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Traditional Owners at odds with SA Government over ancestral remains found on development site

Callan Morse -

Traditional Owners are at odds with the South Australian government after consultation on a development application for a site found to have Aboriginal remains was extended until late November.

The extension relates to an application made by Walker Buckland Park Developments Pty Ltd under the Aboriginal Heritage Act for a housing development 30 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Earlier this year, Aboriginal remains were found on the site, with initial plans for the remains to be exhumed and buried nearby.

Multiple Kaurna Traditional Owners have criticised the South Australian Government's decision, saying South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Kyam Maher has breeched his legislative requirement to consult with Traditional Owners and interested Aboriginal parties before making decisions that impact Aboriginal cultural heritage.

More than a week after the initial consultation period closed on October 16, the South Australian Government extended the consultation period for the application until November 17. The deadline has since been further extended to 24 November.

Kaurna community representatives recently met with South Australian Premier, Peter Malinauskas, where they were informed of the extension.

Representatives were under the impression that the purpose of the extension was to rectify issues of inadequate consultation to date, and give the government more time to engage with other Kaurna Native Title holders, Kaurna Elders, Kaurna people and other interested Aboriginal people.

However they say the extensions were to allow Walker Corporation to include an additional three areas in their application and to fast-track approvals for the added sites.

"We thought the government was extending the consultation period to do what they had failed to do so far, which is to fulfil their legal requirement to consult properly with the Kaurna community, but we were wrong," Kaurna Elder, Traditional Owner and common law holder, Uncle Ian Carter said.

"It appears that this is just a ploy by the South Australian Government to allow Walker Buckland Park to sneak through an additional three areas to their application and fast-track their approval without having to go through the consultation process again."

Uncle Ian said if South Australian Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Kyam Maher, wants to show good faith to Kaurna peoples, he must "halt this farcical consultation process and begin again".

"All Kaurna people should be consulted on this. We believe the remains of up to 300 of our ancestors are under threat and the actions so far suggest that nothing will be done to protect them from being removed," he said.

The South Australian governments Your Say website states "The Applicant, Walker Buckland Park Developments Pty Ltd, recently varied its application to include three additional areas," with submissions due on the additional areas due by 17 November.

Proud Kaurna, Narranga, Ngarrindjeri, Nyoongar woman, Natasha Wanganeen, said is is the right of Traditional Owners to protect and conserve their history, as much as and if not more than anyone else in this country.

"As caregivers and caretakers of over 500,000 years of cultural tradition and history we do not want that destroyed so houses can be built on the graves of our ancestors," Ms Wanganeen said.

"I will not be part of the destruction of the true history of this country and the culture of this land."

A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation (AAR) told National Indigenous Times there has been extensive consultation with the Kaurna Community and other stakeholders throughout this process.

"This included a formal state-government consultation meeting, as well as a Kaurna Community meeting arranged by the Native Title holder, KYAC, also attended by the state government," the spokesperson said.

"Both of these meetings had record attendance in the context of other Aboriginal Heritage Act consultations.

"In addition to public notices and website content, AAR also wrote directly to over 160 Kaurna Community members and other interested Aboriginal parties."

The spokesperson said given both the amendments to the developer's application and the extensive community interest in this project, the decision was taken to extend the consultation period until Friday 24 November 2023.

However, Independent Victorian Senator and Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, Lidia Thorpe, said the South Australian government's decision is "an insult to Traditional Owners who are fighting to protect and preserve their culture and Ancestors' remains".

"This is yet another example of how colonial laws work to protect the interests of governments and private corporations and have little regard for First Peoples' cultural heritage or even the remains of our ancestors," Senator Thorpe said.

"Current cultural heritage laws set a very low bar for engagement with First Peoples, yet the South Australian government is not even able to meet this low standard.

"If Labor governments in this country properly respected First Peoples and our cultural rights, they would ensure that they are genuinely engaging with all Traditional Owners and First Peoples in the community who are invested in protecting one of the most significant burial or massacre sites in the country."

Senator Thorpe said government engagement with Traditional Owners should always uphold First Peoples' Rights as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

"The Juukan inquiry has shown that we need an urgent overhaul of First Nations heritage protection in this country. Yet two years after the inquiry delivered its report and recommendations, we are yet to see more than lip service given to their implementation," she said.

"I urge the Albanese government to progress these reforms without delay, as every day more of our cultural heritage and Ancestral resting places are being destroyed."

Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation is strongly encouraging members of the Kaurna Community or other interested Aboriginal parties who have not yet made their views known, to make a submission before 24 November, 2023.

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