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Larrakia locals call for proposed national park on Casuarina Coastal Reserve to be returned to traditional ownership

Dechlan Brennan -

Larrakia locals have called for the Casuarina Coastal Reserve in Darwin to be returned to their ownership in a submission to the Northern Territory government.

The submission from Cyan Sue-Lee, a Larrakia, Wardaman and Karajarri woman; Sharna Alley, a Larrakia/Danggalaba and Torres Strait Islander woman; and Laniyuk, a Larrakia, Kungarakan and Gurindji woman; is made on behalf of 575 people.

It was submitted with an attached submission, signed by 13,000 people, calling for the nearby Lee Point to also be returned to the care of Larrakia People.

"For Larrakia people to look after these places based on thousands of years of knowledge, we need Larrakia Country returned to our care," the three said in a statement.

"When this happens our people, Larrakia people, can again fully enact our responsibility and guardianship of the lands we all care about, long into the future, forever."

Cyan Sue-Lee, Laniyuk (speaking) and Sharna Alley (Image: supplied)

Laniyuk, who previously spoke to National Indigenous Times on her experiences of Lee Point, said: "Casuarina Coastal Reserve is a sacred place that holds deep significance for me, my family and all Larrakia people".

"Our families have walked up and down those lands and sands for generations. It is one of the last places in Darwin where we are able to take our young people to learn how to fish, engage with culture and be with Country" she said.

"While a national park goes some way to protecting the biodiversity around the coast at Lee Point, this proposal continues to block Larrakia people from being able to enact our responsibilities to Larrakia lands — land that was stolen from us in the first place."

The submission says it has been supported by 56 Larrakia individuals who come from four of the nine Larrakia family groups: Batcho, Cubillo, McLennan and Mills.

"We all have special places we care for. For Larrakia people, we are especially connected to the places that hold our Creation Stories, where our Ancestors are buried, our places of healing and ceremony and the Sacred Lands we've cared for — for generations," the submission says.

The submission notes it includes the supportive voices of over 400 non-Larrakia people from across Australia, arguing that given the "the proposal is for a national park it makes sense to include national perspective".

Furthermore, it states: "To date, we have reached out to the following relevant members of [NT] Parliament to request a meeting; Lauren Moss, Eva Lawler, Kate Worden, Chanston Paech and Nicole Manison. All have declined to meet with us and in one case our email was blocked for 'phishing'".

The submission includes examples of more than 230 national parks and nature reserves that have been returned to Indigenous care, and concludes: "Larrakia People are Saltwater People, and it is only right that the first national park to be established on Larrakia Land is owned and managed by Larrakia People, especially when that national park includes so much of the Saltwater Country".

The nearby Lee Point in Darwin has consistently been the subject of controversy over plans by Defence Housing Australia (DHA) to clear land of old growth bushland to establish housing for defence personnel and their families.

The plans were initially delayed due to the discovery of the endangered Gouldian Finch in the area in 2022, and again in 2023 when Larrakia Traditional Owners lodged an application under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act, rejected by federal environment Minister Tanya Plibersek in March.

The Lee Point sales brochure, printed with the DHA logo alongside a private real estate agency, describes Lee Point as "132 hectares of premium norther suburbs land" where "memories are waiting to be born".

There is no mention of Larrakia people in the brochure.

This month saw doctors argue the development of Lee Point put their return to the NT in question.

Nine clinicians accused the decision-makers of "riding roughshod over the wishes of Larrakia people" in a letter to federal Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite on April 2, which was shared with NT News.

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