Our say | Secrecy won’t win in court of public opinion

THE Bathurst Wiradyuri elders are playing a risky game in the court of public opinion.

The Western Advocate can reveal today that the elders have lodged a request with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage seeking to have Mount Panorama registered as an Aboriginal place.

According to the OEH website such a registration would be a way of “legally recognising and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage on public and private lands”.

According to council’s acting director of environmental planning and services, Janet Bingham, such a registration would be unlikely to proceed out of the site's owner.

In this case, though, the owner – Bathurst regional Council – was not even made aware of the request.

In fact, council only found out about the request through consultants who were liaising with the OEH over a number of Aboriginal heritage studies being undertaken for council on the Mount.

That is certainly poor form on the part of the elders, particularly after they accused council of a lack of consultation with them over a proposed new go-kart track on the Mount.

Consultation cannot be a one-way street.

And any hope of good faith negotiations between the elders and council must rely on open and honest exchange of information.

If there was some public sympathy for the elders over there earlier concerns about the go cart site, it will have been largely extinguished by this latest revelation.

Bathurst Regional Council has worked hard to ensure there is proper recognition of the traditional owners of Mount Panorama and should be given credit for that.

Council had to withstand a vocal public backlash to support the co-naming of Mount Panorama as Wahluu and has committed more than $200,000 to pay for consultants’ reports in an attempt to identify and protect Aboriginal cultural assets on the Mount.

And in sensitive negotiations, public opinion counts.

No-one wants to see the traditional owners of Mount Panorama forgotten as council continues to develop this region’s most important economic asset, but it’s only by working together that a respect for the past and a prosperity for the future can co-exist.

Hopefully the failure to inform council of a request for registration as an Aboriginal Place was an unfortunate oversight and not a sign of a relationship that can’t be mended.