A Bundjalung Elder has served a court summons to a regional city council, NSW’s Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) and property developers Winten Property Group over a proposed housing development on land containing significant cultural sites in North Lismore on the state’s north coast.
Stage one of the North Lismore Plateau development, which will see 433 houses built on the 255-hectare site on the NSW north coast, was approved by the JRPP in October last year.
The chairman of the Bundjalung Elders Council, Mick Ryan, said the site is sacred to the local Aboriginal people.
"I've been speaking to my ancestors and they told me 'don't let no one touch that land'," he said.
Mr Ryan is seeking to invalidate the decision by the JRPP through a hearing at the Land and Environment court on March 15 and says he’s been fighting the development for seven years, and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
A 2012 cultural heritage assessment identified four sacred sites on the proposed development area but Mr Ryan said there could be many more that have been missed.
He was part of the cultural heritage assessment process, accompanying archaeologists and developers onto the site but said his concerns haven't been listened to.
"There’s grave sites along the area from Lismore to Dunoon, there’s carve trees, there's a waterhole there that's very significant to us," he said.
"Those sites would be ruined if this goes ahead. We found heaps of artefacts up there.
"We found petrified wood from Mt Wollumbin (Mt Warning) from when it was an active volcano. That was sharpened to be used as a tool."
Mark Tirris is a member of the Lismore Council’s Aboriginal Advisory Group, and says while he respects Mr Ryan and his opinion, his own view is supportive of the development.
“As far as I understand, the Aboriginal community has been consulted a number of times and this development has been 20 years in the making,” he said.
“All Aboriginal people aren’t going to agree on everything and this is no different.
“I’m supportive of housing growth. If there’s more housing available, rent will be cheaper and that will benefit low-income families.”
Mr Tirris said the development proposal outlines sufficient measures to protect these sites.
The plan outlines that the ‘environmental zones’ where the cultural sites have been found will be fenced off and are not to be built on or disturbed.
“I think the council and the developers have been sensitive in this and they shouldn’t be stopped,” Mr Tirris said.
“There are number of areas that are being protected. The purpose of the land is to look after the people and housing is an important part of that.
“I do think it’s irresponsible to try to stop this going forward. I hope the hearing next month really weighs up all the different voices speaking out on this and makes a reasonable decision.”
Winten’s David McGrath said there had been a number of issues raised in the court summons and the company is preparing for the hearing next month.
“There’s been a number of incredibly wide-ranging issues raised,” he said.
“We’re in the process of assessing all of those issues ahead of the hearing in March.”
Mr Ryan was successful in a 2014 challenge against the proposed development after the court found Lismore Council had made an error in removing environmental zones from the publicly exhibited plans before it was submitted for approval.
Mr Ryan is hoping the hearing next month will help him “find a way forward”.
"They're talking about compromise but there's no way of compromising with this," he said.
"How do you keep something sacred? You leave it alone. The bottom line is they can't touch that land."