Aboriginal Culture & Heritage: Butterfly Cave, West Wallsend

On behalf of our client, the Sugarloaf District Action Group Inc., we are working to protect the Awabakal Women’s Butterfly Cave in West Wallsend, near Lake Macquarie. The Butterfly Cave has traditionally been used by Awabakal women as a place to give birth, bathe and engage in ceremonies. It continues to be an essential part of Awabakal cultural life, valued for its seclusion and as a safe haven hidden by a rock platform above.

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The significance of the site was recognised by the NSW Government in 2013, when it was declared an Aboriginal Place under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. It was the first women's place to receive such recognition.

The site is endangered by a housing development, which threatens to come within 20m of the Butterfly Cave, destroy the adjacent songline bushland, expose the cave to damage from construction vibration, and encroach on the privacy of the Aboriginal women and girls who use the Butterfly Cave for cultural purposes as they have done for thousands of years; including Sista Speak, an Aboriginal girls' wellbeing program that uses the cave to help girls connect with their culture via local Aboriginal female role-models.

EDO NSW has been assisting the community with their concerns that the housing development will cause desecration of the Cave’s cultural heritage. In May 2017, the Office of Environment and Heritage refused our request for further protection without providing any reasons. We have since engaged a heritage expert to prepare a report for our clients.

The Federal Government is also considering protecting the Cave under the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. Should the development proceed, it’s looking more likely that this matter may end up in court. This would be a test of the National Parks & Wildlife Act, as there has never been a desecration case brought before the court.

Aboriginal Culture & Heritage