Wiradjuri Elder Uncle James Williams describes Gaanha-bula (Mount Canobolas), the tallest peak in the Central West of New South Wales, as his outdoor cathedral.
The mountain, just outside the city of Orange, is a significant place for the Wiradjuri people, whose connection to it dates back thousands of years.
“This is the place where I come to worship. This is where I connect with culture, with nature, and with the spirits,” Uncle James said.
But he fears it may now be under threat.
The Orange City Council hopes to build a 100km network of mountain bike tracks through the area, a State Conservation Zone.
It’s home to more than a thousand plant species, including some that are found nowhere else in the world.
The Wiradjuri believe the track will damage the Aboriginal heritage sites on the mountain, where more than a thousand artefacts have been found.
Dr Andrew Rawson, a researcher and soil scientist, and his colleague Rosemary Stapleton began finding the artefacts after a bushfire burnt about seventy percent of the mountain in 2018.
Dr Rawson said what they have discovered is amazing.
“There were ceremonial objects, objects clearly used for hunting purposes, clearly used food preparation purposes, clearly used for clothing preparation purposes” he said.
Orange City Council commissioned an archaeological report which only identified a single Aboriginal heritage site.
Chair of the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council Greg Ingram said there was only limited engagement by the archaeologists with the local Wiradjuri people who know the mountain.
“The report is flawed, and it’s not informed by the Aboriginal people who were RAPs (Registered Aboriginal Parties) on the mountain” Mr Ingram said.
He called on Orange City Council to reopen meaningful discussions with the community.
A recent council statement suggested the consultation process is still underway.
Aunty Alice Williams is also frustrated at what she sees as a lack of consultation with the local Aboriginal community.
“I’m pretty disappointed and angry at the whole process. It’s not acceptable to myself as an Aboriginal woman or myself as a Wiradjuri representative,” Aunty Alice said.
The Local Land Council has lodged a formal submission with the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, seeking protection for the mountain.