Bellwood Sacred Site application to the Department of Environment and Energy

CUSTODIAN: Gumbaynggirr man Uncle Buddy Marshall with a photo of his Uncle Benji
CUSTODIAN: Gumbaynggirr man Uncle Buddy Marshall with a photo of his Uncle Benji

For Uncle Buddy Marshall, the desecration of sacred Gumbaynggirr land he sees around him daily is something that stops him sleeping at night.

Now, after years and years of letters and submissions to government departments outlining the significance of the area (dating back to 1917), all of which have fallen on deaf bureaucratic ears, an application to protect the area* known as the Bellwood Sacred Site has been made by the Nambucca Heads Local Aboriginal Land Council to the Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy.​

* Under Section 10 (1)© of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Heritage Protection (ATSIHP) Act 1984

The specified area is between Alexandra Drive, Nambucca Heads and Marshall Way, Bellwood, adjacent to what has long been a proposed housing development, taking in Faringdon Fields and the controversial road planned to service the new estate.

“This country is sacred, it is where we take our kids to learn culture … how can they learn when there is nothing there?” he said.

“I want everyone to know the destruction that is happening here; it makes me wild and brings tears to my eyes … don’t these people have any respect for Aboriginal culture?

“How do we get this message through to them?

“I grew up all around here … while I don’t consider myself and elder, I do see myself as a custodian of this land. 

“This area, from  Deep Creek through to Bellwood is part of the ancient walking track of our ancestors, that starts down in South West Rocks.

“Faringdon Fields is not somewhere people should go, especially women and children … it should be completely replanted and left alone.”

Sitting in his backyard, sanding and oiling boomerangs and twisted forest roots, Uncle Bud explains his connection with this country comes from his Uncle Benji, the last spear fisherman of his tribe, who used to take him fishing as a little boy.

“We would go down to Arakoon, early in the morning and sit in the bush near Birrugan’s grave and a big brolga would come and dance on the grave.

“Birrugan is our Lord, and now they have moved that stone to make room for a golf course!”

At its July meeting the full page advertisement (GN June 28) inviting interested parties to make representations to the appointed anthropologist, was drawn to the attention of Nambucca Shire councillors. 

In his report General Manager Michael Coulter noted the planned housing estate and the link road, as well as proposed harvesting by Forests NSW, were all stated as threats that could cause injury or desecration to the site. 

“In good faith Council has relied on the outcome of past investigations into the cultural significance of the area when making planning decisions pertaining to the land over a number of decades.”

He wrote that “given the council has issued development consents in the past based on cultural assessments supplied, it may be perceived the council's position is compromised. It is therefore proposed it not put itself forward as an interested party.”

Planning decisions have been made over decades ... maybe council would not have done so with hindsight

Mayor Rhonda Hoban

Under ‘social’ implications, he wrote that “if the significance of the site had been more fully considered a number of decades ago, the council may not have accepted the dedication of Farringdon Field in lieu of a substantial developer contribution for open space.

“The field has essentially never been used … the failure to properly consider social implications has resulted in a substantial waste of scarce funds.”

The councillors agreed not to make a representation.

The mayor Rhonda Hoban later told the Guardian that with hindsight, consents that had been granted over time, might not have been.

A spokesman for housing estate developer Waifand Superannuation Fund, Joe Saliba, said a lengthy application had been submitted to the nominated anthropologist.

A spokesperson for the Department said an independent reporter had been appointed to seek information and submissions and will provide a report to the Minister.

She said the purpose of the ATSIHP Act was to protect particularly significant Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage.

“The Minister will balance a number of considerations in making a decision, including the recommendations of the Department and the reporter,” the spokesperson said.