Community sets out to save wetland and Aboriginal land

ABOVE: The land up for auction at Lawrence St in Tabulam. Photo: Susanna Freymark

Susanna Freymark

When Jill Adam saw that blocks of land in Tabulam were up for sale because of unpaid rates, she dug deeper.
The properties at Lawrence St, 20 Clarence St, 1609 Tabulam Rd and 8588 Bruxner Highway were owned by the now-deregistered Jarguan Aboriginal Corporation.
The properties are now held by ORIC – the federal government’s Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations.
ORIC said it will not pay the rates and charges owing on the land in the name of Jarguan Corporation.
Because of this the land was intended to be sold by Kyogle Council at a public auction on December 16.
ORIC has said it will not prevent the sale.
The properties range in price from $8867 to $14,648.
As secretary of the Tabulam & District Progress Association Ms Adam took the issue to the association to see what could be done to stop the sale of the land.
She spoke to Poppy Harry Mundine Walker, Tom Avery and others at Jubullum.
“The Wahlabul people are desperate to save this land from property development and the extinction of the wildlife,” Ms Adam said.
“The area has a cultural significance in that children were taught how to find and collect witchetty grubs as a source of native food.”
Ten years of unpaid rates amounting to $13,000 would need to be paid to keep the Lawrence St land.
Ms Adam was in contact with ORIC but didn’t get too far.
She wrote to council saying the community was keen to keep, in particular, the block of land in Lawrence St.
“This block of land is a natural wetland, bearing numerous old-growth and newer-growth native trees and native grasses. The area is an existing wildlife refuge in its current state and has been for hundreds of years,” she said.
“Forty-three different bird species have been photographed and identified as using the trees as their homes for nesting, food sources and safe refuge.”
Photographer David Guillau lives in a neighbouring house to the Lawrence St property. He is an ecologist and wildlife photographer with a passionate interest in native animals and birds. He has taken hundreds of photos from his veranda.
A buff banded rail bird at Lawrence St land in Tabulam. Photo: David Guillau
The progress association and associated groups from Jubullum are investigating how to raise the funds to pay the outstanding rates to prevent the land being auctioned and the possibility of housing development.
Council general manager Graham Kennett told the association council was authorised under the Local Government Act 1993 to sell property when the rates were in arrears. This applied equally to land owned by individuals and corporations.
The land would be sold to the highest bidder on the day.
“Council does not wish to see an outcome that would see a loss of Aboriginal housing or a loss of control of the land by the local Aboriginal people,” Mr Kennett said.
Jubullum Local Aboriginal Land Council made a request to council that the public auction process planned for December 16 exclude these properties previously owned by Jarguan.
Council has deferred the auction for no less than three months to allow Jubullum land council time to negotiate an outcome with ORIC that would at least see an in-principle agreement for the transfer or sale of the land to the Jubullum land council, along with payment of the outstanding rates and charges, Mr Kennett said.
Delaying the auction buys some time for the Aboriginal community and the progress association to come up with a solution if ORIC doesn’t agree.
Mr Kennett said the council was committed to an outcome that would see the land retained by an appropriate Aboriginal organisation such as Jubullum land council.
“However, any decision on the future transfer or sale of the land lies wholly with the ORIC and to date they have been very slow to respond to the concerns raised by council and stakeholders such as yourselves in relation to this matter,” he wrote to Ms Adam.
She said they were discussing a crowdfunder campaign to pay the rates and return the land to the local Aboriginal community on a 99-year lease.
They would be guided by legal advice, she said.
“If we all work together, we can save this land.”
A dollar bird in Tabulam. Photo: David Guillau
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