Blacktown Council in Western Sydney has officially amended its Acknowledgement to Country, leaving out the Darug Nation as traditional owners.
Aunty Sandra Lee and Uncle Greg Simms, of Darug Tribal Corporation, are shocked at the decision made by the Blacktown Council. (Picture: Carmela Roche - News Limited)
For many generations, the Darug Nation has been recognised as the traditional owners of a large part of the area now known as Western Sydney.
They were originally large groups of clans united by the common language, Darug.
Darug country extends from the Sydney area north to Darkinjung country, west to the foothills of the Blue Mountains and Wiradjuri country, southwest to Gandangara country in the Southern Highlands and south to Thrawal in the Illawarra.
It's a very large area, and these days most Darug community activity is centred in the Western Sydney area, which hosts, by number, the biggest Aboriginal communities in Australia.
The Darug was the nation group which bore the brunt of the first waves of invasion, along with the coastal clans now known as the Eora Nation.
Historians have written about the Darug people, there are scores of records still in existance, but now, one local council says the Darug are not the traditional owners of their area.
Blacktown Council, in Western Sydney has stopped recognising the Darug Nation as the traditional owners of the area, and has stopped all welcomes to country by Darug elders, or any acknowledgements to country mentioning the Darug people.
Blacktown Council has just undergone a change, with a new Liberal Mayor.
The new Mayor Len Robinson has also re-introduced prayers said by a Church Of England (Anglican) Minister before all council meetings, a practice abolished in the year 2000.
He has also ordered the Queen's portrait to be retrieved from storage and re-hung over the mayoral chair in the chambers.
SBS Radio Living Black is told that an extraordinary meeting of council was called to vote on what it's calling a change in its Indigneous policy.
No Darug elders or any Darug community members were informed of the meeting, consulted about the purpose of the meeting or invited to that meeting.
And so the vote was made.
One senior Darug elder, Secretary of the Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation - Aunty Sandra Lee - is publicly bearing the brunt of this decision, but she is by no means the only person affected.
Aunty Sandra says that the Corporation had no idea about what Blacktown Council had done, until a Journalist told them.
Blacktown Council's new acknowledgement of Blacktown's traditional owners:
"Council would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and thank them for their custodianship of this land on which we gather today."
Under the suspended policy the following was inserted in council publications:
"Australia is the ancestral home of the Aboriginal people. The Western Sydney region that takes in the Local Government Area of Blacktown are the custodial lands of the people of the Darug nation (which had also been spelt Daruk, Dharuk, Dharruk and Dharuck).
"The people of the Darug and other Aboriginal nations throughout the country have maintained a strong and unbroken presence in Blacktown throughout the rapid and widespread settlement since colonisation.”
Blacktown Council suspends recognition of Darug Aborigines as Blacktown's traditional owners
Aunty Sandra Lee (Archive image)
Blacktown Liberal Mayor Len Robinson
Ben McClellan Blacktown Advocate 9 November, 2012
Blacktown Council has stopped recognising the Darug tribe as the traditional owners of Blacktown.
The move comes amid accusations those recognised as Darug elders were committing "ethnic fraud" and had no legitimate claim to being descendants of Blacktown's Aborigines.
Darug Tribal Corporation (DTC) secretary Aunty Sandra Lee said she was given no warning of the decision at last week's extraordinary meeting to suspend the council's indigenous policy and had been left "stunned".
More than 18 months ago, the Deerubbin Aboriginal Land Council and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council met with the Blacktown Council and claimed the Darug elders didn't have legitimate links to the tribe.
The NSW land councils were set up in the 1980s under the Aboriginal Lands Rights Act to represent the interests of Aboriginal people in the areas the councils covered.
Mrs Lee said the Darug people had been shut out from the Deerubbin council since its inception.
"For the simple reason if they did (let us join the council) then all the money they make from the land would have to come back to the Darug people and they say we are all dead," she said.
"The land council come from Cowra, Bega, all out there. They came in and were supposed to work with us and they never have.''
She said the DTC had more than 900 members and was the peak body for Aborigines in western Sydney.
The Liberal-controlled council said it would continue to acknowledge traditional ownership, but would exclude specific reference to the Darug pending an Aboriginal advisory sub-committee report.
Days before the decision mayor Len Robinson said he had told ward 4 Liberal councillor Isabelle White to omit any recognition of indigenous ownership during the opening of the Woodcroft Festival.
The role of the DTC, whose elders conduct welcome to country ceremonies and participate in the Aboriginal advisory committee, is now in limbo until the report is brought back to council.
Cr Robinson said the current policy of exclusively recognising the Darug people locked the council into a corner and previous legal advice had asked the wrong questions.
A council spokeswoman didn't reveal what questions the mayor thought should have been asked.
"Having regard for the recent advice received, it was considered that council's current policy was too restrictive in limiting council to consult with only one Aboriginal group and not allowing council to engage inclusively with all stakeholders," she said.
She also said the decision had been made after consulting the Aboriginal Affairs branch of the state government, the Local Government Association of NSW and the council's lawyer.
Labor leader Alan Pendleton said a report should have been done before making the decision and the way the issue had been handled was "ridiculous''.
"Why cause friction in the community, why cause an uproar?'' he said.
The Advocate asked the Deerubbin Land Council to comment but a response wasn't received by time of press.