NYOONGAR elder Richard Wilkes says building a bar and concert venue at Arthur Head is a desecration of sacred ground.
In a letter presented to Fremantle councillors, the Swan River community leader says the indigenous community hasn’t been consulted about Sunset Events’ proposal.
“I’m concerned our rights are diminishing in the Fremantle area,” he told councillors from the packed public gallery on Wednesday. “We have a right to talk about how Fremantle is developed.”
Mr Wilkes says traditional lands of the Swan include land around the Round House and Arthur Head, described as WA’s most important A-class reserve.
“The Nyoongar heritage in the area needs to be properly documented to show its importance, and protected.”
“Our people died and are buried there,” he said, claiming there was a gravesite near J Shed where Sunset Events wants to hold ticketed music events for up to 1500 people.
“We don’t touch places at Gallipoli, we don’t touch cemetery sites or desecrate graves. The Nyoongar heritage in the area needs to be properly documented to show its importance, and protected.”
Mr Wilkes wants a meeting to discuss the development: “We oppose this proposal for a tavern at Arthur Head until a properly negotiated solution is found that suits everyone.”
Cr Rachel Pemberton says she’s surprised by the lack of consultation with the indigenous community: having sought her own one-on-one meetings, she says it’s a shame the council has not considered the views of local Aboriginal people.
In response to a local resident’s submission on the lack of consultation, officers stated: “traditional owner comments will be sought during the planning application process”.
But corporate services director Glen Dougall told Monday’s special electors’ meeting no formal consultation with traditional owners had taken place.
Archaeologist Jack McIlroy’s submission says the proposal threatens sites important to the history and development of Fremantle and WA.
Based in the US and having coordinated excavations at Bathers Beach in the mid-1980s, he says, “the whaling season saw large numbers of Aboriginal people gathering at Bathers Bay to banquet on the scraps left from the whaling activities. It is at Bathers Bay that any evidence of Aboriginal occupation is likely to be found”.
“Aboriginal families visiting the beach on a regular basis would have carried with them artefacts, some of which would have been used and discarded on the site.”
He warns any ground-disturbing work could destroy the sites: “More to the point, considering their significance in the early history of Fremantle, constructing a building over these sites is inappropriate.”
Beaconsfield resident Errol Allen urged councillors to tread carefully when considering the Aboriginal heritage of the area: “It is extremely sacred. By placing an entertainment centre as proposed is to me a desecration of a sacred site.”
Celebrating the Barnett government’s recognition of Nyoongar people as traditional owners of the South-West, Fremantle Society member Anna Sullivan says Arthur Head, “is as precious as it gets, not only for Aboriginality but for our settling too”.
by CARMELO AMALFI