Caves protest considered

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Wadandi elder Bill Webb says he will not be discouraged from his push to have local Noongars reclaim ownership of the region’s sacred caves.

Following his call, reported by the Times last month, Mr Webb said he had received little engagement from tourism and State Government authorities on his ambition to have vestment in local caves returned to the Wadandi to drive reconciliation and give local Noongars economic independence.

Although he would continue advocating to the State Government, Mr Webb said if his efforts failed to create discussion he would mobilise Noongar activists to block roads to caves controlled by the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association.

“We’ll make a big protest,” he said.

“We’ll block the roads off if we have to and let the international visitors know the situation. If we are down there (protesting), they will have to come to the party.”

Mr Webb said the caves’ ownership was not considered during native title discussions, which many Noongars resented.

Noongars showed the caves to white settlers, who subsequently “discovered” them, Mr Webb said, and having those assets in Aboriginal hands was crucial to the Wadandi’s future self-determination.

WA Lands Minister Rita Saffioti previously said she would welcome hearing more about the proposal, but approaches should come from the MRBTA — a situation Mr Webb said was unlikely to happen. The Minister said the region’s caves were valued in the tourism sector.

“The management body should be contacted in the first instance to discuss the broader proposal, with an application being made to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage for assessment,” she said.

MRBTA chief executive Claire Savage said Wadandi input on the MRBTA’s management of the four caves under its control was welcome.

“The MRBTA is always willing to meet with local Wadandi people to discuss ways in which it can further support Aboriginal tourism and also generate employment opportunities for local Aboriginal people across the region,” she said.

The association took its environmental and heritage responsibilities very seriously, “to protect these assets for future generations whilst balancing the benefits to all segments of the community in this region”.

Shire president Pam Townshend — who has led calls for more Aboriginal heritage consultation — said local Noongars “have been overlooked in the way the caves have been used for tourism to date”. But she appealed to a collaborative solution to “share the economic benefits that the caves afford us”.

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