The Hamilton Spectator – August 11, 2015
A GROUP of Gunditjmara people have protested against a keeping place and business centre that Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has proposed to build at the Lake Condah Mission.
A number of Gunditjmara Elders led the protest against the “multi-million dollar” plan for a “huge building”, which involved about 30 people attending the mission site on Saturday morning with placards and banners.
The slogans displayed included ‘Land not Profit’ and ‘Not a Human Zoo’.
A keeping place is designed to exhibit pre and post-colonial Aboriginal culture, but opponents claim that it will be focussed on tourism and only a few members will get the economic benefits.
Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation was established in 2005 by Gunditjmara traditional owners to progress “rights and interests in native title, cultural heritage and caring for country”.
The corporation’s management have denied that the keeping place will be commercial in nature and have defended its decision making and consultation process.
Management said it has been “entirely offended and sickened” by some of the statements that have been made accusing keeping place supporters of betraying other members’ heritage.
A statement from the corporation said that last year it commissioned “three sets of independent legal advice at a cost of just under $30,000 to review the Full Group processes in relation to the Keeping Place/Business Centre being constructed at the Lake Condah Mission”.
Elder and traditional owner Sandra Onus told The Spectator that that proposed keeping place had been “contentious from the word go” and many Gunditjmara people wanted it to be built in Portland.
“We have archaeological evidence that out people lived in that country,” she said.
“That’s where my people were concentrated; they grew up there.
“It’s a sacred place.”
Ms Onus said the building would be a “commercial venture” and an “intrusion” on a place where her people had enjoyed “peace and quiet” to “reflect on their journey”.
In response to a request to comment, the Gunditj Mirring provided The Spectator a statement it had made to organisers of the ‘Save Lake Condah Mission’ Facebook page.
The statement said that the Lake Condah Mission keeping place proposal had been planned since 2007 and there had been a “lengthy, heartfelt and emotional process of talking between Gunditjmara Elders and people about the Keeping Place”.
“As part of the 2007 Gunditjmara native title settlement agreement, the Gunditjmara community negotiated $1,000,000 for the construction of a non-commercial Keeping Place to have a place for the return of Gunditjmara cultural heritage and knowledge as well as Business Centre for the Gunditjmara community to operate its business dealing with caring for country, native title, cultural heritage and our continuing connection to country,” the corporation’s statement said.
“Following an extensive Location Evaluation Study in 2008 on where the best place to build the Keeping Place/Business Centre, the Full Group decided to construct the Keeping Place/Business Centre at the Lake Condah Mission.”
The ‘Save Lake Condah Mission’ Facebook page had 438 ‘likes’ at the time of publication but claimed that its posts on Saturday’s protest had been shared with thousands of people.
The page described itself as having been “created for members of Gunditjmara who are against the proposed building on what our elders consider to be sacred and significant land”.
Gunditjmara Elder Eunice Wright appears in a video posted to the page in which she says she feels a duty to protect the mission area as her family was the last to leave its confines.
“Lake Condah Mission, to me, is sacred”
“The land means everything to me, it really does.
“Out of respect for my family, I’m trying to protect the mission and, as we were the last family there, I will not stop fighting for that mission to be left as it is.”
Ms Wright said she lived “really well” on the mission for seven years and caught rabbit and kangaroo with traps.
The Traditional Owners Corporation has disputed some of the statements made about its management and voting membership by the Save Lake Condah Mission’ Facebook page.
“While respecting the right of people to protest, the Gunditjmara people attending the Full Group meeting held on 7 August 2015 are entirely offended and sickened at the suggestion that decisions made by the Full Group are to be labelled as the ‘raping of our land’ as described on the ‘Save the Lake Condah Mission’ page on Facebook.,” the statement said.
“As always, the Full Group meeting is open to all Gunditjmara people.
“All Gunditjmara people must respect our Gunditjmara country in honour of our Ancestral Beings, our cultural heritage and identity, our Elders, our community and our future.”