Gundungurra group lodge proposal to protect sacred sites at risk in Warragamba Dam plan

Hundreds of Indigenous sacred sites are at risk of being flooded if the Warragamba Dam wall raising goes ahead.

To protect this cultural heritage, Katoomba-based Gundungurra Aboriginal Heritage Association has lodged an Aboriginal Place proposal form with the NSW office of environment and heritage.

The proposal covers a vast area between Hampton, near Jenolan Caves, and the Wingecarribee local government area and includes areas of Blue Mountains National Park and private property at Jooriland near Yerranderie.

Association secretary and Gundungurra Elder Aunty Sharyn Halls said: “Our creation story will be impacted completely by the [Warragamba Dam] proposal so we had to take steps to get extra protection of our story.”

For the past 12 years the association, with the help of an archaeologist, have been gathering evidence.

“We were thinking we would never have to take the step we have just taken,” Aunty Sharyn said.

“We were thinking that we don’t need it. We have an Indigenous Land Use Agreement.

“If the proposal goes ahead it will impact directly on cultural heritage items.”

She said rock shelters containing Indigenous art, and waterholes where ceremonies and camps were held would be inundated.

There are sites around the Kedumba, Kowmung, Kanangra and Jenolan rivers, and they had identified more than 100 new sites in the Burragorang, in addition to more than 800 sites in the southern Blue Mountains alone.

Other sites are around Jooriland, Byrnes Creek, Nattai, Little River, Tonalli River and Werriberri.

“Many of these sites have evidence of ongoing occupation and connection from Gundungurra families, from pre-contact times to the present,” Aunty Sharyn said.

The Gundungurra creation story ‘The Journey of Gurangatch and Mirrigan’, documents the creation of the two main rivers throughout Gundungurra Country, the Wollondilly and Coxs River, with several of their associated tributaries such as the Kedumba and Jenolan Rivers. It also includes the creation of landscape features along the Great Dividing Range.

Various landmarks in the story occur throughout the Wollondilly and Coxs River catchments, as well as along the Great Dividing Range, generally at waterholes, where the the Gundungurra people believe the spirit of Gurangatch still resides.  

Aunty Sharyn said representatives from the NSW government had given a presentation on the dam proposal.

“They treated it as if we might have a passing interest in it. We have an interest in it – it’s where our people come from,” she said.

“So much could be destroyed by one flooding episode.”

An Infrastructure NSW spokeswoman said the proposed Aboriginal Place would be reviewed under the environmental impact statement (EIS) being developed for the Warragamba Dam plan.

“The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment methodology being implemented under the Warragamba Dam Raising environmental impact assessment, and reviewed by the registered Aboriginal parties, would be an appropriate assessment to inform consideration of an Aboriginal Place by the Minister for the Environment,” she said.

She said Aboriginal heritage consultants were undertaking this work.

“Following early discussions with the Gundungurra ILUA Consultation Committee, a respected Aboriginal heritage consultant has also been engaged who has links to the Gundungurra People and specialised knowledge of Aboriginal heritage in the Blue Mountains region,” the spokeswoman said.

The $700 million proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 metres was announced by then premier Mike Baird in June 2016 as flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.

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