I had an excellent weekend joining the celebrations to mark the 13th anniversary of the Sandon Point Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
At McCauleys Beach, Thirroul, elders from many Aboriginal nations, visitors from across Australia and lots of locals enjoyed good company, excellent food and top entertainment from local traditional dancers, Coloured Stone, Joe Geia, Frank Yamma and lots more.
Surviving and flourishing for 13 years is a huge achievement. This tent embassy was born out of a big south coast battle against developers who as well as carving up Aboriginal land, regularly donated to the Coalition and Labor parties.
I first met one of the Tent Embassy founders, Dootch Kennedy, in 2000 when he showed me around the wetlands at the back of McCauleys Beach, a site where a 6000 year old Aboriginal skeleton was found during the 1998 floods. There are a reports of a number of Aboriginal skeletons being found in this area.
Dootch told me of the long association his people have with this land and their concern about the Stockland 600 house development plans backed by local Labor and Liberals as well as the NSW Labor government.
I remember on one visit Dootch spoke to me about his upset that the government had approved Consent to Destroy Orders. As we walked around the site he pointed out various artefacts that would be destroyed.
While we know that many communities have had their heritage destroyed I have often wondered if there are many countries where there is a law that allows such legally sanctioned cultural destruction to occur.
Over the years I joined the protests on many occasions. For a while the bulldozers where kept idle and some activists pursued the battle in the Land and Environment Court.
The tent embassy celebrations also paid tribute to the 13 years of legal actions to protect the Aboriginal, environmental, colonial history, and public space values.
Many groups have backed these extraordinary endeavours including the Northern Illawarra Reconciliation and Treaty Group, the Sandon Point Community Picket, the South Coast Labor Council and the Greens.
While much of the over development that locals fought so hard to stop went ahead there have been some significant wins along the way. In 2007 part of the foreshore was recognised as significant Aboriginal land and the size of Stockland’s massive development plans has been curtailed.
Today the battle continues and going by the numbers at this year’s annual celebration support for the Test Embassy cause continues to grow. We have a lot to thank these hard working activists for.
This is my speech in the Senate about the long struggle to protect Aboriginal land and the natural environment at Sandon Point.