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Defence housing development paused on NT cultural site

Neve Brissenden -

Plans to clear tropical savanna forest on Larrakia country in Darwin to build a defence housing facility will be put on hold after months of campaigning from locals and traditional owners.

Defence Housing Australia said works would be paused until next year, citing cultural issues.

"DHA has made the decision to voluntarily stop work at Lee Point until March 31, 2024," it said in a statement.

"We will be using this time to work with relevant government agencies and respond to the application regarding Aboriginal cultural heritage at the site."

The controversial development at Binybara - as it is known to its traditional owners - was set to bulldoze more than 100 hectares of rainforest with strong cultural and ecological significance.

The project, first approved by the federal government in 2019, was paused by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek when endangered species were identified in 2022.

Works began with some conditions in July, although lo cals lodged an emergency application under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act calling for the site to be protected.

Larrakia elder Eric Fejo said the site was the last "pristine Larrakia country close to Darwin".

"This particular place at Lee Point was a meeting place where all tribal groups used to come in with canoes," Mr Fejo said.

"This land is still just as important for Larrakia people today, to learn our history and to connect with country."

Mr Fejo said the pause had done little more than allow traditional owners to take a breath.

"They should have done the right thing and given it back to us," he said.

"It's not for us to figure out where (defence) should go - they've taken enough."

Community members also began protesting last month, blockading the site and calling for protection for resident native species including endangered Gouldian finches.

The point is also home to the native black-footed tree ra t and hundreds of shorebirds, although it's not just about species in danger of extinction, Professor Martine Maron from the University of Queensland said.

"This is part of the problem with our native species laws," she told AAP.

"We don't just want to make sure that each species still exists somewhere in the country - we actually want healthy populations of our native species and healthy ecosystems too."

The project was set to build 800 new homes across 131 hectares at Lee Point - a former defence base.

Neve Brissenden - AAP

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