Dharug Ngurra nation opposes marae in Sydney

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

A plan for a first-of-its-kind marae built in Sydney's outer suburbs across the ditch, is being met with resistance by the indigenous people there.

The Sydney Marae Alliance (SMA) has been raising funds for almost 30 years to create the $4 million community facility, which aims to be a place for Māori to connect on Australian soil.

Earlier this year, the alliance secured a 20-year lease for a site in the city's southwest from Cumberland City Council. However, in a public letter, the Dharug Ngurra Aboriginal Corporation (DNAC) opposes the marae being built on its land, the clan place of the Wilmali Yiyura people, and says its people are experiencing deep hurt and trauma over the plans.

Director-senior Dharug Ngurra woman Corina Norman, who is also a descendant of Te Ātihanui-a-Pāpārangi, says that comments and decisions made by SMA members, particularly in email threads since 2019 when the marae was first proposed, have fuelled the Wilmali Yiyura, who are being ignored.

'Disrespect on consultation'

“They’ve chosen to use a small section of our community in an attempt to cause division, and the intent to get a desired outcome. We consider this to be culturally unethical and disrespectful.”

The SMA says its representatives recently met Dharug representatives and achieved positive outcomes. Norman says that not all of them were there, however.

“Out of that meeting there was a way to move forward but then what has come out of that is the disrespect shown in the consultation process.”

Norman says she has struggled with the issue for a long time, having whakapapa to Dharug and also to Māori. Despite her not having access to her marae in Aotearoa because she is in Australia, she feels it is not appropriate to have a marae on Aboriginal land “because of what a marae means”.

“I find it quite difficult to navigate but also I understand.

“I do empathise. I want a way forward for Māori living in Australia. But if our cultural protocol has been disrespected, we need to look at that.”

Trying to walk 'hand in hand'

In response to the publicly posted letter by the DNAC, Sydney Marae Alliance said: “SMA is aware and saddened to see the recent letter you refer to, given our long and ongoing history with First Nations people and Dharug representatives. From our project inception, we've always strived to walk hand and hand with the support of Dharug elders, with a collective vision.

“We respect and value our First Nations brothers and sisters, and we are committed to continuing our dialogue with all representatives, particularly building paths with emerging representatives.

“We have recently met with more Dha-rug representatives, and achieved positive outcomes, and are awaiting further dates, to continue this conversation (meeting)".