Wiradjuri elder Uncle Neil Ingram Senior doesn't normally like speaking to the media, but when he read that Orange City Council had been working closely with "all members of the Aboriginal community" to install a mountain bike trail on Mt Canobolas, he said he needed to speak up.
"We totally reject the mountain bike proposal in its entirety... This is our Dreaming Place. It is significant to the Dreaming Story which is embedded within our culture, belief, values and practices. The proposal doesn't reflect the true picture of [Mt Canobolas'] spiritual significance," Uncle Ingram said.
"This is very important for us, and as a respected elder in our community, I have to do it [speak up].
"[This development has] created a lot of pain and suffering for us."
The Wiradjuri elder is one of nine Registered Aboriginal Party (RAPs) representatives involved with the consultancy process who are overwhelmingly opposing the project - many of whom feel excluded from providing their knowledge around the mountain's sacred sites.
Along with the Orange Aboriginal Local Lands Council, other Wiradjuri elders and the wider local Indigenous community, the RAPs have formed the Gaanha-bula (the Wiradjuri name for Mt Canobolas) Action Group to protest the proposed bike trail.
Orange City Council disputes Uncle Ingram and the other RAPs assertions that consultation and communication with the Wiradjuri community has been lacking.
"Working collaboratively with the Orange Indigenous community is a very important part of the project and is a matter which Orange City Council and its consultants have taken very seriously as the mountain bike proposal is explored," council's manager for corporate and community relations Nick Redmond said.
"The work of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment (ACHA) is a legislated process which has to be followed to the letter. That process requires that council first engage with... RAPS through a mandated process before broader consultation can occur with the Aboriginal Community."
Mr Redmond added that the nine RAPs - which included Uncle Ingram - engaged by council had been kept up-to-date via email throughout the process.
"Recently this has centred on the release to the RAPs for comment on the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment that was prepared under the ACHA process," he said.
"The next stage of this process involves opening up the consultation, beyond the registered participants to the wider Indigenous community. Council plans to meet with the broader Aboriginal community following the conclusion of the process required by the ACHA... and to engage a cultural facilitator to co-ordinate and deliver the consultation process which will include listening to the communities concerns in the coming weeks."
How would Orange City Council like it if Aboriginal people destroyed their churches or places of worship?Uncle Neil Ingram Snr
To Uncle Ingram's ancestors - the traditional custodians of Mt Canobolas - the mountain has always been known as Gaanha-bula ("two shoulders" in Wiradjuri) and is "a place of spiritual connection through worship".
It was used as a men's initiation site and place for burbang (initiation and ceremony) and is covered in artefacts and sacred sites from his people's thousands of years of occupation.
Considering its heritage and cultural importance, the elder said he was "astounded by" mayor Reg Kidd wanting to save the Caldwell House nursing quarters due to its heritage value, but not Gaanha-bula.
"How would Orange City Council like it if Aboriginal people destroyed their churches or places of worship? Aboriginal people would never do that because we are spiritual people, and we value sacred places," he said. "We wouldn't do this to them, so why are they doing it to us?"
With NAIDOC celebrations starting tomorrow, the controversial proposal was particularly cutting to Uncle Ingram because this year's theme is "heal country".
The Gaanha-bula Action Group is the latest local organisation to publicly oppose the bike trail, with the Canobolas Conservation Alliance also protesting the development over the "irreversible damage" it will cause to a scientifically valuable area.
The Gaanha-bula Action Group will hold its first community meeting at Orange City Bowling Club on Saturday, November 6, at 11am. All are welcome to attend and a light lunch will be provided.
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