Walkabout Wildlife Park Aboriginal site State Heritage Listed

After a 15-year battle to preserve a sacred women's site in New South Wales, the women can finally claim victory.

Aboriginal women from the Central Coast in New South Wales are “ecstatic” following the announcement that one of their sacred sites will be heritage listed.

The victory follows a 15-year battle to protect the Calga Aboriginal Cultural Landscape from the threat of mining. The site is highly symbolic for the Darkinjung and Guringai women and is the highly sacred birthplace of the creation deity, Daramulan. 

NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Heritage Don Harwin announced the site would be heritage listed at the Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park on Tuesday.

Mr Harwin said the decision was made because the site, sacred to local Aboriginal women, is an "important link to their ancestors" and a "key resource in teaching future generations of Aboriginal children, particularly girls". 

Tracey Howie, Cultural Heritage Officer at Guringai Tribal Link Aboriginal Corporation, said she was lost for words after a 15-year battle drew to an end.

“[I’m] ecstatic, absolutely ecstatic," she told NITV News.

“Words really can’t explain the relief from such a hard battle… and we overcame them all and we came together and the Aboriginal community has come together and we have united as one and we’ve been successful,” she said.

“This site is so significant to all of us women. Within this area, less than 4 per cent of the engravings are females so that there gives you an indication of how rare they are.”

The women have been fighting for the land since a proposal to expand a sandstone mine was announced almost 16 years ago.

At the time, Darkinjung women, as well as the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park, sought legal action against the proposal. 

In 2015, after a 10-year legal battle, the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned the proposal. Its decision was heavily based on evidence provided by Indigenous women that the site was of significant and cultural importance to them.

The women now have a sacred and protected area which they plan to use for cultural activities and lessons. 

“It’s a great personal achievement for me as an Aboriginal woman…  to be able to secure such a prestigious cultural and heritage site as a women’s business,” said Tina West from the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“Not only our past women, our current women, but for our future women it is a great significance to us and a huge achievement."

Full Story on NITV

The Calga Aboriginal Cultural Landscape is of State heritage significance as a symbolic and ritualised cultural landscape comprised within a natural sandstone amphitheatre formed around a gully.

The semicircular topography of the amphitheatre provides natural resources, amenity and seclusion for cultural practise and its shape is recognised by Aboriginal women to represent a womb.

The landscape is associated with Dreaming stories and belief systems of Baiame, Bootha and Daramulan, who are recognised by Aboriginal people across much of south eastern Australia as the all-father who came from the sky and the mother and son who created the earth and other beings and passed down sacred law to Aboriginal people. Of great spiritual significance, a concentration of engravings depicting these entities in both human and anthropomorphic forms demonstrate to Aboriginal people that the site is the highly sacred place where Daramulan came into being. Located along the Peats Ridge songline, the Calga Aboriginal Cultural Landscape is connected both spatially and symbolically with other key sites which have established associations with these creation beings including Mooney Mooney, Baiame Cave and Mt Yengo.

The landscape is made up of layers of interconnected journey and directional markers which are individually significant, but when read or interpreted together in their traditional context, convey rich information about cultural practise including boundaries of initiated or gendered authorization for particular areas and instructions for ritual practise and ceremony related to stories, songs and dances. These markers include paths provided by the sloped and terraced topography, views from prominent landmarks, water sources, significant trees and vegetation, rock engravings, stone arrangements and pigment art. Some of the engraved motifs associated with sacred women’s business are exceptionally rare and one example with associated stone arrangements may be totally unique. There is high potential for further archaeological and anthropological insights to be gained from further survey and investigation of the terrain.

Aboriginal women view the place as an important link to their female ancestors and key resource for teaching of future generations of Aboriginal girls and women about their culture and spirituality. Although much of the symbolism of the engravings, stone arrangements, landforms and vegetation on the northern high sandstone terraces have been identified as being associated with sacred women's business, other areas are inscribed with meaning of particular importance to Aboriginal men. Other parts of the site, particularly the southern rock shelters and sloping terrain at the base of the gully, are able to sustain and accommodate mixed domestic groups while ceremony is undertaken on the northern ridgeline.

The 2015 judgement of the Land and Environment Court, based largely on evidence given by Aboriginal women, is regarded as an historic landmark precedent in the way that Aboriginal cultural landscapes with tangible and intangible values are recognised and protected in law.

Efforts to recognise and protect the cultural landscape over a decade have served to unite Aboriginal communities from previously disparate and geographically distant groups. The community associates the womb-shaped place with cultural genesis and spiritual nourishment. This recent strengthening of ties and sharing of cultural knowledge has enabled deeper understandings and reconnection, particularly for Aboriginal women, with the landscape, and their culture. The Calga Aboriginal Cultural Landscape is of exceptional social and spiritual state heritage significance as it demonstrates the continuation of Aboriginal living culture and beliefs.

Source: NSW Environment & Heritage