Lake Tyrrell traditional owners apply for protection of sacred meeting place, Mallee tourism drawcard – Michmutters

Lake Tyrrell traditional owners apply for protection of sacred meeting place, Mallee tourism drawcard

Traditional owners of a popular tourist destination in Victoria’s north west are calling on the federal environment department to urgently intervene and protect the area from further desecration.

Lake Tyrrell, an ancient saltwater lake that is dry most of the year, is a tourist drawcard for the small but vibrant town of Sea Lake.

Indigenous elders from Wemba Wemba Aboriginal Corporation made the application to Tanya Plibersek’s office after the local council approved plans to build a tourist park and put its in-principle support behind the resumption of the Mallee Rally, an off-road dune buggy race.

The rally that runs around the lake, also known to traditional owners as Direl, started in 1973 but was discontinued in 2019 after Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) recommended it stop because of heritage concerns.

A group of people wearing skins and holding a black and red checkered banner.
Traditional owners from the Mallee including Gary Murray and Bobby Nicholls say their application is a last resort.(ABC Wimmera: Alexander Darling)

Preventing further damage

The report found hearths, flaked stone material, directly on the race track indicating the presence of culturally significant artefacts.

Direl, meaning ‘sky’ because of its mirror-like reflections of the sky when wet, is also an ancient meeting place for traditional owners and home to burial grounds, artefacts, mounds, and middens.

One of the lead applicants, Gary Murray, a Wemba Wamba and Wergaia elder, said Direl is culturally significant because it is the home to creator spirits like the dark emu that was also central to First Nations astronomy used for foraging.

He said while the report recommended the race stop, there was a chance it could summarize as the report did not offer the same protections from private development that a Cultural Heritage Management Plan did.

Gary Murray sits on a log
Gary Murray would like the lake to be permanently protected from the Mallee Rally, unregulated tourism, and private development.(ABC Lateline)

“The root cause of our concerns is the Mallee Rally, the lack of heritage protection progress, and poor planning and development regimes around Direl by the Shire of Buloke and [the] state,” Mr Murray said in the application.

He also said the DELWP report did not analyze the salt mining activities and tourism park, even though water and electricity infrastructure that had been installed — according to a specialist First Nations archaeologist who visited the site in November 2021 — had already caused damage.

He said traditional owners were worried that tourism, while encouraged, would be unregulated and lead to damage, pollution, and desecration of sacred sites.

Bobby Nicholls smiles as he stands in a park, dressed in a warm checked jacket on a rainy day.
Bobby Nicholls, a multi-clan Aboriginal elder and applicant, says governments have failed Indigenous landowners.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

Mr Murray criticized the DELWP conservation plan for failing to survey large portions of the lake and shoreline.

Organizers of the rally, the Sea Lake Off Road Club, had offered to modify the route but fellow applicant and Wergaia elder Bobby Nicholls said the rally in any way made it incompatible with preserving cultural heritage because it was an uncontrolled environment.

“They tear around open county … and given there are some very sensitive areas where we need protection … [the buggies] can go anywhere off the track,” Mr Nicholls said.

“We have no choice but to engage the Commonwealth as a last resort.”


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