By TONY MOBILIFONITIS
SHIRES in the west and north west of Victoria and their small population centres will be forced to deal with a massive land and water grab under a secret agreement signed between the State Government and Aboriginal corporations last year.
The shires take up an area half the size of Tasmania and will in effect become a testing ground for a UN-backed indigenous secession project imposed on them via the so-called “agreement” that was secretly drawn up and signed off without the shires’ involvement.
The State Government will fund the process in multiple annual payments of undisclosed amounts that will likely amount to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
The 71-page Recognition and Settlement Agreement between the State of Victoria, the Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation and the Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate Indigenous Corporation, forces the shires and various other community organisations to consult or enter into mediation with the indigenous corporations or face court action.
This new regional “agreement” is supposedly on behalf of the “Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk People” (WJJWJ). Presumably these are family or tribal groups from the region, but who knows who exactly these people are?
The Andrews government makes the absurd claim that the agreement is an “aspirational” list of ways that traditional owners would like to work with councils, with the help of state authorities, but it reads more like a list of demands.
Under the agreement the Aboriginal corporations will be handed major parcels of land in fee simple and Aboriginal title from all current and new parks and reserves in the agreement area and managed under the National Parks Act (Vic), the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 (Vic) and the Forests Act 1958 (Vic).
For instance they are demanding the hand-over in fee simple title and Aboriginal title of the Wail State Forest, a popular camping area south of Dimboola and adjoining the Little Desert National Park and the nearby road reserve leading to the historic Ebenezer mission site. There’s also the Sisters Rocks near Stawell, on the edge of the Grampians Mountains.
But that is only the start, as the corporation agreement states they will undertake “a land assessment project to identify the ways in which the corporation’s ownership of the fee simple in any land in the Agreement Area would assist the Corporation to meet its objectives and for the WJJWJ People to meet their needs and aspirations”.
As part of this process “the Corporation will develop a set of criteria for identifying parcels of Public Land in the Agreement Area that it considers would be suitable for transfer to the Corporation as an estate in fee simple” and the State Government will support the corporation in this project.
Following the example of South Australia and Western Australia, Andrews has in effect launched a regional indigenous council system to bring the state under the jurisdiction of the UN through its Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Already some six million hectares of the state has come under related indigenous control under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act.
The “agreement” overlays the 10 local government areas of Ararat, Buloke, Hindmarsh, Horsham, Mildura, Northern Grampians, Pyrenees, Southern Grampians, West Wimmera, Yarriambiack – basically most of the western portion of the state.
Signed off last October and kept secret by Andrews, it was then sprung on councils in July without consulting them. It gives the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, a non-elected body, powers to rename all roads, bridges and public spaces, co-manage waterways and biosecurity, as well as “preferential” access to council procurement contracts and jobs.
So councils, that is the ratepayers, must now pay this government-funded land council more money to consult over roads, bridges, public spaces, waterways, biosecurity, council contracts and jobs. With 10 councils involved this will be a full-time gravy train for the land council and most likely there will be hell to pay and expensive legal bills (let alone the accusations of “racism”) for any council that resists this.
The “agreement” was uploaded to the Victorian government’s First Peoples – State Relations website on July 21. It states: “The agreement will help pave the way for a future for our people that is founded on principles of justice and self-determination. It will provide the means to provide for our economic self-determination and for our culture, traditional practices, and unique relationship to country to be recognised, strengthened, protected and promoted, for us and for all Victorians, now and into the future.”
So apparently it’s quite OK for people with some sort of “indigenous” background to aspire and agitate towards an independent “indigenous state” in the future, but not for you non-indigenous folk (even those born here) because that would be … sedition perhaps?
In regard to exclusive naming rights give by the agreement, apparently it doesn’t matter that all of these shires have long included Aboriginal names along with English and other names for towns, roads, rivers, lakes and other geographical features since European settlement.
Take for instance the Shire of West Wimmera, adjoining the South Australian border on th edge of the agreement area. The town centre for that shire is Edenhope, which sits on the shores of Lake Wallace, which shares its name with the surrounding grazing property that has been in the Dubois family since 1928 until its sale in 2014. It had been selling about 80 head of cattle a week to Woolworths on contract.
In 1845 brothers George and James Hope settled at Lake Wallace and named the sheep station they established there after William Wallace, the first white man to explore the region two years earlier and believed to have been descended from the famed Scottish folk hero of the same name.
The farm’s big ironstone woolshed was built in 1864 by Chinese migrants on their way to the Ballarat goldfields. They were said to have carried ironstone in wheelbarrows for 5km to build in the 10-stand woolshed that still stands on the property.
Directly north of Lake Wallace are smaller lakes named Lumeah and Yampitcha. Aborigines no doubt camped by these lakes that dot the region previous to European settlement, so now, it appears, they will reclaim their “spiritual and cultural” authority over them. According to a shire report, Lake Wallace’s traditional owners were five named Aboriginal family groups.
The shire report notes further that the lake reserve “is of cultural importance to the Traditional Owners of Country however the number and location of significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites is unknown.”
So will Lake Wallace now be renamed with some indigenous name? Will its more recent history now be expunged or condemned as an example of the colonial invasion? Or will common sense and respect for history – the good, the bad, the European, the Asian, the Aboriginal – be acknowledged and left as it happened?
The Recognition and Settlement Agreement was made under under section 4 of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) between the State of Victoria, the Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation and the Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate Indigenous Corporation No 4395.
So in effect we now have unelected corporate entities claiming indigenous status, paid for by the state and operating under modern Australian-European law demanding paid consultation with elected councils over basically any activity in which they believe they have a “cultural” or “spiritual interest”.