Bennelong Papers

The Sacred Mountain That Isn’t

The Australian edition of the Daily Mail reported yesterday that three backpackers climbed Mt Warning to witness a typically spectacular sunrise only to find every window of their car smashed upon returning to carpark at the mountain’s base. The Mail did not dig all that deeply into the story, satisfying readers’ curiosity as to the motive for the vandalism with some quotes from one of the young travellers, an unnamed Scotsman who related finding an explanation on the internet.

“After some research online we leant that there is an ongoing dispute between land owners, indigenous people and local councils about whether it should be permanently closed or not,” he said.

Well there is a bit more than that to what is the ongoing seizure of a peak that should belong to all Australians. And the irony of it is that the noisiest claimants have the least right to assert their control of the site. Let me explain. 

The official story is that the Bundjalung prefer you not climb, portraying the mountain as a ‘sacred men’s area’. However, (and it’s a big however!) these claims have no basis in history.

Prior to the start of this century the mountain was seen by officials as being in the custody of the Ngarakwaal/Nganduwal Aboriginal moiety, respected as the keepers of Mt Warning. This group, whose claims were laid out by elders Millie and Marlene Boyd had dwindling numbers and little political influence. In the late 1990s the Bundjalung Nation, an amalgam of other Aboriginal groups in the area, claimed that as the Ngarakwaal had been “wiped out” it was their right to take custody of the mountain. This was challenged by senior Aboriginal men at the time such as Wijabul elder Fletcher Roberts, who pointed out that claims of the mountain not being for climbing were “a modern day invention”. As he put it:

The white community needs to make sure it identifies the true elders of an area. They should realise that elders’ responsibilities apply to their own tribal areas and they have no jurisdiction over another area.

But the  NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), contrary to its governing Act, didn’t identify and consult with the true owners of Mt Warning, instead dealing with the politically savvy Bundjalung Nation. For the last 20 years NPWS has sadly ignored the true custodians, signalling the effective extinction of the Ngarakwaal people, officially killed off through a combination of willful ignorance and bureaucratic expedience.

But of course, the Ngarakwaal had not been wiped out. Their claims to the mountain, along with  their complex and wonderful mythology about it, are well documented in NPWS’ own interviews with Ngarakwaal elders that were recorded in the 1970s. These recordings still exist. If you listen to elder Millie Boyd (watch the Youtube clip below) you will learn Mt Warning’s Aboriginal name is Wulambiny Momoli, that it is “an increase site” for brush turkeys, not a men’s place honouring a mythical warrior, as the Bundjalung claim.

In 2007, not long before her death, Ngarakwaal Marlene Boyd, Millie’s daughter, recorded a newspaper interview in which she called out the Bundjalung claims. She stated: “We are the Wollumbin tribe who are traditionally the Ngarakwal/Nganduwal Aboriginal moiety — we are the original custodians of Mt Warning. We are not Bundjalung.” She had no problem with people climbing the mountain, saying

I do not oppose the public climbing of Mt Warning – how can the public experience the spiritual significance of this land if they do not climb the summit and witness creation! … Much of my ancestral lore and history have been stolen and abused. The current Tweed Heads Master Plan states that the Ngarakwal/Nganduwal are the spiritual owners of the mountain yet we have never been asked to participate or be part of the plans.

The bigger story is that for 20 years NPWS has provided an official stamp to Marlene’s claims of stolen culture and abuse. And, with the current plans by NPWS to ban access not only to the summit but also the entire National Park, NPWS bureaucrats will put the final nail in the coffin of Ngarakwaal culture.

In regard to locals vandalising visitors’ cars, this has been going on for many years. In 2016 and 2017 many cars left at the base had their tyres slashed. I am unaware of police chasing down and prosecuting the perpetrators. Rather than increase security at the site, NPWS also has ignored  criminal damage as it fits with their agenda to close down the park.

The real vandals here are NPWS and its bureaucrats for elevating to official writ a claim their own archives establish is untrue.

Marc Hendrickx is geologist. He blogs at Right to Climb, where an earlier version of this article appeared

10 comments
  • Biggles

    Behind every aboriginal ‘complaint’ such as this you will find a group of taxpayer-supported white lawyers.

  • DougD

    Go ahead and demonise the white lawyers if you must. But how about attacking the real villians – the white and very woke bureaucrats of the NPWS.

  • alexblok

    Timely articlel, thank you, because we, the bushwalkers who petioles the NSW govt against the closure and privatisation, received our reply overnight.
    You don’t need to guess the rejection, or that he respondent was media darling.
    Matt Kean.
    Believe it or not, but this great outdoors remains closed due to “Covid”, a malady of confined spaces, until November.

  • alexblok

    sorry — “petitioned” the parliament

  • nfw

    Was this the area for Bruce Pascoe’s aboriginal space port? It’s close to the stars.

  • Lawrie Ayres

    Matt Kean is not only an embarrassment to the Liberal Party but a danger to us all. Matt Green Kean is the architect of a plan to destroy NSW electricity grid and replace it with sunbeams and zephyrs. The man is a buffoon and obviously has something on Gladys or else she is as mad as he is.

  • Andrew L Urban

    Slightly adjacent topic, but relevant and one that is redolent in all discussions about ‘First Peoples’…or as in this article, “the Bundjalung Nation”. Nation has become a common way to describe what are actually tribes.
    Later in the article, Wijabul elder Fletcher Roberts, says “that elders’ responsibilities apply to their own tribal areas”. Ngarakwaal Marlene Boyd says “We are the Wollumbin tribe”. Labelling tribes as nations seems to me to be ideologically driven, asserting nation status on tribes to inflate their significance. I’m curious how it started and who started it. Doesn’t seem to have originated with elders …. Would welcome some historical perspectives ….

  • pmprociv

    Andrew, you are looking into a world that’s taken over Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” So there’s your “nation” — and “civilisation”, and Pascoe’s “democracy”, “farming”, “houses”, “aquaculture” and so on. You can’t argue against such moving targets, just balance on your back foot in a futile, never-ending, damage-control exercise.

  • restt

    Andrew – not only is the term nation incorrect but the term tribe is incorrect. Horde, band, language group – but never did aboriginal society/groups meet the definition of a tribe, let alone nation.

  • a.c.ryan

    Shame to “bushwalker” Alexblok – all complaints require correct spelling and grammar. Aside from that, years ago, before white public servants brought in First Nations – any First Nations – to this site, our family group set off at dawn to climb Mt Warning with aim to visit our ancestors’ cemetery nearby afterwards, only to have a small red P-plater car swerve into the gravel to overtake us and throw a large stone into our side window, causing a crazed whiteout on the window and howls of frustration in the front seat. We did not want to risk parking at Mt Warning after that, as the white tourists who frequent the place were more than likely to push in the window and ransack the interior of our car. As there was also danger of the window blowing in if we continued our journey, we opted to limp back home, via our local wrecking yard. It was our warning – best not to climb Mt Warning.

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