Working in partnership to protect and promote culture and heritage: EDO NSW and the Dharriwaa Elders Group

By EDO NSW Solicitor Ross Mackay

5 July 2016

As we celebrate NAIDOC Week 2016, it is a good time for us to reflect on the work we do for our Aboriginal clients.

One of our long-standing Aboriginal clients is the Dharriwaa Elders Group.

Dharriwaa Elders Group is an incredibly vibrant grassroots organisation based in Walgett, and is made up of Aboriginal people over the age of 60 who live in Walgett and surrounds. The Group’s programs aim to support Aboriginal elders to resume leadership roles in the community, help them to stay active and healthy, promote local Aboriginal cultural knowledge and identity, and develop the Walgett Aboriginal community.

Artefact

Dhariwaa Elders Group member inspecting a silcrete flake during a culture and heritage inspection of a property where opal prospecting is proposed.

Our work with the Group started back in 2012, when they invited us to Walgett to run a community workshop for elders about planning laws, mining laws and culture and heritage protection laws. At the workshop, elders expressed a real concern that these laws do not adequately protect their culture and heritage, particularly in relation to impacts from opal mining. We have previously discussed issues with NSW culture and heritage laws here.

Since the 2012 workshop, we have represented the Group in its dealings with the NSW Government to try to improve safeguards for culture and heritage from the impacts of opal mining. This has included requesting proper assessment of culture and heritage impacts when new areas are opened up for opal mining, and proper protection and mitigation measures. The Group has found this to be an uphill battle, with the Government declining to conduct substantial culture and heritage assessments when new areas are opened up for opal mining, relying instead on the less stringent Review of Environmental Factors process.

However, the Group has found willing allies in local landholders, who share a common interest in wanting to protect the environment and biodiversity values of their properties from opal mining, as well as being eager to help the Group to protect their culture and heritage.

Our work has involved helping these two communities – local Aboriginal groups and local landholders – work together to protect cultural heritage. We work with elders from the Group as they conduct culture and heritage inspections of properties, and advise them on how to draft affidavits outlining the culture and heritage values identified. Landholders then use these affidavits in the arbitration process for Access Management Plans, with the aim of having strong protection and mitigation conditions imposed on opal prospecting and mining on their properties.

In addition to protecting culture and heritage values from opal mining, EDO NSW has also helped and continues to help the Group on a number of other issues within our expertise, including:

  • trying to secure a right for Dharriwaa Elders Group  to have an input into environmental assessment processes for coal seam gas projects;
  • providing advice and expertise to help the Group engage with the Murray Darling Basin Authority, to try to secure environmental and cultural water flows for the Walgett area;
  • providing advice on how best to protect newly rediscovered cultural sites on private property; and
  • advising on how to improve cultural heritage protection mechanisms in Local Environmental Plans.

We are privileged to be able to help Aboriginal communities protect their culture and heritage and look forward to continuing this important work.

Working with strong Aboriginal community groups such as the Dharriwaa Elders Group is important to us in fulfilling our commitment to use our expertise, professionalism and deep commitment to assist and stand with our Aboriginal clients as they protect and promote their Country, culture and heritage through law.

We hope you all have a great NAIDOC week. 

Our Aboriginal Engagement Program 
Through our Aboriginal Engagement Program we provide legal advice and community education, tailored and appropriate for Aboriginal communities, on a range of public interest environmental law matters.

Please head to our Aboriginal Engagement Program webpage to find out more about the important work we do for our Aboriginal clients across NSW.