There were few empty seats in Orange City Bowling Club’s Skylight Room on Saturday when the Gannha-bula Action Group held its first community meeting.
Over 100 people turned up to hear from Wiradjuri elders and other community members opposed to Orange City Council’s plan to put a 100km bike trail in the State Conservation Area of Mountain Canobolas (“Gannha-bula” to the Wiradjuri people).
In addition to the mountain’s cultural and heritage significance, the site proposed for development also holds enormous scientific value, speakers told those gathered.
Wiradjuri elders were also deeply frustrated with Orange City Council’s consultation process so far, after much of the communication took place via email and didn’t involve the community as a whole. Council previously told the Central Western Daily it was adhering to a “legislated process which has to be followed to the letter” for an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment.
On Saturday, attendees heard from Wiradjuri elders as well as community representatives, including Uncle Neil Ingram, Uncle James Williams, Aunty Alice Williams, Uncle Greg Ingram, Chris Jones and Kira Dargin about both the significance of Gannha-bula and the ways in which they felt let down by council.
“What we’d like to see is community consultation. We’re not opposed to the bike-track. We’re opposed to it occurring in significant areas… on Gannha-bula,” Ms Dargin said.
“That consultation needs to occur with the community. There needs to be transparency, we need to be spoken to. You cannot have Aboriginal consultation without engaging Aboriginal people. It just does not happen.”
Ms Dargin added that Orange City Council needed to show the Aboriginal community that it “genuinely stands with us” and will “engage us as Aboriginal people and respect our culture”.
“[Our elders] have fought and fought and fought and at some stage it becomes exhausting… We’d like them to be able to enjoy life and to be able to continue to teach their culture,” she said.
“Our elders fought before us, we will continue to fight and my children will fight this. I will guarantee you now, hand on heart, that we will protect the site regardless of what it takes.”
Charles Sturt University adjunct associate professor and Canobolas Conservation Alliance president Dr Andrew Rawson also spoke in detail about the ecological value of the conservation area, as well as the number of Aboriginal artefacts scientists had uncovered during field work of the vast area.
“We are horrified, utterly horrified by what we’re hearing from the Aboriginal community about the level of consultation and the lack of respect,” he said. “The lack of respect for the people, the lack of respect for the land and the lack of respect for what we believe to be a critically important location for this community.”
Orange City Council previously confirmed to the Central Western Daily that the Aboriginal community had been kept updated about the project via email, and that the next stage of the process would involve “opening up the consultation” to the wider Indigenous community.
“Council plans to meet with the broader Aboriginal community following the conclusion of the process required by the ACHA… and to engage a cultural facilitator to co-ordinate and deliver the consultation process which will include listening to the communities concerns in the coming weeks,” council’s manager for corporate and community relations Nick Redmond said.
Council disputes the Gannha-bula Action Group’s assertions that consultation and communication has been lacking.
“Working collaboratively with the Orange Indigenous community is a very important part of the project and is a matter which Orange City Council and its consultants have taken very seriously as the mountain bike proposal is explored,” Mr Redmond said.
“The work of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment (ACHA) is a legislated process which has to through a mandated process before broader consultation can occur with the Aboriginal Community.” be followed to the letter. That process requires that council first engage with… RAPS
Report by Alana Calvert in Central Western Daily, 6 November 2021