Portland tent embassy stands firm after 100 days

Audio File  AUDIO:  Portland Sovereign Embassy after 100 days ABC Ballarat 18/05/12

Portland's Aboriginal tent embassy has been set up in Market Square for 100 days and occupants say they won't leave until the Native Title Act is upheld.

(Margaret Burin - ABC Local)

Margaret Burin ABC Ballarat 18th May 2012

One hundred days after setting up an Aboriginal tent embassy in Portland's main street, organisers are vowing to stay until the Native Title Act is upheld. They say Native Title decisions are being made by people who are not traditional owners of the land.

The Gunditjmara people were granted Native Title in 2007, becoming the second group of Aboriginal traditional owners in Victoria to be acknowledged under the act.
It recognises that some Aboriginal people hold rights to their lands and waters, which come from traditional laws and customs.

Organisers of Portland's Market Square tent embassy say they're being denied the right to make decisions about things like development, tourism and sacred sites.

The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation is the prescribed body to handle Native Title in the area.

Gunditjmara elder Sandra Onus, who descends from the King family line, would like to see people prove their genealogical connection to country before being allowed to make decisions about that country under Native Title.

While some Aboriginal people may have lived in the area their whole life, she says they should be Native Title holders for their own clan's areas.

"People from other clan areas, or people who are not even sure of their clan areas should not be able to make decisions about our country clan areas, putting buildings on them, destroying sites, working with council to destroy sites," Ms Onus says.

"Many people were born at the mission but declared as coming from the area...nobody comes from a mission."

Changes at Lake Condah, she says, illustrate the lack of respect for traditional owners.

She says they were not consulted properly about the nature of tourism and the construction of a road on a sacred site where Aboriginals were massacred.
"It is total cultural disrespect."

She'd also like to see camping and healing sites be made exclusive to ancestors of local clans.

Gundij Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation chief executive officer Tom Day says its members are all descendants of the 14 Gunditjmara ancestors used in the Native Title claim.

"In order to be a member you have to be a blood descendant."

Mr Day says it's the responsibility of all Gunditjmara people to care for their country and all members have the right to attend meetings and have their say.

"Not one group can have their say on what happens," he says.

"I wish we could all work these things out together."

Ms Onus would like to see an independent body mediate between the groups and ensure the King family line is acknowledged.

VCAT earlier this month advised the Glenelg Shire Council that it has no jurisdiction to move the embassy on.

Mayor Gilbert Wilson says the council has sent a letter to both the state and federal governments asking them to begin dialogue with the embassy about its concerns.

Ms Onus says the tent embassy will remain until Native Title is upheld.