Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery has condemned the "senseless" and "wanton" vandalism of one of the city's most sacred Aboriginal places.
On Tuesday - which was National Sorry Day - the council revealed that trees and shrubs within the Sandon Point Aboriginal Place had been "hacked at" and sawn in half over the past two weeks.
The vandalism was within and alongside the area that is temporarily fenced off at Sandon Point, the council said, with plants significantly damaged in what is believed to have been more than one incident.
About eight medium to large Coastal Banksias, more than 15 Casuarinas and several Acacias were vandalised.
The site is one of the few dedicated Aboriginal Places in NSW, in recognition of the middens, oral and written histories and the discovery of a 6000-year-old burial at the site.
"This is an extremely significant site and we are truly fortunate to have something of this cultural importance in our city,'' Cr Bradbery said.
"I am outraged that some person or people have taken it upon themselves to get into the area that's been temporarily fenced off to allow the vegetation to re-establish itself and to hack into the trees and plants.
"The heritage of our local Aboriginal community is significant and should be honoured and celebrated, not desecrated.
"This destructive behaviour is not acceptable, and this senseless act causes me to despair at the insensitive attitudes of some people given it's also Reconciliation Week.''
He said he did not believe the incident was linked to Reconciliation Week, but was "just a horrible coincidence that it has happened at this time".
"I don't think people realise how important that vegetation is - it stabilises the sand dunes and therefore any relics and bones, so it vital to protecting that site."
He urged anyone with knowledge about the vandalism to contact police.
"There are hefty fines of up to $550,000 or two years' imprisonment, or both, for damage like this, and in this location," he said.
"I know many people, like me, will be angered by these actions. We need to work together to look after this special space.''
The site - formed in 2000, after an Aboriginal burial ground was uncovered in sand dunes in 1998 - has faced many controversies - including several court cases and an arson attack - over the past two decades. It is now jointly managed by the council and five Aboriginal groups. In 2018, the last remaining occupant of the tent embassy was ordered to leave at the request of local Aboriginal leaders, with the council then removing a number of illegal structures.
Now, the council is in the process of upgrading four beach access points, and plans to build stairs and an access ramp to McCauleys Beach, south of the fenced area, by summer 2021.
We've been working for some time on these plans, which will provide clear access ways to the beach and discourage people from using informal pathways through the site.
"We've been working to provide formal pathways to the beach from Sandon Point so that people don't wander off the area's established pathways and through sacred spaces and ecologically significant vegetation," Cr Bradbery said.
"Given the site's long history, this is complex work and we need to get it right and ensure we're not disturbing any significant sites."
The council will working with the indigenous partner organisations on a re-planting initiative, with additional plant species native to the area to be added.
"We will also work with the organisations on other steps that might be taken, including signage, to discourage vegetation vandalism," the council said.
After a 2005 court ruling, five groups - Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council, Sandon Point Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Korewal Elouera Jerrungarah Tribal Elders Aboriginal Corporation, Wadi Wadi Coomaditchi Aboriginal Corporation and the Wodi Wodi Elders Council - agreed to work together on the site's management.