By Bob Cummins
BALLINA, NSW — Extensive bulldozing of Aboriginal sacred sites on an East Ballina housing estate and river lands has been temporarily halted after years of protests.
Bundjalung Aborigines from the Jali and Far North Coast land councils, supported by the Australian Conservation Foundation, are also opposing Ballina Shire Council's plans to build a second bridge over North Creek.
Colin Markham, the NSW ALP spokesperson on Aboriginal affairs, who recently visited the area, said there had been insufficient consultation and that Aboriginal people were finding out about development issues when it was too late.
"Thousands and thousands of years of Aboriginal culture is being wiped off the map", Markham said. "Ballina is sitting on some of the oldest Aboriginal culture on the coast."
The shire council plans road works, a resort and residential development at a well-documented tribal gathering place. Works to link the coast road with the second North Creek bridge are under way.
A recent study concluded that artefacts from the area suggest the only known ice age site on the NSW north coast. The area between North Creek and Prospect Estate is the second largest shell midden in NSW.
Aborigines claim the council has divided an area of 50 hectares into separate compartments instead of seeing it as one whole heritage area. They say they have not been advised of extensive overnight earth works and that many areas are now covered by roads and land fill.
Sue Salmon of the ACF says that National Parks and Wildlife Service decisions to execute consent to destroy notices before an environmental impact study were illegal.
The notices were issued last November, three months after a council consultant's study proposed a full field investigation to consider "options and constraints on management of the study area which arise from the significance of the burials and skeletal remains".
Jolanda Nayutu, spokesperson for the Jali Land Council, says the site had been a meeting place for Aborigines from a wide area. There had been big festivals, trading and marriages arranged. It was logical that there would be burial sites.
Remains of Aboriginal people killed in a massacre on the lower Richmond were also present.
Drainage would ruin the middens, some of which are three metres above ground level and continue for two kilometres along the river bank.
"Portions of middens near Chickiba Lake, first documented by white s ago, have been destroyed, along with the site of a massacre of Kooris at Angels Beach", she said.
The site where the North Creek bridge would finish was one of the most important.
"We need a thorough examination of areas bulldozed. They have turned up artefacts, but promises by council to contact National Parks and Wildlife or Jali Land Council have not been fulfilled.
"In Western religion you can pick up a church and plant it and pray anywhere. Our sacred sites were given to us by our ancestors in Dream Time and cannot be replaced."
The chairperson of the Far North Coast Regional Aboriginal Land Council, John Roberts, said there was a heritage order on Ballina's post office but not on the East Ballina area. "Historical societies preserve European settlement in the past 200 years, but because this [the middens] sits out in the open, it is destroyed."
The Byron Environment Centre says consultation with local Aboriginal people has been subverted and the possibility of credible scientific analysis of many sites has been eliminated.
Spokesperson Elizabeth Smith said Ballina Council had approved its own applications for the North Creek bridge, road works and dredging. But the council's first archaeological consultant had recommended against the bridge construction.
Jolanda Nayutu has achieved hero status for sanely repelling bitter attacks from truck drivers and local residents at a recent information session on the sites held by the Jali Land Council. She had to endure a barrage of racist slurs and redneck ignorance which shocked observers.
The state Land and Environment Court is to begin hearing objections to the development on May 16. In the meantime, an interlocutory injunction prevents further work. Restoration of vandalised burial and sacred sites could well cost the Ballina ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.