Storms battering the New South Wales north coast have put key Indigenous cultural sites at risk, including two ancient middens on the beachfront of Byron Bay.
Traditional Owners fear the savage weather conditions which are attacking the coastline at Clarkes Beach will destroy two middens that have “huge“ cultural significance and which were used in the Bundjalung people’s successful Native Title claim.
Traditional Owner Nickolla Clarke told NITV News the possibility of permanent destruction of the sites would be a significant cultural loss.
”My Elders had worked for over 30 years to preserve and protect that site, so a lot of that hard work will 'flush with the sea' because of the erosion and the rising tides, as well as other environmental impacts on the sites that we are currently dealing with.
"It is more or less getting demolished," said Ms Clarke.
The midden which has most come under threat is estimated to be more than 263-years-old and contains shells, animal remains and stone tools used by the Arakwal people prior to European invasion.
"It isn't the oldest one here on Country but it has still been here for a significant amount of time,” said Ms Clarke.
“We have protected it under the National Parks and Wildlife act, and as Aboriginal people we have preserved it as a place of significance and now it is being hugely impacted by the weather conditions along with the human activity in the area.
"The damage itself is mass erosion which is causing the foreshore of the beach to come up and eat away at the sand and layers of our middens and deplete the site.”
Ms Clarke said that the areas Traditional Owners will be working alongside environmental agencies and local council in an attempt to salvage the sites and to limit future damage caused by human impact and wet-weather conditions.
"In the rehabilitation phase, we are hoping that plantings and reparation work of the materials that we have collected from the midden before the storms can be successfully placed back on the site, as well as more cultural planting, replacing the materials and encouraging mob to get back out on Country,” she said.
"But education is key right now. We encourage all community members, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to research and educate themselves about these sites of significance and to approach them with more consciousness which will play a huge role in the preservation.”