‘Illegal’ walking track built on sacred Indigenous site

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Parks Australia will be prosecuted over allegedly illegal works on a sacred site near Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park.

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) is alleging Parks Australia — a Federal Government organisation that manages a number of parks around the country — constructed a walking track on the site without an Authority Certificate as required by law.

The track is close to a ceremonial feature of the sacred site that is restricted, according to local Aboriginal traditions.

AAPA has filed charges under the NT Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act of 1989.

The alleged desecration of the site near Gunlom has sparked further tension in the relationship between Parks Australia and local traditional owners.

Earlier this year Kakadu’s board of management pushed forward a unanimous motion of no-confidence in then-director of Parks Australia, James Findlay, over the organisation’s handling of the incident.

Mr Findlay later resigned.

It is not known if his resignation is connected with the incident at Gunlom.

Hefty penalty if found guilty

If found guilty, Parks Australia faces a maximum penalty of $314,000.

AAPA’s Chairman, Bobby Nunggumarjbarr, said traditional owners had come to the organisation with deep concerns over the works.

“It is good that AAPA was able to listen to the concerns of the traditional owners and do a thorough investigation.”

“These things have happened in the past but we really need to work together to make sure things happen in the way that the traditional owners want them to,” he said.

Mr Nunggumarjbarr hopes the relationship between traditional owners and Parks Australia can be repaired.

“In the future in Kakadu I want to see the Park and traditional owners and AAPA working closer together so that this kind of thing can’t happen again.

“I want to make sure all the sacred sites are protected in the future for the benefits of the traditional owners and the custodians and all the visitors.”

AAPA would not comment further, as the matter is now before the courts.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she had heard first-hand of serious concerns from traditional owners over the management of the site.

“I visited the site in August at the invitation of Traditional Owners who raised their concerns with me,” she said.

“I took those concerns seriously and instructed my department to conduct an investigation into all aspects of the matter.”

The Minister said she felt it was inappropriate to comment further because “the matter is subject to a formal process.”

Parks Australia has been contacted for comment.


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