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Consultations continue for long-waited recognition of Aboriginal place in Illawarra

Jarred Cross -

After a patient wait, Elders are hopeful they're one step closer to a local site central to Dreaming stories and identity to receiving the recognition its cultural significance.

In December, Wollongong City Council announced their support for Djeera (Mt Keira) and the Five Islands for Aboriginal Place recognition by Heritage NSW.

The mountain, which stands 500m above the sea level overlooking Towradji and Wollongong beach, and islands off the coast south to Red Point, hold special significance for Wadi Wadi and local Aboriginal people with deep ties in storytelling for generations.

Kamilaroi-Yuin woman and Dharawal Elder, Aunty Shas Robinson told National Indigenous Times "it's our sacred mountain. It's grandmother mountain".

In the Dreaming, Oola Boola Woo, the west wind, grew tired of his daughters misbehaving and blew five into the sea - where the islands sit, leaving only Djeera remaining at the mountain top.

Djeera was also a sacred women's place and ceremonial site.

Aunty Shas hosts regular tours on the mountain and said her significance is well known and respected in the wider community.

She said early conversations around Aboriginal Place nomination started years ago.

"It is a place where we can teach our young. So it's an educational tool for us. And her history, resources, and energy are endless," Aunty Shas said.

"The mountain itself plays a huge role in the history and heritage of this country, and not just for Aboriginal people, but for all people."

Aunty Shas, pictured on Djeera, said the culturally significance of the mountain and the Five Islands is well understood around the Illawarra. (Image: supplied)

The proposal for recognition dates back to 2018.

On October 24, Heritage NSW wrote to Wollongong City Council, who owns part of the land within the proposed area for Aboriginal Place declaration, seeking their support for the nomination.

Recognition would not affect land ownership, of which there is also existing private ownership, of the area and is not linked to Native Title or land claims.

At a Council meeting on November 27, it was recommended the nomination is supported "in principle" with the request for a management plan to 'ensure operations and maintenance of assets on Council's land are not compromised'.

In a statement on December 4, Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor, Gordon Bradbery said the cultural significance of Djeera and the Five Islands has been long understood, but said the Council would like some oversight before a declaration is made.

"While we're supportive of the nomination, there are practical matters that need to be considered as part of this process that will allow Council and other infrastructure providers to continue routine management activities, emergency works and to continue to service the ongoing use of the area,'' Cr Bradbery said.

"This is why we're also asking for a Management Plan for the Aboriginal Place, should it go ahead as this document will guide us to continue any current day-to-day works, we might do in the area to support access, recognise its cultural significance and to facilitate continued use of the Mountain Keira Summit Park for activities like bush walking and picnicking."

Djeera (Mt Keira) location map. Permission to use granted by Wollongong City Council.

As a former staff member, and current Aboriginal Reference Group member, Aunty Shas said there has been positive understanding within the Council "for many, many, many years".

In early February, a NSW Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water spokesperson told National Indigenous Times consultations are ongoing.

"Heritage NSW is assessing an Aboriginal place proposal for Djeera (Mt Keira) and the Five Islands. Consultation with various stakeholders is ongoing," the spokesperson said.

"Once consultation is complete, the Minister for Heritage will decide whether to declare Djeera (Mt Keira) and the Five Islands as an Aboriginal place."

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