Elder Aunty Sandra Onus has said that the Indigenous group working for the protection of cultural sites along the Buangor Western Highway duplication is not against the highway’s development.
The statement follows the recent news that the federal government has rejected an application from the group requesting works on the Buangor Western Highway duplication cease.
Ms Onus said that while the group was disappointed with the ruling, their aim was to try and seek alternatives to the highway that allowed it to be built while also protecting the sites the group said hold cultural value.
“We would just like the general public to know that we're not against development as such, but we offered an alternative that was not taken up,” she said.
“It was another (option) of re-routing the road and not destroying the trees or the hills, thus interfering with those song lines. It's totally unnecessary but for whatever reason they've chosen not to consider the alternatives.”
Aunty Sandra said that a submission prepared by Dr Heather Builth in response to a government call-out was not taken into account by the government.
“She's the only expert in Australia on culturally modified trees and her report has been ignored, and that speaks for itself,” she said.
“It would appear that all interests are being satisfied except Aboriginal interests.”
One of the group members who has been staying at the camp, Zellanach Gunaikurnai, said the group is willing to work with the government to achieve an accord.
“We are open to other options. What we’re just against is a road being put in over the top of culturally sensitive areas when there are other options we can take that seek harm minimization,” he said.
“We’re actually about inclusiveness – we were never consulted in the first instance so when a process like that happens, the one thing we pursue out of that is fairness for all who have a decision and have a say.”
Mr Gunaikurnai said the group welcomed the broader community visiting the camp and asking questions.
“We are wanting the broader community to come out and gain some knowledge instead of gaining more racist attacks and antics, and we want people to come out and ask us the hard questions,” he said.
“We’re prepared to answer those hard questions. We’ve never shied away from answering those hard questions – it’s just a matter of if the person asking them likes the answers.
“All we’re asking for is to be able to make some decisions on our own destinies – we should be able to choose whether we want it destroyed or not. We’re open to sitting down and we’re open to discussing other options.”
Ms Onus said that the group’s efforts to protect the sites will continue.
“We have no choice but to look at interlocutory relief – an injunction and going back to the courts,” she said.
“It will most probably be the federal court. I think we’ll have to go through the state court, which we’re not looking forward to. We don’t expect any great changes from that.
“They certainly haven’t shown themselves to be interested in Aboriginal cultural heritage to date.
In the meantime, she said the camps will remain in place and probably get bigger.
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