Theft of Aboriginal land under the Eden Regional Forest Agreement

All Australians were robbed when the Australian Government breached the New South Wales Eden Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) in 1999 and when they breached it for the second time under the Eden multi-purpose wharf compensation negotiations of the early 2000.

RFAs were brought about to deal with changes in weather patterns due to deforestation and bring an end to years of heated and divisive forest debate, and attracted significant international attention. As part of the process, Aboriginal people, government, and all other stakeholders endorsed each other’s claim and recommendations.

The Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) endorsed both wilderness declarations and national parks inclusions, and extensions to logging and wood chipping licences. These endorsements favoured the National Parks and WildLife Service NSW, environmentalist stake holders, the Forestry Commission and associated timber workers. In turn, Eden LALC received government and all other stakeholder`s endorsements and support for Aboriginal Ownership Subject to Condition over the interim deferred forests within the Eden LALC boundary.

Interim deferred forests are forests reserved to help meet industry, biodiversity, and cultural shortfalls. These claims were endorsed to help overcome Aboriginal social and economic issues and to support and reinstate Aboriginal cultural practices. It was also an important process in ensuring that Aboriginal people had a say in and could contribute to the care and management of these natural resources.  

Prior to invasion, the Aboriginal people of Australia had enjoyed a healthy, poverty-free, modest yet complex sustainable lifestyle reinforced by strong kinship relationships of caring and sharing. Aboriginal people did not dominate, modify, nor manipulate our Mother Earth; we were able to successfully harmonise with her with the understanding that if we looked after our Mother Earth then she would look after and provide for us.

A result of colonisation for Aboriginal People has been our alienation from the land and because of this we have been denied the opportunity to assist our Mother Earth in the restocking of her reserves.

In 1997, the NSW Premier introduced the Forestry and National Parks Estate Bill into the NSW Parliament in order to facilitate tenure change in anticipation of the Comprehensive resource assessment. Due to pressure from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the Bill was modified in 1999 to accommodate the Aboriginal land claims and Native Title interests. Yet, under the very same act, the interim deferred forests that the Eden LALC had a legitimate and government-endorsed claim over, were illegally transferred to National Parks. The original aims of the RFA negotiations were erased in what became a nefarious land grab.

In the early 1990s, and in the lead-up to implementation of various RFAs, there was a growing understanding that the natural world was in decline. The constant extraction of resources had fundamentally overwhelmed Mother Earth’s ability to restock her reserves, in turn jeopardising the well-being of populations who relied on her for their survival. Many people across the globe made their feelings known. The environmental campaigns of the 1990s in Australia are remembered as some of the most impassioned, with the actions of protesters and activists bringing to light the catastrophic impacts of unrelenting and unchecked deforestation.

With heightened tensions and debates over the use and abuse of forests, it was clear that the mood was shifting. The general feeling was that the new century should usher in a more productive and amicable approach to ongoing debates about Australian forest management. Many called for greater tolerance and an approach that included an increased sense of goodwill toward one another. Many across the globe believed that there was a need for more sensitivity and move to no longer dominate nor inappropriately manipulate or modify our Mother Earth.

The Australian government took advantage of this sentiment. Through a a successful propaganda campaign, it promoted the incorrect belief that it had reached agreements with Aboriginal people and all other stakeholders through the RFA process. It did this to ensure that there would be no protests during the international media coverage of the agreements. It pushed this issue underground, out of the spotlight and scrutiny of a global community that was demanding change.

Later, out of the spotlight of the domestic and world media, the government manipulated the process a second time through breaches to the Eden multi-purpose wharf compensation negotiations. Aboriginal freehold lands were seized by force in order to accommodate the defence operations relocation to Eden on the far south coast of New South Wales and to make way for the Sydney 2000 Olympic village and associated games.

The vision of the Eden LALC is that all people are able to contribute to the management of our forests that are sustainable and life-affirming. We all benefit, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, from sharing Mother Earth’s bounty, as it nurtures better relations between people and place and promote peace and good will. The effects of a government that refuses to share is dire – we all lose in the end.


Image: Regrowth forest at Eden, Wikimedia Commons

BJ Cruse

BJ Cruse is a monaroo Elder and the current chairperson of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC), a position he has held for 35 years. BJ has been active in Indigenous politics since 1966, when he joined the Wallaga Lake Political Youth Group as the group's treasurer.

More by BJ Cruse ›

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