Blue Mountains Council calls out 'brutal dispossession' as local statement from the heart in process

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill has called out the "present disadvantage" of the local Indigenous community from "brutal dispossession" due to colonisation, while calling for council to help develop a statement of recognition and commitment to its Indigenous people.

At the June council meeting, Cr Greenhill said since 2018, council has supported plans by the Aboriginal Advisory Council [AAC] to develop a local statement of recognition to express the strong partnership between council and Gundungurra and Dharug traditional owners.

He called it a "concrete step to a fairer future ... a significant moment for the city of the Blue Mountains [providing] locally cultural connected guidance" and pointing out that many Aboriginal people "no longer live on their Ngurra [land]".

"Formal acknowledgement and recognition of the impacts of a brutal colonial past, the ongoing effects of colonisation and how this has dispossessed, displaced, disadvantaged and discriminated against generations of traditional owners and Aboriginal people in what is now the Blue Mountains LGA, has yet to be achieved.

"Locally there has been a strong desire, particularly from the non-Aboriginal community, to respond to the national conversations around the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Though that is of national significance, our view, guided by the AAC, is that within the Blue Mountains this conversation must be led and guided by local traditional owners and the broader Aboriginal community."

"This is the thing I am most proud of in my time as mayor," he told the Gazette.

Dharug cultural educator and AAC member Chris Tobin said the statement was "beautiful and encouraging". Mr Tobin said locally Indigenous groups remained "at the back of the queue" for housing.

"We are standing in a very significant place [The Gully] where the last of our local Aboriginal lived together before dispossession from their traditional land only 60 odd years ago," he said.

"It is hard to fathom why in 2020 - when the historical records are open to all - Aboriginal people of this country are still required to apply to banks and landlords just to be able to live here. So to have local council stand solidly with us and formally declare their commitment to help address this grave injustice is a beautiful and encouraging and very important for the wellbeing of the entire community here."

AAC chair, Gundungurra's Aunty Merle Williams said the national statement from the heart "didn't have enough guts" and she was concerned, particularly with local health outcomes for Indigenous people. She welcomed a local "positive" statement.

Bushfires and COVID have delayed the local statement of the heart process, but council voted unanimously to work with the AAC to see the milestone comes into place in time for Reconciliation Week in May, 2021. The council was told there was no financial implications to council adopting the mayoral minute.

"Whilst this won't affect the community over time, it could see council invest more time, focus and energy into our relationship," the mayor said.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars of work is proposed at The Gully sacred space in Katoomba as part of a draft plan of management which is set to go on display in August for 60 days. The Gully is a dedicated Aboriginal Place under NSW law in recognition of the continuous occupation of the area by Aboriginal people until forced eviction of all residents of The Gully in 1957 for a racetrack. It will guide management of the site for the next 10-15 years. The work is not yet funded.