Ancient Indigenous site wins temporary reprieve from government demolition plan

Laws designed to protect Indigenous heritage have been described as 'tokenistic'.

The Commonwealth has agreed to pause plans to bulldoze a Darwin coastal property that’s been in continuous use by the city’s Indigenous people for thousands of years.

The federal government’s property business Defence Housing Australia began works to build 800 homes at Lee Point, but it has agreed to halt its bulldozers after an emergency application to protect the cultural site was filed by Larrakia Dangalaba elder Tibby Quall to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

The 132-hectare site, called Binybara by the Larrakia people, is also home to hundreds of trees, some believed to be over 400 years old. They shelter endangered species including the Gouldian finch and black-footed tree rat.

Larrakia man Tibby Quall has urged Minister Plibersek to stop cultural sites being destroyed at Lee Point. Source: ECNT/Rebecca Parker/AAP
Larrakia man Tibby Quall has urged Minister Plibersek to stop cultural sites being destroyed at Lee Point. Source: ECNT/Rebecca Parker/AAP

We are the custodians of the Country, and our voices need to be heard.Tibby Quall

Why have works at Lee Point been paused?

DHA confirmed with Yahoo early in July that it had “obtained all necessary approvals” to develop Lee Point, however, Mr Quall has argued in his application that Northern Territory laws that are supposed to protect cultural heritage are "deficient and largely tokenistic".

After the application was sent to Minister Plibersek on July 6, DHA agreed to pause works at the site until July 17. Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), which filed the application on behalf of Mr Quall, claims it has now obtained assurances no clearing will occur until August 11.

In response to a question from Yahoo, DHA referred us to its website which says it will "continue to voluntarily stop clearing work at Lee Point" and that it remains "committed to working with the Larrakia Nation".

Left - Lorraine Williams. Right - an aerial view of Lee Point.
Larrakia elder Lorraine Williams has urged Minister Plibersek to meet with her people. Environment Centre NT/Supplied

While DHA has previously consulted with non-profit Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation, EJA has argued on behalf of Mr Quall that Northern Territory laws do not provide effective protection for Indigenous heritage sites.

EJA specialist lawyer Bruce Lindsay has claimed the surveys of the site were conducted without appropriate involvement of Larrakia people, a situation he said was "deeply concerning".

"Traditional Custodians should be respected and consulted through every step of the process," he said.

It's not the first time DHA has caused controversy over its development plans. In 2020, it proposed building a 344-building housing estate on Mount Lofty, in Toowoomba, which was home to koalas and other wildlife.

Minister Plibersek urged to visit Lee Point site

Mr Quall argues building houses on Binybara would injure and desecrate a significant Aboriginal area.

“You can never remove a sacred site. It's not to be touched or damaged or things will happen. They live in another world. In our culture, we maintain things in life. We don't destroy it because it's part of our soul and spirit,” he said.

Lorraine Williams, Larrakia Traditional Custodian urged Minister Plibersek to come and meet with her people before making a final decision about the cultural site’s future.

“We would like to talk to you about the importance of the area, the plants and the animals here, not just for Aboriginal people, but for all Territorians. No one wants to see this place destroyed,” she said.

Minister Plibersek's office has been contacted for comment. Multiple attempts have been made to speak with the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation.

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