A Larrakia nations elder says she almost cried when she heard about council’s plans to build an RSL at Darwin’s Esplanade, on what she said was the site of a sacred women’s birthing ground.
- A controversial vote on an RSL development at Darwin’s Esplanade has been postponed
- It was delayed for an investigation into the cultural importance of the site
- Indigenous elders say it was once a sacred women’s birthing site
Darwin Mayor Kon Vatskalis postponed a key vote on the RSL development on Darwin’s Esplanade after receiving correspondence from Bilawara Lee, an elder of the Larrakia Nation, who says the site is of “enormous cultural importance”.
“I knew from being told by elders that the site on the hill near the Cenotaph was a woman’s sacred birthing site”, Ms Lee said.
“I really honour our men and women in Defence, my eldest daughter has just graduated from Duntroon College.
“But I am shocked at the thought of having an RSL club on a Larrakia women’s birth site, on a sacred song line.
“It would be polluted by military male energy, and then the energy of alcohol.”
Council had been considering whether to approve the development, which was opposed by owners of the city’s nearby outdoor Deckchair Cinema.
A large crowd gathered inside the Darwin City Council building erupted with disappointment on Tuesday evening when Mr Vatskalis revealed the vote would be delayed while council sought further advice and information.
Larrakia elders ‘not consulted’ on RSL proposal
Ms Lee, who is on the Larrakia Nation board, said she had not been consulted on the development proposal.
“I was almost in tears, it was such a shock to hear of the development. I only heard about the proposal yesterday while listening to ABC radio,” she said.
“I am on the Larrakia Nation board and as far as I know we have not been consulted about this site.”
“And usually if someone wants to develop something in Darwin, they contact the Larrakia Nation and it goes to a board meeting.
“It may have gone to others but I certainly hadn’t heard about it.
“When you look at the issue around Rio Tinto destroying the sacred site down there with their mine, this could be another one of those instances. This is a site of real significance for us,” she said, referring to an incident in the western Pilbara earlier this year.
“I’m happy the Lord Mayor is taking action on this.”
Mr Vatskalis said the last-minute intervention meant council could properly research the cultural significance of the site.
“We were ready to make a decision, I was looking forward to finally making a decision,” he said.
“But at five o’clock I got a phone call about the cultural significance of the site,” he told ABC Radio Darwin.
“It blew me away and I fell off my chair.”
The Mayor said as he received the information so late, he could not establish with confidence whether it was accurate.
“We had a big problem on our hands so we had to postpone the vote.”
The RSL has previously said the site was important to veterans as it overlooked a battleground of Australia’s most significant World War II event, the Bombing of Darwin in 1942.
The Lord Mayor said if the information about the cultural significance of the site was verified it would change his position on the RSL development, meaning it would likely not go ahead.