BY BRONWYN POWELL
WOLLONGONG — "Mabo took 10 years, this is just one battle" — with these words Jeff Anderson, an Aboriginal activist of the Sandon Point Tent Embassy, pledged to continue the fight to save the sacred land at Sandon Point for as long as it will take.
The development company Stocklands Constructions plans to develop 428 housing lots at Sandon Point, Thirroul. Stocklands is currently challenging Wollongong City Council's rejection of stages 2-6 of the proposed development in the Land and Environment Court. The court will hand down its decision on July 31.
The site is significant for Aboriginal and other community activists. In 1998, 6000-year-old skeletal remains were exposed there by high seas. The positioning of the skeleton and the artefacts buried with it indicate it is a Kuradji (clever man).
"It is one of the most sacred sites around" explained Glen Longbottom, also an Aboriginal activist at the Tent Embassy. He told Green Left Weekly that it was disrespectful for a development to go ahead, particularly when it is against the wishes of 93-year-old Aboriginal lawman Uncle Gaboo.
Max Ackerman, secretary of the Northern Illawarra Residents' Action Group (NIRAG), told GLW that Stocklands' development plan has "holes in it left, right, and centre". Ackerman has concerns about potential traffic problems and the development's encroachment onto wetlands. He also said that the area could be contaminated with cadmium, arsenic and asbestos from a brick factory that was once on the site.
Heritage issues, Aboriginal and European, are also "vitally important" according to Ackerman. The land contains the site of the first steam tram line in the Illawarra. The tramway linked Bulli Colliery to Sandon Point and was granted heritage status, although this was removed at the urging of BHP when it owned the land.
The site and surrounds, covering coastal wetlands, flood-plain and beach, are also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including the green and gold bell frog, sooty oyster catcher and latham's snipe — all endangered species.
Community opposition is "greater than what the council would ever have anticipated", the council's general manager Rod Oxley admitted on the ABC's July 27 Stateline program.
Frustration has been mounting with the court process. Although council management put forward 21 different concerns with the development, within six hours in court it had caved in on 17 of them.
Community activists are worried that council management is not serious about rejecting the development stages 2-6.
Ackerman argues that the council has been "in favour of development from scratch", adding that Oxley "wants [the development] for his rate dollar — it serves his job."
Affidavits submitted to the court by NIRAG were finally accepted, but NIRAG was not allowed to speak to them. An affidavit from Aboriginal activist Roy "Dootch" Kennedy was rejected as not relevant to the case by the judge.
Glen Longbottom is frustrated by the lack of consultation with the Aboriginal community. He says the council "talks to one certain group within the Aboriginal community and take their opinion as gospel. A lot of people representing us aren't from here or don't even come here", he said.
Tent Embassy activists are prepared to keep fighting. Anderson explained that "We can bounce it back through the courts — there's always another avenue open. We can go all the way to the High Court."
They are also prepared for a community picket if bulldozers arrive. According to Anderson, "Without community support, you don't get anywhere".
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the community tent at Sandon Point welcome visitors. Donations of food and wood are particularly appreciated.