It is important to remember that issues of land do not have relevance only for regional areas or far off parts of Australia. Right here on the Northern Beaches and in greater Sydney, issues of land are acutely relevant, both to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Even with the dispossession of the Guringai people, there are still a small number of descendants of the traditional custodians living on The Northern Beaches. There are numbers of Aboriginal people who do live locally. The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC), the custodial body for the Sydney Basin, owns land claimed under the Land Rights Act 1983 (see Question 5). Indeed, the Land Council is the single largest landowner in The Northern Beaches Council area and pays a sizeable share of rates. It has been important, therefore, for local government on the Peninsula to work in cooperation with the Land Council on issues pertaining to land in the area.
A crucial area requiring cooperation is the care of Aboriginal sites in the Peninsula area and the education of the community with regard to their significance and fragility (see Question 2, above). The ongoing struggle to preserve the lands surrounding the Quarantine Station at North Head, for example, is due in part to the need to protect significant Aboriginal sites there. In addition, repatriating Aboriginal Ancestral Remains for appropriate reburial is a process that has required at times the support of local government.
Another example of successful cooperation is the unique partnership between the MLALC, Warringah Council (now The Northern Beaches Council) and the Brookvale Valley Community Group called the Tripartite Agreement. The 1998 agreement, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, involves the joint management of a 10ha site at the head of Brookvale Valley owned by MLALC. Under the joint management plan, the bushland site has undergone a major clean-up and bush regeneration program, which has protected key wildlife habitats and significant Aboriginal sites, while retaining public access for recreation. The management plan, funded by proceeds of the sale of seven lots at the far corner of the site, has allowed the vast majority of the site to remain bushland.
In his speech at the Tripartite Agreement signing ceremony, (then Warringah Mayor) Sam Danieli stressed that the agreement was an example of what could be achieved through commitment to reconciliation. He reminded those present that it was important for the people of Warringah to be a part of a scheme that will be used as a model in other communities in Australia. Jenny Munro, MLALC Chairperson at the time, emphasised that settler Australians have nothing to fear from the land claim process. She commented that the reality of sharing space, when undertaken in the spirit of cooperation and equality, makes everyone a winner. “We’ve achieved something today which people have spoken about for a long time”, she said. “We sat at the table and realised it’s not that hard to do. It is a lesson for all of us”.
Issues of land, therefore, are not merely a concern out there, but have significant meaning here on the Northern Beaches.
For more information on this issue, contact the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council or Northern Beaches Councils.