Protest at community session for Wallcliffe House redevelopment

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Protesters gathered in Margaret River last week opposed to the development bid for Wallcliffe House.
Camera IconProtesters gathered in Margaret River last week opposed to the development bid for Wallcliffe House. Credit: Supplied

A public meeting to answer questions about the development application for Wallcliffe House last week saw a crowd of residents protest against the plans for a site they consider critically important to the region’s Aboriginal heritage.

Led by Wadandi matriarch Vivian Brockman Webb, the 40-strong group attended the public forum hosted by the project team working for mining heiress Alexandra Burt and her husband Julian, the owners of Voyager Estate.

The development application — downscaled compared to the previous version — was released for public comment earlier this month and was previously subject to environmental and Aboriginal heritage concerns by some Wadandi elders including the Friends of the Margaret River for the sake of the river that abuts the site.

Ms Brockman Webb said the site should not be developed because Wainellingup, “the old man’s dying place” needed protection.

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“The profit of a few is at cost to many,” she said.

“It needs to be kept for the future and not for profit.”

Ms Webb’s daughter Mitchella Hutchins also said family history was intertwined at the site, quoting her grandfather George Webb who considered the burial ground important.

The family considered the project comparable to building on a cemetery.

“Let the spirits rest,” Ms Hutchins said.

Land artist and family supporter Elaine Cloherty said despite a history of construction at the site, the importance of the Dying Place was not diminished.

“The staff and consultants who were showcasing the 25-room hotel and spa facility seemed unaware that it was a burial ground,” she told the Times.

However, the Aboriginal heritage report accompanying the project did acknowledge the history of the location as a burial ground, Ms Cloherty said.

A spokesperson for the project said it wasn’t “our place” to discuss Aboriginal affairs, referring the matter to the new Karri Karrak Aboriginal Corporation which did not respond to a request for comment.

“Wallcliffe House Pty Ltd has completed a consultative Aboriginal Heritage survey in line with the formal process of a Section 18,” they said.

“The Section 18 was granted in early 2022 and the report is on public record.”

The developer also noted Ms Brockman Webb’s comments were recorded during that consultation and considered as part of submissions which led to the approval.

While conditions were attached to that approval, the Section 18 report gave permission for works to proceed.

“(The report) states that the land on which the work is proposed to take place has already been heavily disturbed, altered and excavated since the beginning of European history, and no substantive evidence has been discovered or presented to date that suggests any significance exists,” the spokesperson said.

“Further, the comments made by Ms Brockman last week and during the consultation process have not been raised by the broader Aboriginal community.”

The project would also employ a monitor of Aboriginal heritage to oversee excavation works during construction.

Shire submissions on the proposal close on December 22.

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