Controversial plan to bulldoze cultural site for waterfront development paused

An ancient forest at Darwin's Lee Point has a reprieve after a decision by the government-own Defence Housing Australia.

Government plans to bulldoze an ancient Aboriginal site have been put on hold after a fierce community battle.

The territory's "most exciting residential development" is how Commonwealth-owned business Defence Housing Australia (DHA) had advertised its Lee Point project, which is located just 17 kilometres from central Darwin. Images on its website showed smiling families walking along the area's beaches and enjoying time together in flashy new homes.

But as its bulldozers rolled onto the 132-hectare site last month the project hit a snag. Indigenous elders said the area had been in continuous use by the Larrakia people for generations, and they hadn't been properly consulted about its destruction.

Background - Tibby Quall at Lee Point. Inset - a couple running on the beach with the DHA logo in front of it.
Tibby Quall (left) opposed plans by DHA to transform Lee Point into a 778-lot housing development. Source: ECNT/Rebecca Parker/DHA

As well as being significant to the Larrakia people, the site is home to dozens of trees that predate white settlement, as well as several endangered species including the Gouldian finch.

Lee Point came close to being bulldozed

Territory police had held back protesters as DHA contractors began destroying the site in July. DHA had temporarily paused works until August 11 after an appeal to environmental minister Tanya Plibersek to stop the project.

On Thursday night, it released a short statement announcing its voluntary stop work had been extended until March 31, 2024.

Larrakia woman Lorraine Williams spoke briefly with Yahoo News Australia on Friday morning, saying she was “very happy” with DHA’s decision. She had just concluded a meeting with DHA about a cultural assessment being undertaken at the site which she described as “very positive”.

Left - Lorraine Williams. Right - an aerial view of Lee Point.
The land at Lee Point is culturally important to Larrakia elder Lorraine Williams. Source: Environment Centre NT/Supplied

Larrakia elder hails Lee Point decision as 'tremendous'

The decision to halt works follows a long-running campaign by Environment Centre NT, and the filing of an emergency application to Minister Plibersek, asking for the Indigenous cultural site to be protected.

The application was drafted by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), on behalf of Larrakia Dangalaba elder Tibby Quall who told Yahoo in July he carries a responsibility to continue his heritage and customs.

Speaking to Yahoo on Friday, he described DHA's decision to halt works as a "tremendous event" as there had not been appropriate consultation with Traditional Owners of the land.

"It means a lot because with any type of development, they need to talk to the right people to see if it's agreeable or disagreeable and how things should be constructed or deconstructed," he said.

Consultation with Traditional Owners should not be 'afterthought'

EJA said the fight to protect the area is not over, adding its application is still awaiting a decision by Minister Plibersek.

Its senior lawyer Ellen Maybery said the lesson is that governments must sit down with Traditional Owners prior to development. “Meaningful consultation needs to be a priority, not an afterthought,” she said.

She described the decision as a “win” for the Larrakia elders and those who understand the importance of protecting Country for future generations.

“The fight to save Lee Point stands as a testament to the power of unity, determination, and respect for Aboriginal cultural heritage,” she said.

It's not the first time DHA has paused work in a sensitive area after community backlash. In 2020, it controversially proposed a plan to bulldoze forest where koalas lived in Toowoomba for a new housing development.

Do you have a story tip? Email:

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.