When English boats come to settle Australia and establish the Colonies that are the foundation for our prosperous nation, from their perspective as far as the future was concerned, this wide brown land girt by sea was and would always have been considered “terra-nullius”. Over the past generation, enlightened people have de-bunked that myth.
Yet the Aboriginal Nations’ histories will remain mostly a unknowable baring a Napoleonic-esk discovery akin to the Rosetta Stone meaning that the code with which these Nations’ boarders and cultures changed and evolved during 60,000 years may only ever exist in the dream time.
We have only fragments of a snapshot in time of what life was like, what the geo-political boundaries were. The written diaries of a few Englishmen who documented observations, interactions and languages remain and sit alongside the verbal histories of living Aboriginal people today, whose ancestors saw the boats arrive. These few traces of history are all we have to rely on as attempts are made to identify the boundaries of Aboriginal nations.
The Local Government Association of South Australia is in the final moments of establishing an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the an Aboriginal Nation that covers most of the populated area of South Australia. Fragments of history have identified that the Kaurna Nation were the terra-owners of parts of the Barossa in the North and as far South as parts of Alexandrina Council. This geographical area takes in 29 Councils.
For the best part of a decade, representatives from these Councils have negotiated with representatives of the Kaurna to establish a process by which these two bodies can work through situations in which construction work (housing, roads etc) can be managed so that significant sites of Kaurna heritage are respected.
Let’s go back in time again. When Councils laid roads and foundations for houses were built, excavating equipment came in and cleared the ground. During the clearing human bones were collected. These bones were sent to the Museum, documented, tagged and laid out in glass cases. Many were sent around the world to other Museums. The SA Museum has over 20,000 artefacts and human remains of Aboriginal connection.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’d be outraged if I thought that another nation had developed over the top of the local cemetery where my Grand-Pa is buried and put my ancestors remains were put in glass cases. When I visit my Uncle Colin, or Pa Wesley at Centennial Park Cemetery it is a deeply personal time of reflection. When family historians chase their ancestral graves across the globe and take photos of head-stones in Scotland or Poland there is a sense of attachment and connection which can be felt more easily than described.
My personal outrage at the thought that my relatives could be held in a glass cabinet makes me feel like I could lose control (and this for me is only a theoretical concept). Yet for the living Kaurna people and other Aboriginal descendants it is their reality. I can perhaps glimpse in myself an understanding of the images on TV of their anger during specific times of the year.
This Indigenous Land Use Agreement sets in place appropriate parameters which articulate what is to be done to ensure that future work within our Council areas does not replicate the mistakes of the past. With so much of the Metropolitan area already built over it is (perhaps unfortunate is not a strong enough word), it is wrong that it is coming in so late in the piece. But if it is not implemented now our attitude and actions will remain unchanged.
The Councils which are involved will pay into a fund, the money from which will be used to receive and assess public works documents and development applications. Where a road or development occurs which covers an area of Kaurna significance or when cultural artefacts are found during construction, this process will ensure that the Kaurna will have the ability to respectfully work through the issues. It is a transparent process which removes the stigma which has attached itself to such situations.
Barossa, Alexandrina and Mt. Barker Councils remain the three Councils yet to sign this agreement.
Perhaps it is because the borders of the Kaurna Nation do not entirely cover their own and so with other Aboriginal Nations having a geographical reach into their Councils areas they don’t want to offend anyone?
Perhaps it is because they feel that because only a portion of their land is covered by the Kaurna Nation they should only pay an equivalent portion into the fund?
Perhaps it is because they want to wait and see how this will work?
Perhaps they want the State Government to be more involved?
Whatever their individual and reasons I would like to plead with them to reconsider their position. At the close of November this process must move onto the next stage. I can only hope that in their November Council meetings they will revisit this and see the merits in signing on.
I would like to pay my respects to the people who have worked this ILUA to the point it is now at. I’ve been involved with the group since 2010 and chair for less than a year. Lord Mayor Michael Harbisson was its first Chair and Mayor of Marion and President of the Australian Local Government Association Felicity-Ann Lewis was the Chair after that.
I’d like to pay my respects to the Kaurna people involved who I have not personally dealt with but who are true leaders and must be commended.