Why aren’t there more community gatherings on the site?
The NSW Government returned the BNI site to Dharug care in very poor condition. There is no water, power or sewerage available – despite Sydney Water digging a sewer main across the land near Bells Creek in the late 1980s.
To support activities on site, such as workshops, working bees, corroborees and meetings, DSMG hires toilet, shelter, food and other facilities – a costly undertaking that we can only support with special grant funds.
In addition to our funding from CreateNSW for Gulbangali Dharug Nura, we have twice applied for substantial grants from the NSW Environmental Trust (2020 and 2021) under the Protecting Our Places program, but neither application was successful. In 2021 we also applied for three projects under the NSW Government’s Aboriginal Heritage Program. One application was successful (to finalise a Conservation Management Plan for the site), but two larger grant requests for revegetation work and community workshops were not.
We are now exploring options with key partners to achieve our revegetation plans as part of our Caring for Country program. That work has already seen the completion of the landscape masterplan for the site (see that work here) and we are also working with our partners to find ways to install more permanent facilities on site to reduce ongoing costs. Of course, this is not straightforward because we have to manage heritage obligations which restrict excavations to create foundations for such facilities.
Isn’t there supposed to be a Culture Centre built on the site?
More than a decade ago, the NSW Government and Blacktown Council committed to developing a Culture Centre on the site. Some funds were set aside, but were not delivered to DSMG as part of the handover of title in 2018. We have not been able to identify where those funds are or why they have not been made available to be used as originally proposed.
DSMG remains committed to developing a Culture Centre on the site, but has given priority to healing Nura through revegetation and careful management. To date we have updated the Landscape Master Plan and we are currently finalising a Conservation Management Plan that protects Dharug cultural values in the way the heritage site is managed. We are negotiating a Conservation Agreement with Blacktown Council to streamline approvals for revegetation plans and working with Greening Australia and other partners to commence plantings in 2022 – subject to Covid conditions.
How does the BNI’s heritage listing restrict options for developing the site?
The site is protected under local (Blacktown Council) and NSW state heritage listings. DSMG will continue to pursue national heritage recognition, but previous efforts to secure national listing have not succeeded. DSMG is also ensuring that the site’s heritage value is not limited to its links to the colonial era and the tragic history of Stolen Generations policies and programs, but also its integral value as part of the wider cultural landscape of Dharug Nura and the deeper relationships of Dharug histories and futures.
The current heritage listing acknowledges the archaeological value of the site and its connection to the colonial era Blacktown Native Institution. This means that excavations on the site are restricted in case they disturb archaeological values across the site. This means that anything requiring excavation of more than about 10cm of soil (yes – even digging holes to plant trees and certainly trenches to install paths, shelters, pipes, footings etc) need approvals. In addition, all normal Council Development Application conditions also apply.
This complicates planning, funding and approval processes. DSMG and Blacktown Council are currently discussing a Conservation Agreement that would set out how to ensure that our work can proceed on the site without compromising the heritage values that make the BNI so important to Dharug futures.
Why isn’t DSMG registered as an ‘Aboriginal Corporation?
DSMG is registered with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) as a public company limited by guarantee and the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) as a charity.
During negotiation with the NSW Government’s Landcom regarding custodianship of the BNI, it was agreed that the standard of corporate governance, autonomy and responsibility inherent in the Corporations Act and the emerging oversight standards of the ACNC was the appropriate standard to protect the long-term security of the site as a Dharug place. Without implying any criticism of the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), the Working Group representing Dharug community interests in those negotiations felt that the ORIC legislation had been subject to a level of political interference and manipulation that made us uneasy. We are committed to never putting title to land returned to Dharug care at risk and feel that the standards of governance and accountability required through ASIC and ACNC provide the best option to secure the land.
Why hasn’t anything happened on the BNI site since it was handed back to Dharug care?
It might look like nothing happens on the BNI site, but there is a lot going on.
Since the handover in October 2018, DSMG has been responsible for maintaining the part of the site that was returned to us. To manage fire and public risk, the site is mowed regularly. In summer we mow fortnightly. We have hosted community events on the site as part, but plans in 2020 and 2021 were severely disrupted by Covid-19 restrictions.
The site was recognised as a participating artist in the Biennale of Sydney 2020 and our work for that project (Gulbangali Dharug Nura – Honouring Dharug Country) was supported by a major grant from Create NSW. We will be adding a short film about the project and some of the activities involved to our website soon.