Councillors’ anger over $500,000 bill for Aboriginal heritage studies

A NUMBER of Bathurst councillors have spoken out about the spiralling cost of Aboriginal heritage surveys on Mount Panorama after the total bill to council hit $500,000.

The surveys are required under state laws to accompany any development application on culturally sensitive land.

The latest Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment was completed by consultants Extent Heritage and covers land around the proposed go kart track at McPhillamy Park.

A report to councillors by environmental, planning and building services director Neil Southorn said the ACHA for the go kart track had cost $55,130 while further anthropological studies had cost $89,600.

In addition, council has paid out $37,840 to Registered Aboriginal Parties who have indicated a cultural connection to either the go kart site or a campground redevelopment being undertaken by council.

General manager David Sherley said the experienced anthropologists engaged by council had been satisfied that Mount Panorama was a culturally significant site for the Wiradyuri people, though the most recent surveys had found no physical evidence of items of cultural significance.

He said the total cost to council of Aboriginal heritage assessments across the Bathurst region was now around the $500,000 mark, prompting calls from a number of councillors that “enough is enough”.

“To date, if you take into account the go kart, the second circuit, the original heritage mapping study, the Aboriginal study we did for the Kelso lands [and] where we’re progressing on the car parking area, expenditure is probably just over half a million,” Mr Sherley said.

Mr Sherley said most of the “site cards” on the proposed go kart track – which indicate a claim of an area of cultural significance by a local Aboriginal group or individual – had only been brought to council’s attention in the 18 months since moves for the go kart track had picked up momentum.

“[However], in terms of cultural significance I would say council has been aware because we were one of the supporters … of the dual naming of Mount Panorama-Wahluu,” he said.

“That was acknowledgment that there was cultural significance but council’s acknowledgment of cultural significance was never intended to stop a development like the go kart track.”

Cr Monica Morse said it should be noted that Aboriginal people tended to carry their history “in their memories” and suggested a lack of physical artefacts near the go track track should not diminish the importance of the area to the Wiradyuri people.

Cr John Fry asked if a go kart track should be included as part of the planning for the second circuit, an idea flatly rejected by Cr Warren Aubin.

“There’s a group of over 200 people who have been waiting for three years for this DA to go through. Is it fair for them to wait another four or maybe five years to have it put down where the second circuit will be?” Cr Aubin said.

“I don’t think so because in that time the members of this club will just throw their hands in the air and walk away.

“Let’s just real about this and get it happening. We’ve done all the studies.”

Both councillors Bobby Bourke and Alex Christian said council had spent enough on Aboriginal studies and now had to push ahead to make the go kart track a reality.

”What evidence have we been provided to show that this is, in fact, a culturally significant area for the Aboriginal people,” Cr Christian said.

“This survey has found no Aboriginal objects, none of the trees are identified as being Aboriginal objects and there is disagreement among those consulted about the cultural significance of Mount Panorama.

“We’re spending a lot of money here but what evidence was provided to show that these studies needed to take place in the first place?

“I mean, $38,000 in Registered Aboriginal Party fees. This is ratepayers’ money and I want to see that money being spent properly.”