BATHURST Regional Council’s strained relationship with the Bathurst Wiradyuri Elders over planned developments for Mount Panorama appears to only be getting worse.
What should have been a simple discussion about interpreting stories in the Mount Panorama boardwalk project spiralled into a heated conversation about site cards at Wednesday’s council meeting.
Councillor Warren Aubin said the elders group was “antagonising council” by continuing to place site cards – which indicate a claim of an area of cultural significance by a local Aboriginal group or individual – on Mount Panorama.
“Something’s got to give,” he said. “We actually do our best to accommodate groups ... but we just keep getting slandered.”
He said the public wasn’t aware of what was going on and referenced an instance where a site card was issued last month for Aboriginal archaeological remnants from a ceremony that was held on Mount Panorama in 2018.
Cr Aubin said it had an impact on the running of the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Council’s general manager, David Sherley, further clarified the situation to the Western Advocate.
“Council’s attention was drawn to the fact that there was a site card registered for an area on top of the mountain that was potentially going to be impacted by attendees to the 12 Hour race,” he said.
“Actions were taken to relocate any attendees or infrastructure to ensure that any potential damage to the site was minimised.”
Cr Aubin said he was open to talks with the Bathurst Wiradyuri Elders and any other local Aboriginal groups when it came to proposed developments on Mount Panorama, but the conversations had to be “fair dinkum”.
The main problem is that site cards continue to be registered on Mount Panorama, but council, as the land owner, is not informed by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) that they have been issued.
Council doesn’t find out until a development application process starts or unless a phone call is received.
The costs of studies about the claims are then weathered by the land owner, regardless of whether they are proven or disproved.
Cr Ian North felt that local councils should work together to lobby for discussions to occur with the OEH about the ongoing issue.
“It just amazes me how something can be dropped, it’s accepted straight away and we must prove otherwise,” he said.
“I think there’s got to be a bit more give and take in the process.”
Cr North said the costs of studies on Mount Panorama would likely reach and potentially exceed $1 million if the council had to continue responding to site cards.
After more than 15 minutes of discussion about site cards, Cr Monica Morse reminded councillors that the recommendation before them was about the boardwalk and interpreting stories.
“This report to council has nothing to do with site cards or anything that has happened in the past,” she said.
“I really would like to move forward, to enter into discussions and for both groups to enjoy the privilege of having Mount Panorama.”
However, the conversation didn’t move on as she had hoped and councillors continued to ask questions about managing site card claims while trying to progress developments.
Cr Alex Christian, as other councillors had vocalised, was baffled that sites which had already been deemed not to have archaeological artifacts on them could still have site cards placed there after studies had been conducted.
He grew increasingly frustrated and at one point erupted at Cr Morse and Cr John Fry, telling them that discussion about site cards was relevant to the boardwalk.
“How do we know a site card isn’t going to go in where the boardwalk needs to go?” he said.
To date, council has spent around $500,000 on Aboriginal heritage assessments across the Bathurst region.
In a recent one, for the go kart track, no Aboriginal objects were found, however intangible cultural heritage was highlighted.