THE senator who will become Aboriginal Affairs Minister if a coalition wins the impending federal election has praised the Gunditjmara Budj Bim heritage site, describing it as “fantastic and wonderful.”
Senator Nigel Scullion, visiting the southwest from the Northern Territory alongside Victorian National Party Senator Bridget McKenzie, toured the site near Tyrendarra with prominent Gunditjmara community leaders including Eileen Alberts and Damein Bell.
“Aboriginal people all over Australia want economic independence,” he told the community leaders.”They want to make their own decisions.” He said Budj Bim could be”…a place of fascination to overseas visitors, and certainly should be a focus for Australians, too.” But he was less definite on the subject of a proposed World Heritage nomination for the area, noting that while WHA status carries obvious tourism and funding benefits, in his view it led to outside-imposed restrictions and he preferred the decision-making to be entirely local.
He vowed that if a coalition won the upcomingelection there would be a new relationship between government and Aboriginal people, “…based on trust and acceptance of equality. We will respond to what local indigenous people want. We’ll also build stepping stones to make this area part of a network of Aboriginal tourism products.”
He predicted that if Budj Bim became part of a network of well-marketed indigenous touring sites, six to I 0 people could be employed fulltime at the site, where visitors could eat local delicacies and buy books and art.
A former bush guide and tourism operator himself, Senator Scullion said overseas visitors spent nearly all their money visiting physical sites like Ayres Rock and the Great Barrier Reef, but often left Australia feeling they have missed out on Aboriginal cultural experiences – one of the reasons they came here in the first place.
“Government needs to be respectful and to get out of the road and encourage an experience like you have here, which is second to none. School children especially should come here on excursions to learn about the first people of our country.”
His colleague Senator McKenzie is a former Bendigo schoolteacher and she agreed Victorians needed to know more about Gunditimara engineering exploits.
“There’s so much cultural practice and historical facts to be learned here,” she said. “Student teachers should be aware of this place, so that when they are planning their activities or curricula, that the south-west is first and foremost in their minds.”
Before her election to the Senate, Sen. McKenzie spent a year with her children in Canada and said Australia could learn a lot from that vast Commonwealth country.
“They do things so well there and there’s a great involvement by the tourism industry in their own indigenous culture.” Before walking the site, the two senators feasted on smoked eels trapped in the traditional way and barbecued kangaroo meat. Their visit was part of a larger tour of sites of Aboriginal significance.