashed and community action stopped that from happening. The Board was nominated for a management award just a few years ago in recognition of that collective effort.’

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