A plan to build more than 200 homes, a private tennis court and pool on a possible sacred Aboriginal site is under review, after federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley asked her department to review the case.
- Aboriginal groups were not consulted over land at the base of Mount Ainslie in Canberra during planning for an apartment complex at the site
- Doma Group says a check of public records and a site walkover done previous to its purchase did not find evidence of Aboriginal use within the boundary of the development
- Several local elders contend that the land was used for men’s business, saying rather that it is a burial place
Doma Group’s Foothills development at the base of Mount Ainslie in Canberra is awaiting final approval from the Commonwealth.
But in more than a decade of planning at the site, neither developers nor the Commonwealth consulted Aboriginal groups over the land, which had been identified as being possibly significant to local Indigenous people.
Doma Group said it did not consult with Indigenous groups as reports completed previous to their purchase had determined the site did not hold Indigenous heritage significance. Those reports also did not consult any Registered Aboriginal Organisations.
The Environment Department said it had not consulted Indigenous groups because no world or national heritage sites had been identified on the land.
But Ms Ley has now asked the Environment Department to consult “all parties”.
“I have instructed the department to review the heritage claims as new information,” Ms Ley said in a statement.
Disputed claims underline need for heritage assessment
Ngambri man Shane Mortimer has claimed the site was used for men’s business — an assertion supported by archaeological evidence and geological reports.
Since the ABC reported Mr Mortimer’s claim on Monday, several elders have spoken about the site’s importance.
Ngunnawal elder Caroline Hughes disputed Mr Mortimer’s claim that the site was used for men’s business.
But she said development did need to be halted until the site was fully assessed.
“Mount Ainslie, there have been conversations had in stories that there may have been burials in that area,” Ms Hughes said.
Ngambri-Ngunnawal man Paul House said he also had known the site as a burial place.
“We have burials right through country, including Mount Ainslie,” he said.
“We need to protect this site for our future generations.”
Ngunnawal elder Wally Bell said he did not believe the site could have been used for men’s business, as it was too close to the women’s business site at the top of Mount Ainslie.
“Under our traditional customary law, those occurrences don’t sit side-by-side,” Mr Bell said.
Mr Mortimer said he was pleased the site’s history was being taken seriously by the Environment Minister.
“I invite the minister to come to the site and walk over the site with us … see what exactly the situation is and get a feel for this herself,” Mr Mortimer said.
“Then the minister can make an informed choice about how to respond.”
ACT Government supports call for complete halt on development
Ms Ley stopped short of ordering a halt on development approvals until an assessment and consultation were completed.
Yesterday, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr wrote to Ms Ley asking for those approvals to be withheld.
“Given the importance of this matter, it is the view of the ACT Government that development approvals should not be granted until this work is undertaken and resolved,” Mr Barr wrote.
The ACT Environment Directorate in 2013 advised that the site’s rocky outcroppings likely held Indigenous significance, and needed to be assessed for evidence of their use for making stone tools.
Doma is awaiting a final works approval by the National Capital Authority before the development can go ahead.