‘Discriminatory’ plan to make part of Australian national park men-only causes outrage

A plan to make part of a New South Wales, Australian national park men-only, banning local Indigenous women from visiting Mount Warning which is considered a “men’s site,” has sparked outrage and is being called “discriminatory.”

Wollumbin National Park, which is also known as Mount Warning, is located in the Tweed Shire in far north New South Wales. The national landmark draws approximately 127,000 visitors annually. Above 2,000 feet, the park was declared an Aboriginal Place by the New South Wales government in 2014 to protect its cultural values and formally recognize it as a place of special significance to Indigenous people, according to the New York Post.

The summit trail has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic and now will be closed to the public permanently. Minister for Environment James Griffin made the announcement in October. He stated that the future of the national park was being determined by the Wollumbin Consultative Group, which “represents a range of Aboriginal groups and families with a connection to the site.”

The mountain is now considered a “men’s site” under the Wollumbin Aboriginal Place Management Plan.

“Therefore gender restrictions apply to working on or visiting the Wollumbin Mountain,” the plan mandates.

The plan does concede that there are “several women’s sites associated with Wollumbin Aboriginal Place that are integral to its cultural value.”

It was ostensibly put in play due to vandalism in the area which involved dumping trash, increased erosion, and illegal installation of infrastructure. The plan goes on to elaborate that the cultural and spiritual values of the mountain cannot be respected or protected if the general public continues to have access to the area, “particularly due to the restrictions of gender as this is a men’s place.”

The site is evidently sacred to the Bundjalung nation, which has its own cultural values.

“Wollumbin is interconnected to a broader cultural and spiritual landscape that includes Creation, Dreaming stories, and men’s initiation rites of deep antiquity,” the group explained.

“Bundjalung beliefs illustrate the spiritual values embodied and evoked in Wollumbin and its connections to a broader cultural landscape. These connections are important to the spiritual identity of the Bundjalung nation, many other nations and families connected to Wollumbin, predominantly men and also women,” they added.

Local Ngarakbal Githabul women are claiming the restrictions are discriminatory and would “dispossess” Indigenous women who have deep spiritual connections to the area.

Stella Wheildon, who is a north coast Indigenous woman, told The Daily Telegraph in an interview that the area also contained scared female sites.

After in-depth research, she has determined that Yoocum Yoocum ancestors and the Ngarakbal Githabul people were originally from the area.

“The Wollumbin Consultative Group has discriminated against the women and our lores,” Wheildon charged.

Ngarakbal Githabul women contacted Wheildon via Facebook and told her they fear the plan would limit their access to “their most sacred Rainbow Serpent Seven Sisters sites,” which is the small ledge on the northern slope of the mountain.

Elder Elizabeth Davis Boyd, who goes by the tribal name of Eelemarni, claims that under the plan she would not be able to visit her mother Marlene Boyd’s memorial.

Her mother was recognized as the Keeper of the Seven Sisters Creation Sites, which includes Mt. Warning. She has a memorial along the Lyrebird track.

Boyd told The Daily Telegraph that calling Mount Warning a “Bundjalung men’s site” was incorrect and was “doing great damage to my ancestral culture, tradition, and lores.”

“The State Government’s administrative decision to permanently close Mount Warning not only contravenes my customary law rights and women’s rights and human rights – but also my cultural responsibilities to the Gulgan (a Ngarakbal Githabul word for pathway keeper) memorial,” she asserted.

A spokesperson for the group told news.com.au the Wollumbin Consultative Group is “intended to include all Aboriginal people with cultural connections to Wollumbin.”

A spokesperson for the National Parks and Wildlife Service told the media outlet in an interview that the Wollumbin Consultative Group is “intended to include all Aboriginal people with cultural connections to Wollumbin.”

“It has broad representation, including from the Tweed Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council, adjacent native title claimants and representatives from family groups with knowledge and links to Wollumbin, and a representative from Tweed Shire Aboriginal Advisory Committee,” the spokesperson claimed.

“Membership of the Wollumbin Consultative Group is determined by Aboriginal people. Consultation has also occurred with Ngullinjah Jugun Aboriginal Corporation, Yaegl Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation, Bandjalang Aboriginal Corporation, and 10 individual and organization Registered Aboriginal Parties for the Tweed and Murwillumbah localities,” they added.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service said that the New South Wales Government has not made a decision about the future of access to the summit yet.

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