• Lake Torrens, which is located 450km north of Adelaide, is a sacred sit that connects four Aboriginal Nations. (SBS)Source: SBS
The Barngarla Traditional Owners say they were ignored by the South Australian government during the decision making process, and want to put a stop to any plans to drill at the sacred site.
Douglas Smith

20 Jan 2021 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2021 - 7:07 PM

The Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation is mounting a legal challenge against the South Australian Government's approval of a drilling exploration project on sacred land in the state’s mid-north.

Earlier this month, the Premier Steven Marshall, who is also the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, gave the approval for drilling exploration by company, Kelaray, a subsidiary of Argonaut Resources, to search for ore bodies on the surface of Lake Torrens.

Lake Torrens is a sacred site to four separate Aboriginal nations - the Kokatha, Barngarla, Adnyamathhna and Kuyani people. 

Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation Chairperson Jason Bilney told NITV News that his people are “disappointed” with the government’s approval and that they're now preparing a legal challenge. 

“We did send a submission to the government and we don't agree with it, and basically what we're doing now, we are going to contest it and take it to court under judicial review, said Mr Bilney. 

“We have a right to review the government's decision as to why they chose to ignore us as Barngarla people and go and destroy our sites again at Lake Torrens.”

It's the second time the company Kelaray has been given approval by the South Australian government under Section 23 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act to "damage, disturb or interfere" with a sacred site, being Lake Torrens. 

In a statement to NITV News, a State Government Spokesperson defended Mr Marshall’s decision, saying there would not be permanent damage to cultural heritage during the drilling exploration. 

“The decision was taken after extensive consultation with Aboriginal people and organisations,” said the spokesperson. 

“The exploration program will not permanently impact the anthropological and cultural heritage of Lake Torrens.”

Barngarla Elder Harry Dare told NITV News that the drilling was interfering with the balance of his people’s culture. 

“This site is very important to us as Barngarla people, being lake-streaming people in South Australia, we are one of probably three of four lake-streaming culture people in South Australia,” said Mr Dare. 

“We feel really bad about them looking to disrespect our sites, disrespect our wishes of trying to look after our country.”

“You now, it’s taken us over 21-years to win our native title...and yet, on one hand, we are fighting off a nuclear waste dump on one side where they want to put a dump on our country and now we’re fighting to stop drilling on our country," said Mr Bilney.

“We want to be at the table and we don't want them to drill….full stop.”

SA Greens call for Aboriginal Heritage Act Review

Speaking to NITV News on Tuesday, SA Greens MP, Tammy Franks said she plans to put a review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act on the agenda in the near future. 

"I can call for the Act to be revisited, potentially moving it for an enquiry, getting a debate happening on this with Liberal and Labor on the record and I intend to to do all of those things."  

Ms Franks said it was “extraordinary” that Premier Marshall approved the application despite major opposition from all four Aboriginal nations. 

“It seems extraordinary that a Minister would not give more weight to that opposition from the four groups all saying no,” said Ms Franks. 

“It shows us that the current Aboriginal Heritage Act is not worth the paper it’s printed on and the feeble excuse that Labor did it as well doesn’t make it right.”

Under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, early engagement with the “relevant Traditional Owners” is encouraged to ensure projects are planned to minimise the risk of damage to Aboriginal heritage.

Community votes yes for radioactive waste dump in country SA
The controversial proposal has been opposed by the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation, who are the native title holders of the area.