Island in Sydney Harbour returning to first nation people

By Stefan Dimitrof

An iconic Island In Australia's Sydney Harbour, Is about to be returned to first nation ownership, after the New South Wales government, committed $43 million to restore it.

The historic Me-mel (Gadigal for 'eye' and also known as Goat Island)  is one of nine islands within the Sydney Harbour National Park and has a range of important Aboriginal, historical and natural values. 

It also features over 30 buildings and other structures, built from the 1830s to the 1960s.

It will be transferred to the 29 clan groups of the Eora Nation, Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Nathan Moran says.

He says Me-mel is linked by the native peoples to the dreaming creation story of the great eel coming ashore and carving out the land that became Sydney Harbour and its tributaries and creeks.

Some cultural land has been returned through Aboriginal land rights discussion but he says this is the first return through negotiations of non-claimable land seen as one of the most sacred cultural spaces.

'State of disrepair'

“This was land outside of land rights, within the national parks estate but, given its cultural significance, the most important cultural site of our place.”

“We have been negotiating for a number of years and we are very pleased we’ve finally moved on the principles of transfer with the New South Wales government.”

Moran says the island is in a state of disrepair and the government has agreed to rehabilitate the Island back to a state that can be enjoyed by the public and the nation can operate as the cultural heartland of the Sydney area. "We're so proud to negotiate it to come home."

"Much love to the Māori people, Kia Ora. It was really hard to find precedents where first nations or indigenous people have been able to negotiate cultural spaces or places within large cities and it was actually the Wellington trust harbour model that became the basis of the return of this island.

"In fact we found that through international research to be the most updated example of first nations successfully getting back their cultural places through negotiating with respective colonial governments who have come to be on their land."

Moran hopes this precedent will offer a solution for other groups to chase their cultural spaces" in a way that's deep and meaningful for their community". 

Moran said that through research that the Māori in Wellington through the wellington trust model was the most up to date version of events where a native people negotiated with a colonial government to receive cultural land back to the native people.

“This is a massive opportunity for us as the local aboriginal land council.”