30th September 2020
By Katherine Everest
According to NSW State Government Office for Local Government, in 2017 the number of elected councillors who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decreased from 27 councillors in 2012 to 24 councillors in 2017, despite an increase in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander candidate numbers from 103 to 110 in the same timeframe. In 2012, only 16% of NSW councils had elected representatives who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Upon investigation, this trend of underrepresentation was witnessed within Local Government Councils across the Central West NSW region, which is situated on Wiradjuri Country. It was also found that local government councils within the region were putting in varying efforts to consult with Aboriginal community members and organisations living and operating within their council regions.
Investigations found Parkes Shire Council, and Orange City Council are putting in considerable efforts to consult with Aboriginal community members and organisations within their council region. Lachlan Shire Council is beginning to put in measures to fulfil these obligations, while Bathurst City Council, Blayney Shire Council, Cabonne Shire Council, Cowra Shire Council, Forbes Shire Council, Lithgow City Council, and Mid-Western Regional Council have significant room for improvement in this area. Both Oberon Council, and Weddin Shire Council declined to comment on the issue.
As a result, Aboriginal community members and organisations across the region have expressed a need for improvement in consultation between local government councils, and Aboriginal organisations and community members within Central West NSW. The hope is that with greater consultation, councils will be better equipped to meet the specific needs of Aboriginal community members living within their council regions, as well as achieve greater representation of Aboriginal Peoples’ voice within council.
At present the Bathurst Regional Council primarily consults with the Bathurst Local Aboriginal Land Council informally “probably once every couple of months”, according to the CEO of Bathurst Local Aboriginal Land Council, Toni-Lee Scott.
“If not every couple of months, they usually [consult] on the Heritage Plans or their Reconciliation Plan. They are currently updating their Reconciliation Plan,” said Toni-Lee.
However, when asked what they were planning on updating, Toni-Lee was unaware of their plans. Overall, she believes Council does their best to cater to the needs of Aboriginal community members living within the Bathurst region.
“I think in any kind of council area they try their best to accommodate the needs of Aboriginal people. I think council try and work with as many stakeholders and groups as they can, to find common ground. In some instances, there is community groups that aren’t compromising, and then it becomes a strain within our community.”
At present the Bathurst Regional Council has a strained relationship with the Bathurst Wiradyuri Aboriginal Community Elders, largely due to a dispute regarding the proposed construction of a go-kart track on a section of Mount Panorama, or Wahluu in Wiradjuri language. Within the land designated for the development of the go-kart track is a traditional Women’s Place. In an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment (ACHA) report released by the Bathurst Regional Council on their website on 22nd May 2019, it quotes, “The ACHA was also informed by the separate anthropological assessment undertaken for Council by Professor David Trigger and Dr Gaynor Macdonald, with assistance from Extent Heritage, which included ethno-historical research and interviews with key informants and knowledge holders who speak for Bathurst Wiradjuri country”. The key findings from the anthropological study are highlighted below.
Despite these findings, construction work on the go-kart track has begun.
The Bathurst Wiradyuri Aboriginal Community Elders claim there is no form of mutual dialogue or agreement between their group and the Bathurst Regional Council. They say Council goes to the Bathurst Local Land Council for consultation, however neglects to consult the Bathurst Wiradyuri Aboriginal Community Elders, despite the Elders being recognised by the Native Title Tribunal, and Federal Court as the Traditional Owners of the area.
For years the Bathurst Wiradyuri Aboriginal Community Elders have attempted to negotiate an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with Bathurst Regional Council, which is a formal written agreement between two parties about what happens on Country (the land), and who manages it. However, Bathurst Regional Council rejected the proposal, and instead suggested the development of a Memorandum of Understanding stipulating conditions for consultation. However, Bathurst Wiradyuri Aboriginal Community Elders claimed the demands made on behalf of the council under the memorandum undermined their position as Traditional Land Owners, and were not practically possible.
“The MOU didn’t involve only the Elders; it involved every organisation that has an Aboriginal worker. So that’d be DOCs, that’d be the police force, it’d be anything that’s got an Aboriginal worker. The problem with that is, that just because you’re an Aboriginal person, you don’t have the right to speak on Wiradjuri Country. It’s sort of like me saying to everybody in town, ‘I want to be the mayor, and you’ve all got to vote for me’,” said Mallyan, Uncle Bill Grant of the Bathurst Wiradyuri Aboriginal Community Elders.
“And the other issue with the MOU was that they wanted to include every single black fulla in this town as part of that agreement, and wanted us- they put back on the Elders- that we have to go and teach everybody that sort of stuff [Wiradjuri Cultural Protocols]. So, they’re putting a lot of responsibility, or putting things onto us that we don’t have the funding or anything [for],” added Dinawan Dyirribang, Uncle Bill Allen.
Nyree Reynolds, a Wiradjuri Elder and artist living in Blayney, originally ran for council in 2017, however was unsuccessful in being elected.
Nyree stated one of the reasons she ran for council was to try and achieve greater diversity within council, and contribute to council decision making.
“Just to be more involved in the day-to-day things of the community. Putting a female voice in because it’s such a blokey show. It’s shocking. I’ll never forget one woman from a little town near us, she said, ‘I want you on the council because you will be able to save the swamp wallaby’”.
Since the latest General Manager of Blayney Shire Council, Rebecca Ryan, was elected in 2014, Nyree feels her relationship with Council has improved, however believes there could be more frequent consultation between council, herself, and Aboriginal community members living within the Blayney Shire.
Nyree is already on the Blayney Health Council, and once local elections are held in September 2021, Nyree and the Blayney Shire Council have discussed plans for her to get involved in the Town Committee.
After seeing the success of running art and language workshops at Cowra High School, Nyree also feels there is a need to create space within schools for children to confidently identify as Aboriginal, as well as administer educational programs that will foster Aboriginal children through to finishing school.
“It’s really strange with Blayney because, not many people identified. And, now, more kids at school are identifying. I think [there’s a need in] supporting the kids. Of making them proud of who they are.”
“I worked for about 13 years- we had a program at Cowra High, called ‘Breakaway’. It was the girls in Year 9 who were disengaging from education, and I did the art component. I’d also been a finalist in ‘Drawing Together’ art prize in Canberra, and Malcolm Turnbull had bought the painting when he was Minister for Environment. So, we took the girls down to where the painting was hanging. It was in the Prime Minister’s building. And the girls were shown the Prime Minister’s private art collection. We walked into the room- it was this huge table, and big chairs, and one of them said, ‘I think I could do this’. Most of that year went onto Year 12.”
David Acheson is a Wiradjuri Elder, and head of the Forbes Aboriginal and Community Working Party, of which the Forbes Mayor, Phyllis Miller, falsely claimed she met with on a quarterly basis. David stated the Forbes Aboriginal and Community Working Party has not met with Forbes Shire Council for roughly 18 months to two years.
“Two years ago we had council representation at our meetings but no- I’ve had nothing to do with council for a very long time. They seem to have ignored me,” said David.
The last communication David had with council was when they notified him of a Community Reference Panel they were setting up, where submissions of interest had to be submitted by March 21st 2018. David participated in the panel, and suggested creating a position within council for an Aboriginal Project Officer. The council did not act on his suggestion.
David believes priority areas moving forward for Aboriginal community members within Forbes Shire, and the greater region, is adequate representation.
“Involvement. Information. Representation. We need representation at a local, regional, state, and federal government level, and we’re not getting it. We have no input.”
David has also come up against road blocks in trying to gain membership within the Peak Hill Local Aboriginal Land Council, of which Forbes and Parkes fall under the jurisdiction of. Within the six years of trying to gain membership, David has taken the matter to the NSW Government Ombudsman, however, despite meeting all requirements to become a member, remains unsuccessful.
As a result, David put a proposal to then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for NSW, Sarah Mitchell, to form a joint Forbes/Parkes Local Aboriginal Land Council. However, he was told Aboriginal Affairs did not have the power to enact his proposal.
In relation to the last paragraph of the above letter, David successfully gained membership in the Three Rivers Assembly in 2017, however has since been blocked from attending meetings, and as of June this year, the assembly removed Forbes from their list of members on their website without notifying David.
David says government policy “in the last few years has gone to, ‘Hurry up and wait’”.
“Stuff people around long enough, they forget.”
Orange City has witnessed a growing relationship between the Orange City Council, the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council, and the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service, indicative of promising signs for continued joint progress into the future.
CEO of the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council, Annette Steele, outlined Orange City Council’s support for the Aboriginal Community Social Development Plan 2014-2024, put together by the Orange Aboriginal Community Working Party. The plan focuses on strategic goals such as economic independence, education, training and employment, health, and culture and heritage.
Furthermore, Annette praised Orange City Council’s support for programs run by the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council, and collaboration with cultural heritage projects, and Aboriginal Land Agreements.
She attributes council’s improvement in meeting the specific needs of Aboriginal community members living within their council region to increased consultation over the last few years.
“I think they’re getting better at it. Over the last few years, I think they’re becoming more aware of what those needs are and how they respond to them. I think before it might have been a bit, you know, ‘How do we do this?’ or, ‘We’ll do it this way’, but it wasn’t really effective. And I think the consultations and the conversations we’re having, and that they’re having with other organisations, is helping them make some decisions as well. And we could always do better, but at least we’re moving forward. We’re not going backwards.”
Another shire within Central West NSW witnessing a progressive relationship between council and Aboriginal community members is Parkes.
Rob Clegg is a Wiradjuri Elder, and a member of the Parkes Shire Council Elders & Aboriginal Advisory Committee. In the past he has worked for the government as the Indigenous Land Management Facilitator for Australia, and Senior Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Officer for NSW.
Rob says he and the Elders have a good relationship with Parkes Shire Council. He feels the council and Elders are moving forward together, and believes council tries to meet the needs of Aboriginal community members as best they can.
“Our relationship is spot on. Parkes helps us in every way they can. We have to iron out some questions as we go along. They’re not experts in what they do, but they’re bringing in North Parkes Mines, the Inland Rails, and RMS. And they’re sitting down discussing things that need to be undertaken, and they bring me in to say whether it’s ok or not.”
Rob says some negative cultural attitudes still exist within Parkes, however he is confident the community can work together to overcome these through open communication, and participation in cultural awareness programs.
“You still have your negative cultural attitude because people don’t understand each other’s culture properly. But what we do there is we turn around and we tell them, ‘Your cultural paths, or your cultural history is yours. Don’t forget it, but don’t abuse the others because it’s not their fault. So you can’t blame them’.”
“And what we do is cultural awareness programs. You get them in there first and foremost and you teach them, and they go out with a different attitude and a different idea. And they go out happier.”