• The Foothills development at Mt Ainslie will have about 200 homes. (Facebook: Doma Group.)Source: Facebook: Doma Group.
A Ngambri man fears a repeat of the kind of destruction seen at Juukan Gorge, but this time in Canberra for a new housing development that threatens to level a significant cultural site.
Keira Jenkins

23 Jun 2020 - 4:19 PM  UPDATED 23 Jun 2020 - 4:20 PM

A proposed development at the foothills of Mt Ainslie in Canberra could result in "another Juukan Gorge" situation according to Ngambri Man Shane Mortimer.

Mr Mortimer said the proposed site, which will include more than 200 homes, a swimming pool and tennis court in a closed off complex, is significant for a number of reasons, including cultural sites that were used for men's business.

"It's the very last remnant of the Limestone Plains, which Canberra is famous for," he told NITV News on Tuesday.

"It's all been destroyed except for this last remaining part.

"The boulders, I've had two geologists look at them, they're 400 million years old, and they're unique, unique in the world.

"The geologists have explained the importance of the site for its geological significance - they say it's as significant as Uluru."

Mr Mortimer said a Murri archaeologist had recently identified 20 artefacts during a brief visit to the site.  

"We know that tools and rocks are men's business. The area would have been a viewing platform of the entire Limestone Plains for the men to look out on. 

"They would have been able to see if someone had a fire there, and what that fire meant - if someone was cooking or was asking permission to come onto country or if someone had lit a fire when they weren't supposed to.

"They would have been able to see weather patterns, seasonal changes, the state of the grasslands, what was ready to pick.

"They want to build eight-storey buildings on that, and not just that but a tennis court."

'No communication'

A concept plan for the development has been approved, and the National Capital Authority is considering the development application for the buildings.

Mr Mortimer said there has been no consultation with Aboriginal organisations or Elders over the site.

"There's been no communication with anybody from Ngambri country," he said.

A spokesperson from Doma Group, which is behind the development, said in a written statement previous to its purchase of the site, that there had been evidence of Aboriginal use found nearby but not within the proposed development site's boundaries.

"The indigenous [sic] cultural heritage elements on the site were previously assessed in publicly disclosed reports that lead to the approval of the Development Control Plan for the site in May 2016," a statement said.

"These studies concluded that this was not an issue for the development of the site."

The spokesperson also said if artefacts are discovered during development on the site an 'unanticipated discovery plan has been formulated and will be followed.'"


Mr Mortimer said the proposed development site is not just rich with First Nations history, he said there's also significant European history on the site, including survey markers, which were placed during the planning of Canberra.

"We'll have another Juukan Gorge situation, and no amount of compensation could repay it, it's priceless," he said.

"It's a place of shared history. When you talk about reconciliation, there couldn't be a better demonstration of shared history than this site.

"It's a real colony meets First People site and it means a lot."

Mr Mortimer said his people have Allodial Title over the area, which he said means his people have rights over the land, what's beneath it and up to the sky above it.

He said he believes there is strong evidence to have the development stopped, and wants the Federal Environment Minister Susan Ley to visit the site.

"If I could get the right people to view the site then I have no doubt this development would not go ahead," he said.

"There's no denying the background, there's no doubt about our connection, we have a really solid argument when it comes down to it.

"One signature from the Federal Environment Minister could halt this whole thing."

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