Sandon Point tent embassy sparks emotional debate

Sandon Point tent embassy in March. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Sandon Point tent embassy in March. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

The suggestion Wollongong City Council should remove residential structures at the Sandon Point tent embassy sparked an emotional debate at Monday night’s meeting.

During a discussion on the draft plan of management for Sandon Point and McCauley’s beach, Labor councillor Janice Kershaw said the plan should “remove residential structures” at the Aboriginal site.

The plan has been put back out on public exhibition after hundreds of submissions on a previous version.

Moving an amendment - which was eventually lost 4-9 – Cr Kershaw also said educational structures at the site should be retained, and “occasional overnight stays for ceremonial and cultural purposes” should be allowed during the year through normal council processes.

“There’s no argument that Sandon Point is of national significant and the Aboriginal Place should be protected,” she said.

“But I don’t believe that site should have a residential component on it. I believe it is of cultural significance to the Aboriginal community and it should be of significance to the whole community. “

Chris Connor, Leigh Colacino, Bede Crasnich supported this stance, with Cr Connor saying the council couldn’t dodge tough decisions and need to “light a spark” under the discussion about how to manage land at Sandon Point.

However, Vicki Curran said she was “disgusted” and “totally flabbergasted” by the suggestion that part of the embassy should be removed, saying it made her sad the council would consider “forcing people off their land”.

“These people have been guarding and protecting this special place, and this is a campaign we should be proud of,” Cr Curran said.

Sandon Point tent embassy in March. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Sandon Point tent embassy in March. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

“This is a very sensitive matter, and to remove [the residential structures] means, to me, we no longer want it there and we’re making that decision.”

“This amendment will cause great division and hatred.”

Greens councillor George Takacs said he didn’t doubt Cr Kershaw’s commitment to the preservation of indigenous culture, but said Aboriginal people should be the ones to make decisions about the uses of their land.

Jill Merrin agreed, also pointing out the tent embassy and sacred site should not be left open to vandalism, which is why allowing some form of residential “caretaker option” was important.

“This is a moral requirement, to heed and respect that it’s Aboriginal people’s right to make the decisions in some places, it’s not always up to us to impose our ‘white man law’ on things,” she said.

“Let’s try and work together to resolve this.”

Councillors eventually voted Cr Kershaw’s motion down, then voting 10-2 – with Cr Curran and Cr Petty against – to support a motion without any reference to removing structures at the Aboriginal tent embassy.

The council will now seek to work with five different Aboriginal groups to pursue a Joint Management Agreement for the management of the Sandon Point Aboriginal Place.

The draft plan of management will be put on exhibition for at least 42 days, with residents and groups invited to make submissions through the council’s website.

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