Friday, December 31, 2021

Sacred Land: West Side Story

A Story of Rob’s mountain…

A culturally significant site south of Boonah which archaeologists warned was being desecrated by rock climbers has been handed back to traditional owners, in a move which local Aboriginal people hope could help contribute to a national precedent.

Known as Winpullin to the Ugarapul people, Minto Crag is a curve of rocky outcrops and cliffs which jut out spectacularly from rich pastures in Croftby.

Much of the volcanic ring dyke is private land and inaccessible to people, as well as the cattle which graze on grassland below.

And so the secluded land has served as a sanctuary to rare rock wallabies, while orchids cling to its rockface, grass trees and ferns flourish at the sheltered base of its cliffs.

But about a year-and-half ago an area referred to as Wave Rock, which was previously Unallocated State Land, began attracting climbers.

This new breed of climbers were skilled enough to scale and bolt the shear wall, and obstinate enough to ignore the pleas of locals, white and black, who believed the climbers were wreaking havoc on the sensitive and significant patch of land.

Those claims were supported in an archaeological report by Everick Heritage, which found Winpullin could contain “exceptional heritage significance”, but that was being destroyed before it could be properly understood.

But while the Queensland Department of Resources made clear that climbing at Winpullin was illegal, nothing official has been done to enforce that ban.

That could now be set to change.

Last Friday, signs were placed at the entrance to Winpullin declaring that the land’s tenure changed and that it was now a “reserve for Aboriginal and cultural purposes”.

The official Queensland government signage declares the Dhagun Yumba Aboriginal Corporation as the trustee for the land and asks people “respect the cultural significance of the area by not entering and climbing on the land”.

The Fassifern Guardian understands this is the first step towards the Dhagun Yumba being made grantee under the Aboriginal Land Act.

Boomi Hegarty, one of six interim directors of that corporation, lives in a tin and timber house surrounded by bush at Winpullin’s foothills.

Over the years he said he had found and been told about sacred women’s sites, stone axes, rock art and scar trees in the bush around his home.

“This is all sacred land,” he said, sweeping his hand to follow the cliffs and forest which curve around his home.

“It has got a lot of feeling for Aboriginal people – and white people too.”

“For the Ugarapul people, this is a healing place for them.”

“They’ve got nowhere else to go out on country. Here, that’s the place for it. This place is very special for them.”

Uncle Boomi, who has lived in the district for 15 years, has been working with Indigenous kids for more than 30 years.

He teaches them “all the skills” he learnt from his “old people” as a boy growing up in Cherbourg, and those what he has learned hunting, eating bush tucker and practicing culture in the decades since.

Uncle Boomi said he helps “troubled kids get their identity back”. Which is exactly what he now plans to do on country at Winpullin.

“I teach children, let them know who they are, and that they can be proud of who they are,” Uncle Boomi said.

“I try to heal them through culture. I say: ‘while you are here, this is your home, this is your place.”

“And this place [Winpullin], is ideal for that.”

Another of the interim directors, David Spillman, said that Winpullin would now be protected, though not made entirely inaccessible.

“It can still be visited, just in a very reverent manner – and with permission,” Mr Spillman.

“And there won’t be any climbing.”

Speaking before the land transfer was made official, Mr Spillman said he hoped Dhagun Yumba would be able to use a “legally-focused” as well as an “education-focused” approach towards protecting the site from unauthorised access.

"We've been doing that already, by sitting up there and talking to them,” he said of the later approach.

“And that has worked largely, but with the hardcore group it hasn’t.”

He also hoped to have the bolts drilled into the cliff face over recent months taken down.

“We have bucket loads of climbers within our fraternity who are chomping at the bit to get up there and remove them,” he said.

Many within that fraternity are non-Indigenous, climbers who have known about Minto Crag for decades but chosen not to scale it, as well as graziers and land owners who live at its base.

Uncle Boomi said that a positive from the confrontation with the rock climbers was that it had brought the local community together to protect the crag.

“They’re all good friends of mine now,” he said, listing off names of non-Indigenous landowners who had supported efforts to protect Winpullin.

While Mr Spillman said he hoped protecting the sacred land continued to be a “whole of community responsibility”.

Dhagun Yumba will hold an AGM early next year to elect its directors.

Mr Spillman said “getting to look after this place” would “make the ancestors happy” and that was “the main thing”.

But he said similar conflict between rock climbers and traditional owners was taking place over much of the country, and was hopeful Winpullin could help to “set a precedent” for “future approaches to negotiating these complex circumstances”.

‘Sacred land’ south of Boonah, site of illegal climbing, returned to traditional owners

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