Archive for July, 2019

Katoomba Falls Creek Valley again at threat

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

While exercising through Katoomba Falls Creek Valley in the Blue Mountains last October, this author came across this sign.

 

How would one like to see the future of The Gully..for the next 15 years?   Have my say?   Internet submissions only?

Local government authority Blue Mountains Council in about 2007 renamed this natural valley west of Katoomba ‘The Gully’ because that is the affectionate name it had from the previous residents of mostly regional Aboriginal heritage extending back many thousands of years.

Since 2001, this author has lived 50 metres from the native bushland valley we know as Katoomba Falls Creek Valley, or Sydney Water’s defined Upper Kedumba River, or as Amusement Parlour businessman Horrace Gates’ Catalina Lake, or as Blue Mountains Council’s sponsored car racing enthusiasts (1957-2003) as Catalina Park, or as NSW National Parks call the valley, ‘The Gully’.  

Such mixed interpretation of this watercouse valley reflects its history as complex, contested and ongoing culturally problematic.  Yet since 1957, here we are in cultural denial in 2019.

In 2002, The Valley was unilaterally declared ‘The Gully’ by Blue Mountains Council – typically again no community consultation.  

Ok, so what’s in a name? 

‘The Gully – Aboriginal Place’ under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 by the New South Wales government was justified out of recognition of the Valley’s significance holding pre-contact Aboriginal sites, post-contact settlements, its ongoing occupation by Aboriginal People until forced eviction in 1957 (to make way for bulldozing a racetrack), and by lobbying and evidence from local Aboriginal Dharug elder, the late Aunty Dawn Colless.

All good.  But ‘Aboriginal Place’ only?  Says who?  By which Blue Mountains heritage Aboriginal people/clan?  The Gundungurra Traditional Owners Inc. only and so denying the rights of all other Gully residents and descendants – Aboriginal (eg: Dharug or otherwise) or of non-Aborigines of The Gully?

This is at best Council prejudice and community divide and conquer; at worst Council prejudice against non-Gundungurra, non-Aborigines.

Aboriginal Place declaration while historially valid,  was democratically invalid.  The NSW Government declaration of such was selective and secret behind Blue Mountains Council’s closed doors – a frequent setting to get things done without pesky outspoken community awareness.

Trust?  Blue Mountains Council?

From 1988 to 2016 local residents action group The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Inc., under the inspiring and consultative leadership of the late Neil Stuart BSc., had championed a local community cause to save the Valley.  From grassroots local resident motives, the Friends aims were from the outset consistently to value and respect the remnant environmental values of the Valley, to lobby to remove the invasive racetrack,  to restore the Valley’s ecological integrity throughout and to foster a local community management structure to underpin the Valley’s environmental protection and rehabilition.

Basically The Friends set in train a local community management structure to care for country – the Valley as we called it.   But Blue Mountains Council hegemony, situated less than 200 metres east of the Valley, corporate-culturally frustrated and ostracised The Friends out of having any say, participantion or rights in caring for the Valley.

As the awareness of the tragic local Aboriginal past was realised, The Friends respected, engaged and partnered with former residents of The Gully and their descendants (irrespective of racial background).  The goal was to properly protect, rehabilitate and manage this acknowledged special place collaboratively.  It was a noble mission and undertaking.  The activism occupied core Friends members half an adult lifetime, proudly.

Yours truly joined The Friends’ fight to save the valley for just five years from 2002 to 2007 until other commitments took family priority.

The nearly three decades of local resident activism well exceeds the capacity of this article.  Suffice to say that the resultant ‘Upper Kedumba River Valley Plans of Management Revised 2004’ achieved not just a desired and just termination to the car racing invasion, but signalled an opportunity and hope for local community partnering with Blue Mountains Council and NSW Parks Service to manage and restore the valley as a valued natural place.

So there is this new signage put up by Blue Mountains Council.   After fourteen years, Blue Mountains Council deems The Gully Plan of Management is up for renewal, whatever that means.

Blue Mountains Council claims “This Plan of Management (POM) is fourteen years old and does not reflect the contemporary cultural values and perspectives held by the Gully community.”   But what are these?  

The local Katoomba community in and around The Gully continues to be shut out of secret talks with the parks service and only select Aborigines – The Gundungurra Traditional Owners Inc. – the legal custodians of most of the valley as appointed by closed shop local council with absolute control over the valley since 2007.   

Council entered into an exclusive co-management agreement with The Gully’s traditional owners in 2008, recognising the owners’ deep connection to the place.  What about the Dharug?  What about other community members who share a deep conservation interest in preserving and rehabilitating the Valley’s ecological values?

Council claims: “Funding from the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW Heritage Grants – Aboriginal Heritage Projects has been made available to review and up the Plan of Management for the Gully.”   But what are these?

“Engagement and consultation with former Gully residents, their descendants and other stakeholders”.  Who’s a stakeholder?  Blue Mountains Council?  The NSW Parks Service?   This is not made clear.  What about the local community, former members of The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Inc. who volunteered years of their lives to save and protect the Gully/Valley from all sorts of harm and development threats?

Council instructs:  “The Plan of Management review is being undertaken by Blue Mountains City Council in cooperation with the Gully Traditional Owners Inc.”

Why exclusively this one group of limited Aboriginal representation?  Convenience?  Simplicity?  Becuase the planned outcome has already been decided?   What about council consulting with Aboriginal Dharug residents actually born in the Valley/Gully?  What about consulting with the immediate  local community irrespective of racial background?

Council’s initiated review was made public from about October 2018. 

Spell check?

Council instructs that in preparing its revised Plan of Management, its process will include:

  1. Engagement and consultation with former Gully residents, their descendants and other stakeholders
  2. Assessment of relevant information and knowledge to be included in the revised plan
  3. Assessment and determination of current management issues and future opportunities for the Gully
  4. Updating of the management policies and the action plan for the Gully
  5. Prioritisation and costing of actions and works

 

Except that the entire process is secret.  Is it to play into the hands of a few powerful and influential people?  Does local council have something to hide from the local community and non-Gundungurra former residents and their decendants until commercial contracts in confidence are signed and its too late to object? 

Council instructs:  “The existing Plan of Management does not include the Katoomba Falls sports fields or the Tourist Park.  The inclusion of these areas into the Gully plan of Management is a significant change from the existing plan.”   What is the reason and motive for including more land into the proposed new plan of management?

Council instructs:  “The revised Plan will be developed with reference to the Local Government Act 1993, the Crown Lands Management Act 2016, the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, and with the Guideline for Developing Management Plans for declared Aboriginal Places. (OEH 2012) The plan also needs to consider the future implications of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2018, which is earmarked to replace functions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 in relation to the management and protection of Aboriginal places.”

Council acknowledges:   ‘The Gully’ was a place where Gundungurra, Darug and other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people lived as a fringe community from around the 1890’s onward over a number of generations.”

 

Council’s References Used:

 

  • Local Government Act 1993 (NSW)
  • Crown Lands Management Act 2016 (NSW)
  • National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW)
  • Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2018 (NSW) – earmarked to replace functions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 in relation to the management and protection of Aboriginal places.
  • Guidelines for Developing Management Plans for declared Aboriginal Places,  NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (2012)

 

Council has restricted consultative capture of any local community input to some outsourced website based software outfit in Melbourne: Bang The Table’s ‘Have Your Say’:  https://www.bluemountainshaveyoursay.com.au/gully-plan    Yet Blue Mountains Council’s website now instructs:  “Consultation has concluded”. 

It’s July 2019 and Blue Mountains Council’s webpage on this process shows the following timeline update:

It would suggest that insufficient resources have been allocated or there are delays in the communications process,or insufficient scheduled time was provided for this project from the outset, or a combination of these.   

If local stakeholders missed out on finding out what is going on, should they just await Blue Mountains Council’s press release on its pre-decision making?

Chairperson of the Gully Traditional Owner Inc., Aunty Merle Williams, says: “The Gully is a sacred place to the Aboriginal community who came from the Gully. It was a place for everybody, regardless of who you were or where you came from.  It is important that The Gully is managed in a culturally appropriate way using both traditional and contemporary practices.”

The mayor, Mark Greenhill, said council had a strong commitment to working closely with traditional owner groups to care for country.   “The revised plan of management for The Gully will guide the future use and management of this significant site over the next 10-15 years.” 

Ok so regardless of who you were or where you came from, why are non-members of the Gundungurra Traditional Owners Inc. being excluded from consultation in Blue Mountains Council’s review process?

 

References:

 

[1]   Upper Kedumba River Valley Plans of Management Revised 2004, >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Upper-Kedumba-River-Valley-Plans-of-Management-Revised-2004.pdf

 

[2]   The Gully Aboriginal Place Map 2004, >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/The-Gully-Aboriginal-Place-Map-2004.pdf

 

[3]   Proposed Review of Plan of Management, Blue Mountains Council website – temporary page, October 2018, ^https://yoursay.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/gully-plan

 

[4]   Community Input to Proposed New Plan, by Blue Mountains Council (2018), ^https://www.bluemountainshaveyoursay.com.au/gully-plan

 

[5]   Draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2018, >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Draft-Aboriginal-Cultural-Heritage-Bill-2018.pdf

 

[6]   Blue Mountains City Council Contact:  Environmental Planning Projects Officer, Mr Soren Mortensen,  Tel:  4780 5000.

 

[7]    ‘Have your say on The Gully – Aboriginal place in Katoomba‘, 20090114, in The Blue Mountains Gazette newspaper (no author), ^https://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/story/5807043/future-of-the-gully-aboriginal-place/

 

[8]   ‘The Gully’s Abuse and Neglect‘, article by The Habitat Advocate, 20110905, >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/?page_id=7326.

 

 

The Gully remains an anthroplogical microcosm of Australian unresolved reconciliation

 

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