• Dhungutti man, James Dungay, has travelled to Sydney in a last-ditch effort to save his cultural lands on the mid-north coast from being impacted by roadworks. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
James "Gurri" Dungay is asking to meet with the NSW Premier in a last-chance bid to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage sites from a road development between Cresent Head and Point Plomer.
Shahni Wellington

2 Mar 2021 - 1:25 PM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2021 - 1:29 PM

Last-ditch efforts are being made to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage sites on the mid-north coast, where Elders maintain a proposed road work will destroy thousands of years of history. 

Dunghutti Elder, James "Gurri" Dungay, has been fighting for 16-years to stop the tarring of a 12-kilometre road to Point Plomer campground, a coastal site located between Port Macquarie and Kempsey.

On Friday, the federal Department for Environment gave the green light for the works to re-commence.

Mr Dungay has travelled to Sydney, demanding a meeting with the New South Wales Premier to inform her of the potential cultural losses if the devlopment is allowed to go forward. 

"My main concern is that development will destroy our ancient Aboriginal sites, particularly the ones that are not recognised or recorded with National Parks and Wildlife Service or any other environmental service," Mr Dungay told NITV News.

Kempsey Shire Council said it has not identified any Aboriginal sites on the existing route of the road, and that it had met all legal requirements.

The Dunghutti Elders Council had engaged Dr Michael Westaway from the University of Queensland, who said there needed to be a more careful assessment of Aboriginal cultural heritage along the site.

"We also fear for the endangered native animals that we studied - the koala bear, the native quoll and others that make that area their home and habitat," Mr Dungay said. 

"In our Aboriginal ways, we’re responsible for taking care of our native animals, that was our responsibilities," Mr Dungay said.

Last month, an application under section 18 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Heritage Protection Act 1984 led to a two-day 'stop-work' notice to the Kempsey Shire Council.

But Friday’s declaration means that work on the road may resume and continue to completion, unless a declaration is made by the Federal Minister for the Environment under other sections of the Act, which provide for a longer-term declaration of significance.

With works now underway, it may be too late to secure protection for the sites. 

James Dungay and the Dunghutti Elders Council continue to lobby the Minister’s Office.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment has requested further information for the remaining applications, and a spokesperson told NITV News that the department is working to support decisions in response to the applications as soon as possible.

Arrest made as Department gives go-ahead

Kempsey Shire Council welcomed the decision to recommence the sealing of Point Plomer Road, as other applications remain to be determined with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Last Friday evening, the green-light was given to the $2.88 million project based on the area’s heritage significance.

“The Due Diligence assessment completed as part of the Review of Environmental Factors Council’s consultants undertook clearly indicated that the proposed sealing of an existing road did not constitute a substantial threat to heritage," a statement by the Kempsey Shire Council read. 

“As such, Council welcomes this outcome which validates Council’s process.”

Last month, Mr Dungay commenced a demonstration at the site, was ordered off the premises and later arrested, before being granted bail. 

"I felt there were no Aboriginal site officers while they were digging the trench, from what I observed, there were no Elders present except for me and a couple of mates of mine," he said.

"So I got arrested and I'm fighting it in the court because I've been at this for 16 long years, and I ain’t giving up." 

Community concerns

Last month, the Dunghutti Elders council held a press conference to publicly raise issues with the process undertaken to tar the road to Point Plomer.

The Elders said they held grave concerns for the significant Indigenous sites, the impact on endangered flora and fauna and cultural and environmental impacts to the region. 

Kempsey Shire Council has worked with the Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council, that has adopted "a neutral position” in regards to sealing the road, but the Dunghutti Elders Council feel they have not been consulted.

Joanne Smith, from the Dunghutti Elders Council, told NITV News that "enough is enough."

"We don't want development on that area, it will impact on our sacred sites, our native inhabitants our cultural areas,"

"They haven't liaised with us," Ms Smith said.

"I'm afraid of the what this tarring can do to our community and our area, we're going to be lost - There will be nothing left for our younger people."

Other concerns were made by the Dunghutti Elders Council about road safety and longer-term impacts of infrastructure development.

Community fight continues against bid to tar road to Plomer
Dunghutti and Birpai communities continue their battle against a local council plan to seal the road to a secluded camping site.