Campers ordered to evacuate 'sacred site' at Gympie Pyramid

 

Indigenous elders fear ancient cultural artefacts and significant spiritual sites will be destroyed by the Queensland government to make way for a road expansion, after they received an eviction notice earlier this week.

Kabi elders and supporters are standing firm at the Djaki Kundu site but fear authorities will follow through with threats to force the group off the land to allow the Bruce Highway upgrade north of Brisbane between Cooroy and Curra.

The campsite received an eviction notice from the Department of Transport and Marine Roads (TMR) on Monday accusing the group of trespassing and giving them 48 hours to vacate before being charged.

On Wednesday afternoon, about 45 elders and supporters defiantly stood their ground and were yet to be confronted by authorities, but remain fearful the drawn out battle will result in the destruction of important cultural sites.

Djaki Kundu guardian Diane Djaki Widjung said various artefacts are scattered across the area, including remnants of standing stone statues, numerous stone circles, and intangible places of significance such as a Seven Sisters Dreaming site, a healing site and a sacred women's area.

"It's a very spiritual place because it is also important for the water spirit dreaming and basically Transport and Main Roads have said for years that there's nothing here that they regard as Aboriginal because they want to destroy it," she told NCA NewsWire.

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Left: Kabi Ancestor figure previously removed from Djaki Kundu and placed in the Gympie Museum, Right: A Kabi Ancestor figure (head) still remaining at Djaki Kundu
Left: Kabi Ancestor figure previously removed from Djaki Kundu and placed in the Gympie Museum, Right: A Kabi Ancestor figure (head) still remaining at Djaki Kundu

Ms Widjung, who is regarded as a lore woman by her tribal elders, said the Queensland government has ignored Kabi elders for years and intends to break Commonwealth law by bulldozing the site.

"It is actually a crime to destroy what they call Aboriginal cultural heritage," she said. "If tribal people say there is intangible and/or tangible heritage in a certain site, they're not supposed to destroy it."

Kabi Ancestor (head) still remaining at Djaki Kundu.
Kabi Ancestor (head) still remaining at Djaki Kundu.

The escalation of the ongoing dispute between Aboriginal elders and the Queensland government follows widespread condemnation last year over Rio Tinto's blasting of Juukan Gorge cave, as well as the Victorian government's destruction of the sacred Djab Wurrung trees.

"We would have hoped Labor would have learned from their Victorian colleagues," state Greens MP Amy MacMahon told NCA NewsWire. "Rather than making a habit of bulldozing sites that are significant to local elders for things like highways, or mines or for property developers."

The Member for South Brisbane said she is "extremely concerned" by the threat to evict elders who are passionately protecting their heritage from being destroyed.

"You'd think Queensland Labor would not want to repeat the same mistakes with all the negative publicity that came out of the destruction of the Juukan Gorge.," Ms MacMahon said.

Left: Djaa‘mee Gul’ar Djan’du Sovereign Kabi tribal man and, right, Wit-Boooka Sovereign Kabi Tribal Law/Lore man.
Left: Djaa‘mee Gul’ar Djan’du Sovereign Kabi tribal man and, right, Wit-Boooka Sovereign Kabi Tribal Law/Lore man.

In a statement provided to NCA NewsWire, a departmental spokesperson insisted the elders occupying the disputed land are not the registered native title claimants.

It said the Kabi Kabi First Nation Traditional Owner group had been nominated by the Kabi Kabi people to represent them, which the department claims it extensively consulted with throughout the design and construction of the Bruce Highway upgrade.

"In November 2020, the Supreme Court heard an injunction application filed by a group calling themselves the Sovereign Native Tribes of the Kabi Kabi First Nation State seeking orders to prevent interference with the site," the TMR spokesperson said.

"The land is freehold land owned by the State of Queensland."

The injunction was not successful but Ms Widjung said the dispute over the registered title owners is irrelevant given cultural artefacts and spiritual heritage sites are in danger of destruction.

"They claim to own it but they have no provenance of title and regardless of whether they have a claim to ownership or not, they're not allowed under commonwealth or state laws to destroy aboriginal cultural heritage," she said.

"So it's really immaterial and they have no right to prevent the free exercise of Kabi spiritual and religious practice."

Originally published as Highway upgrade will 'destroy sacred sites'


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