• Signs of protest and solidarity on the fence of the proposed go-kart track site. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Wiradyuri Elders in Bathurst say they will do whatever it takes to save a sacred women's site on Wahluu from destruction.
Keira Jenkins

24 Nov 2020 - 4:30 PM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2020 - 4:30 PM

Wiradyuri Traditional Owners say they will continue to fight a plan for a $4.5 million go-kart track on top of Wahluu.

The particular area where the go-kart track is proposed for development has been identified as a women's site.

Uncle Mallyan Brian Grant told NITV News that parts of Wahluu are for men, others for women. There are also communal areas where people would gather and celebrate on the mountain.

"It’s a place of initiation for men and that’s been attested to at many different locations by different people. It’s also a women’s place, it’s a place where women went to hand over the young men to the warriors to become warriors as well, to be initiated into our tradition, our lifestyle and our lore and law," he said.

"It’s also a gathering place for our community.

"The women’s place is sacred. It will always be sacred. if you destroy it, you destroy culture.

"It doesn’t enhance it’s value by putting a go-kart track there. All you do is disturb our ancestors and make that place unusable for us."

For Wiradyuri woman Werribee Leanna Carr-Smith, the site is a special place, not least because of its cultural significance. 

"It’s a place that the whole community uses," she said.

"It's not just significant for us because of culture, the whole community comes up.

"It’s a nice place to come if you just need some peace. I love coming up here, we come up a lot in summer.

"It puts us closer to our creator Baiame."

It's not just the women's site the Traditional Owners say will be lost if the go-kart track goes ahead.

Yanhadarrambal Jade Flyyn said the creation story of Wahluu - a warrior killed by his brother - is also under threat from the development.

"They want to take off about 6 feet from the top of the mountain of Wahluu, so the profile of Wahluu and that creation story is forever changed," he said.

"That story has been with Wiradyuri people for thousands of generations."

Mr Flynn said there is also European heritage to be lost if the development goes ahead, and Wiradyuri people have been supported by non-Indigenous community members.

"We have a lot of solidarity, a lot of allies that are standing with us because it’s not only the cultural heritage that stands to be disrupted or destroyed, but it’s also the amenity of the park itself," he said.

'Saving the top of the mountain'

These allies include some of the local councillors. 

Monica Morse is a Bathurst councillor and she said the community "feels very strongly" about the development.

While some want to see the track go ahead, others are upset that the park it is planned for had been donated to the Bathurst community by the McPhillamy family, whom the park is now named after.

"I have opposed this in council, I have to accept a council position but as a private individual I can hope and work towards saving the top of Mt Panorama so in 20 years time we can say ‘isn’t it lovely coming up here,'" she said.

In a statement to NITV News, Bathurst Regional Council said it had commissioned Extent Heritage advisors to undertake an anthropological assessment of the mountain precinct to "investigate the cultural heritage significance of the Mountain to the local Wiradjuri".

The council said the assessments done to date "have revealed a lack of archaeological evidence to support the historic use of Mount Panorama (Wahluu) for more than ephemeral use".

Heritage reports that have been viewed by NITV News question the suitability of the area for a go-kart track.

One prepared by Associate Professor Neale Draper in 2019 recommended a "detailed and appropriate anthropological examination" of the area.

"On the face of it, it seems to me to be wholly inappropriate to build a go-kart track on top of a women's sacred site, particularly considering all of the damage that has occurred previously to cultural heritage sites and values in relation to Wahluu and the nearby Charles Sturt University campus," the report said.

Professor Draper's report also included a photograph of a stone axe head that was found nearby the proposed go-kart track site.

The report  from Extent Heritage Advisors commissioned by the council in 2018 also suggested consideration of an alternative site.

"Council should consider whether or not it is feasible to re-locate the proposed go-kart track to an area that is less likely to result in harm to intangible cultural values," it said.

The council said they had "previously considered a number of locations for the go-kart track, including Alec Lamberton Oval and an alternate site on Wahluu.

"These locations were considered some time before the current location," said the council.

'We don't oppose the track'

For Wiradyuri Traditional Owners, they say they would support the track if the council agreed to move it to a different site - one that is not sacred.

Mr Grant said they have suggested to the council that the track be moved to a different part of the mountain, still within the Wahluu 'precinct'.

"We don’t oppose the go-kart track, matter of fact we embrace it," he said.

"I want my grandchildren to be able to race go-karts. It’s about respecting the cultural beliefs of the mountain and finding somewhere else, that’s not so very far away from that site.

"We don’t want to destroy what you have there as well.

"I'm Wiradyuri, but I’m also part of the Ford mob and I embrace both of those things strongly and all we want you to do is embrace our side of the story as well."

The Wiradyuri Traditional Owners Central West Aboriginal Corporation have lodged an application for protection for the site with the Federal Environment Minister. 

That application is now under consideration. 

In the meantime Mr Grant said he is willing to do whatever it takes to save the sacred site from destruction.

"It’s a fight for the longevity of my culture, it’s a fight for our young people, it’s a fight that I want to win, because I want to show everybody that you just can’t destroy our sites like you’ve done before," he said.

While Ms Carr-Smith said she wants to see this significant place returned to it's former beauty.

"They can pull the fence down for a start," she said.

"We’d like it to go back more like it looked like, the way that is was, in the environment, the grasses and the trees and the flora and fauna that was there, now it’s endangered and we’d like that to be nurtured and brought back."

Wiradyuri Traditional Owners fear sacred site will be 'forever destroyed' for a go-kart track
Wiradyuri Traditional Owners say a go-kart track planned to be built on Wahluu (Mt Panorama) will destroy a sacred women's site.