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Gumbaynggirr Elders physically removed from Sacred Land in Newry State Forest

Jess Whaler -

Early on Monday Gumbaynggirr Elders, Traditional Custodians and allies established a peaceful protest camp on sacred land nestled within the Newry State Forest and were met by armed police.

A spokesperson for the Gumbaynggirr people of Coffs Harbour region told National Indigenous Times that the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales have shut down Newry State Forest to members of the public.

Those wishing to access culturally significant grounds, are now met with large metal gates that have been erected to restrict public access due to the commencement of industrial logging.

Monday morning's proceedings highly distressed the Gumbaynggirr people, as harvesters, bulldozers and skiders began to destroy sacred men's sites. It has been reported that Gumbaynggirr Senior Elders have been physically handled and forced off the site, with the New South Wales Fire Brigade going as far as to extinguish a sacred fire.

NSW Rural Fire Brigade distinguishing a sacred fire. (Image: supplied)

A Gumbaynggirrr spokesperson said the area marked for logging expands across 2,500 hectares of the Newry State Forest and is also home to many endangered native animals that includes koalas and possum gliders, who are also totem animals to Traditional Owners.

"It is a core part of the proposed Great Koala National Park and is essential to the survival of Koalas across the coast and hinterland of the Bellinger and Nambucca Valleys. The values of Newry to the Gumbaynggirr people are precious, priceless and absolutely irreplaceable. A large alliance of community members has acted for years to recognise, promote, protect and defend the many values of Newry," they said.

"There is a desperate need for these appalling industrial logging operations to be stopped or we simply won't have Koalas left and priceless and irreplaceable Gumbaynggirr values and cultural heritage will be destroyed. We call on the Minns Government to immediately intervene to stop the destruction of our precious native forests, to protect our Dunggirr and to protect our country.

Attitudes are evident as a NSW Police Officer responds to question about International Human Rights Law. (Video: supplied)

"These industrial logging operations destroy our water security, make our globally significant forest fauna extinct, destroy important public assets and carbon stores and endanger lives and properties by causing much more intense and frequent bushfires."

Gumbaynggirr Elders released a statement describing their dismay at what has eventuated.

"Our land is being destroyed at this time by logging. The Newry State Forest holds our Nunguu Miirlarl, our sacred mens place and is home to many endangered animals, particularly our Koalas and our possum glider. We need to protect our totems. We need to protect Gumbaynggirr Culture. The NSW government promised a Great Koala National Park yet they (NSW Forestry Corporation) continue to log huge areas of Koala Habitat. We need take a strong stand and say no. This Logging must stop."

Indigenous and non-Indigenous protestors on Gumbaynggirr Land at Newry National Park, fighting against logging of sacred land. (Image: supplied)

Uncle Micklo Jarrett, Gumbaynggirr Elder, Custodian and Spokesperson said: "I'm a Gumbayngirr elder and custodian and I am on the verge of wailing seeing the devastation of the Newry State Forest on the drive in here today. We never gave consent for NSW Forestry Corporation to destroy our cultural heritage, our dreaming trees and our koala habitats. There has never been any consultation. Gumbaynggirr Custodians have been completely disregarded in any decision making about our land. We have internationally recognised sovereign rights to protect our lands."

Uncle Bud Marshall, who is the oldest Elder living on Gumbaynggirr Country, said: "I have lived on and protected my land my whole life. My cultural knowledge was taught to me from a long line of Gumbaynggirr grandmothers and grandfathers. Our cultural knowledge and stories are in this forest. There are machines and gates, cameras and security guards planted on our sacred land, stopping us from walking on our country. They are destroying our land and our culture. We must stop them and protect what we have left. Once it's gone, it's gone."

There is also growing concern in the community of the very real threat of bushfires. As Australia is heading toward a hot and dry summer, cultural knowledge of landcare is essential.

Gumbaynggirr Senior Elder Uncle Bud Marshall

Traditional Custodian of the area Sandy Greenwood said: "Newry is an unburnt refuge escaping fire in Black Spring and Black Summer, in the aftermath of Black Spring and Black Summer bushfires any logging of unburnt country must not happen because this destroys our wildlife."

Ms Greenwood added: "Culturally the Newry State Forest is a sacred mens area called "Nunguu Miirlarl" and there are dozens of "dreaming trees" and other significant cultural sites that have been completely disregarded by NSW forestry corporation. There has been no consultation with Gumbaynggirr elders and custodians regarding cultural heritage and landcare."

National Indigenous Times has contacted the NSW Department of Planning and Environment for comment.

A detailed video of the event shared with the National Indigenous Times.

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