AN ANGRY meeting of more than 300 farmers in Northam last month failed to delay the July 1 start of controversial new laws to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Speakers who objected to the new laws were loudly clapped and cheered in the packed Northam Town Hall by growers from as far away as Esperance and Pingelly.
The changes appear to have been rushed through without adequate public education or any clear indication of how they will affect hundreds of Wheatbelt landholders.
Local Aboriginal representatives say they should have been delayed.
One speaker at last month’s packed Northam meeting claimed that the new laws would cost her “thousands and thousands of dollars to take out a tree” on her property.
“We have to face mortgage hikes, rate rises and now you want to add more costs – we are on our knees,” she said.
Another said “people have worked hard to grub a reasonable living out of the ground and now everyone is shit-scared”.
Toodyay real estate agent Tony Maddox – who is being prosecuted for building an unauthorised crossing over Boyagerring Brook on his Nunile farm – received the loudest cheers and applause when he said the State Government should pay him compensation for taking away his right to do what he wanted on his own property.
Mr Maddox has pleaded not guilty to breaching a previous Aboriginal heritage law passed in 1972 and is due to return to the Northam Magistrate’s Court on Monday July 10 to set a trial date after earlier court appearances in March and April.
A Ballardong Aboriginal Corporation representative at last month’s Northam meeting said “I understand your pain but we want to work with you, not against you”.
“Your land is your title – we don’t want it back,” she said.
“I live here, we are here, we all grew up here and we want to meet you to develop a rapport.”
The ‘education workshop’ was conducted by the WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage three days before the new laws took effect and was one of 10 similar public meetings held throughout WA during a recent five-week period.
Three more public meetings are yet to be held – in Gidgegannup, Perth and Kalgoorlie.
Industry calls for a six-month delay were rejected by new WA Premier Roger Cook, who said the State Government would avoid a “heavy handed” approach to applying the new law over the next year.
Toodyay’s Noongar Kaartdijin Aboriginal Corporation said it agreed that there should have been a delay to enable more people to learn how they might be affected by the new law.
A State Government speaker at the Northam meeting said most Wheatbelt landholders would not be affected.
State Engagement and Policy Director Cesar Rodriguez said farmers who sowed crops, ran livestock and repaired fences would not need heritage permits to continue existing activities.
Landholders planning new works on properties larger than 1100sq/m would be required to carry out a “due diligence assessment” by checking online and using other measures to find out if planned works might affect Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Heritage sites included waterways and other specific places (marked above in blue) in the Shire of Toodyay (shaded green) that were already registered with the State, and other areas where sites may exist but had yet to be registered or identified.
Mr Rodriguez said landholders wanting to carry out low-level activities in areas where heritage might exist would be required to consult a Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Service for an assessment.
WA Government guidelines say a fee of up to $500 can be charged for this service, and a ‘nominal’ fee of $100 for a permit.
Mr Rodriguez told the Northam meeting that low-level works permits could take up to 2½ months to be granted.
No Local Aboriginal Cultural Service bodies had been established anywhere in WA but existing registered native title bodies would assess applications in the interim.
The State Government has provided a total of $10 million to set up these services, with each assessment body to receive up to $300,000 to equip it with adequate staff and resources to process permit applications.
A map provided by Toodyay’s Noongar Kaartdijin Aboriginal Corporation (above) shows that the Shire of Toodyay contains three separate Aboriginal language groups – Ballardong, Yued and Whadjuk.
Mr Rodriguez said the Ballardong portion of the shire – an area that includes the Toodyay townsite and Nunile – was covered by the Ballardong Aboriginal Corporation, which has a mailing address in East Perth and representatives in Northam.
The corporation can be contacted on 0458 343 433 or email@example.com.
The Whadjuk language group includes West Toodyay, Julimar and Cobbler Pool, and Yued covers Coondle, Dewars Pool, Bejoording and most of the State Forest north of Julimar Road.
Local landholders seeking permits for low-level activities in these areas should contact the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council in East Perth on 9358 7499 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.