Illawarra Aboriginal leaders have asked Wollongong council – and if necessary the police – to step in and take down all structures at the Sandon Point tent embassy.
The shock dismantling of the 17-year-old protest site comes after months of incidents involving an occupant who moved in late last year.
It has also been sparked by the recent illegal construction of a new building, which does not have the support from the Aboriginal groups who have a responsibility for managing the sacred site.
The embassy was formed in 2000, after an Aboriginal burial ground was uncovered in sand dunes in 1998.
It was set up as an attempt to block the nearby housing development, and over the years, its occupants have resisted numerous efforts to be moved on, several court cases and a 2005 arson attack.
Illawarra Aboriginal Local Land Council CEO Paul Knight said the decision to call in the authorities now had not been made lightly, but had become necessary to prevent further “destruction and desecration” of a sacred Aboriginal place.
“There was a person who moved in and started to threaten people, and he wasn’t acting in accordance with the values of the Aboriginal community or providing any education or information about why there is a presence there,” Mr Knight said.
“So the Aboriginal community decided that we needed to get rid of the structures, so there is nowhere to live on the site. This is the only way we can see a way forward.”
A majority of the five Aboriginal groups responsible for the site’s management voted to support the structure removal on February 8.
Read more: Sandon Point war of words over tent embassy
Consequently, Wollongong council staff have published a recommendation advising councillors to support this, with a vote scheduled for next Monday.
Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery acknowledged the controversy and “diversity of views” about the tent embassy and said all care would be taken not to inflame tensions during the removal. However, if necessary, police will be called in to help with the removal.
“No matter what happens, this doesn’t alter the council’s perspective that this is a significant Aboriginal place with heritage values,” he said.
Likewise, Mr Knight said despite the request for the removal of the physical buildings, the tent embassy was “definitely not going away”.
“We’re trying to promote heritage and relationships, and this is really about bringing [the embassy] back to what it was supposed to be about,” he said.
While Wollongong council has not outlined a timeline if councillors support the removal, Mr Knight said he hoped it would happen as soon as possible to avoid further “reputational damage”.