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Environment Minister delays destruction of Wahluu sacred site in 11th hour reprieve

The order comes after a protest in front of NSW Parliament yesterday evening.

Pictured: Anna Ho, David Shoebridge, Brydie Zorz, and Lungol Wekina.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has today issued an emergency declaration to Bathurst Regional Council after a rally yesterday afternoon called for Wahluu to be saved from Council’s planned go kart track. The order will prevent work on Wahluu for 30 days, but there is no guarantee of continued protection after the expiry of that period.

Yesterday in Martin Place, a rally led by the UNSW, UTS and University of Sydney Enviro Collectives called for Wahluu to be saved from Bathurst Regional Council’s planned go kart track.

Wahluu, otherwise known as Mount Panorama, is a site of huge cultural significance to the Wiradjuri people in Bathurst. It is a bora ring site, and a women’s sacred site sits on the shoulder of the mountain. The construction of the go kart track was set to begin on March 8th, International Women’s Day.

Uncle David Bell, a Wiradjuri man from Cootamundra, gave the Welcome to Country, followed by Lungol Wekina, a member of UNSW Enviro Collective, who shared a message from Wiradjuri elders. The elders said that neither they nor any traditional owners had been consulted throughout the development process and that their suggestions for alternative sites for the track had been ignored. They said that “it is clear the ability of a select few to profit off an exclusive club is worth more to the council than tens of thousands of years of culture.”

Brydie Zorz, a Wiradjuri woman and UNSW student spoke next, giving some context to what is occurring at Wahluu. She said that elders and community members had been fighting against Bathurst Regional Council’s plans for the go kart track for seven years.

Zorz said that “Bathurst Regional Council rejoices at the chance to assist the colonial regime of the Australian state.” She also noted that she and other Wiradjuri people “are not opposed to a go kart track in Bathurst…what we oppose is the destruction of Indigenous sites to allow this track to be built.” Zorz compared Wahluu to Juukan Gorge, telling the rally that “what is happening at Wahluu is reminiscent of what is happening nation-wide: we see cultural sites being destroyed while a select few profit.”

Zorz called for the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, “to put an immediate stop to the construction of this track until proper consultation with elders can occur and an alternate location can be found.”

David Shoebridge, NSW Parliament Greens MP and First Nations Justice Spokesperson, was also a speaker at the rally. He condemned Bathurst councillors, saying that the planned destruction of Wahluu “is a deep reflection of Bathurst Regional Council who seem to think that First Nations culture is of so little value to them and their community that they’re willing to destroy it for a go kart track.” 

Shoebridge ended his speech with a challenge; “if they go in on the 8th of March, on International Women’s Day, and try and damage that site, we need to have as many of us there as we can, to stand in solidarity and protect First Nations culture, because the laws aren’t doing it, the parliaments aren’t doing it, the council’s not doing it, the environment minister’s not doing it. It is up to us to save Wahluu.”

Throughout the rally, Anna Ho, UNSW Environment Officer, led chants such as “When Wiradjuri land is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”, and “What do we want? Lands back. When do we want it? Now. What are we going to do? Fight for it.”

Brydie Zorz ended the rally with a call for continued support, with a picnic scheduled for this Sunday, March 7th, at Mount Panorama, protesting the construction. She also shared a petition created by Susan Douglas, which calls for Mount Panorama to be saved. At the time of writing it has over 10 000 signatures.

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