Historian calls for Aboriginal rights ahead of developers

Tim Staires of the Koorie Heritage Trust. Photo by Jonathan Greenwood.
Experts say property developers should consider and respect the Aboriginality of certain sites before deciding to build. Jonathan Greenwood reports.

Planners must “respect and reflect the Aboriginality” of sites before they decide to build in the area, says an award-winning Yarra Valley historian .

Mick Woiwod, author of more than 20 books with a strong interest in the indigenous history of the area, said the “only way forward” was to liaise with local Aboriginal communities was to “appoint Wurundjeri artists and activists on government planning boards”.

Mr Woiwod said that that while he was not “conversant” with local government policy, he feared it “isn’t sufficient to make up for the bureaucracy lapses of the past 150 years”.

Mr Woiwod also said that before building starts, an archaeological survey must be completed, with at least one member of a team an Aborigine.

Under the Victorian State Planning Scheme, a team of archaeologists must complete an archaeological survey of the site, with work ending once they have inspected it for Aboriginal remains and artefacts.

The Victorian government planning page shows additional legislation that promises to “protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, with processes linked to the Victorian planning system”.

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 stipulates that those wishing to build must present a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) if the land is listed as ‘high-risk’.

A site is classified as “high-risk” if building will create significant ground disturbance, and if part or all the area is of ‘cultural heritage sensitivity’ which has not been subject to significant ground disturbance.

Tim Staires, of the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne, holds a similar opinion to the state legislation. He said that “if there is a heritage-listed site, you can’t build there.”

However, Mr Staires also said: “If there’s no significance [to the site], then there’s no way they can really be stopped.”

Using the example of scar trees, Mr Staires said that if one wanted to build a property there, “you are actually not allowed to remove those trees” from the property being developed.

Mr Staires also mentioned that “a heritage-listed site” would also have some bearing as to whether a property would be allowed to be developed on the site in question.

An important caveat for any site to be considered exempt from property development, he said, is for it “to be recognised” as a heritage site.

“A lot of people think that if they find something Aboriginal, our house is going to be taken away,” Mr Staires said. “That is not the case.”