Aboriginal people know if you care for Country, it will care for you
Since time immemorial Aboriginal people have managed, cultivated and cared for the landscape where Sydney was established and continues to grow. Aboriginal people hold profound knowledge, understanding, obligation and custodianship of the landscape, often expressed as Connection to Country. Country is multi-dimensional, consisting of people, animals and plants, reaching into the sky, covering all the land and sea, and extending underground. Connection to Country is deeply personal and familial, connecting Aboriginal people to everything, and to each other in unity. Expressed through stories, song, dance, hunting, fishing and gathering, as well as traditional Aboriginal Welcome to Country protocols, Connection to Country is embedded and alive in the many layers and history of the Greater Sydney landscape.
Aboriginal understanding and respect of the landscape is akin to the aims and objectives of A Metropolis of Three Cities to ensure planning and land use of the Greater Sydney Region is respectful, equitable and sustainable. The three cities – the Eastern Harbour City, the Central River City and the Western Parkland City – reflect the Aboriginal relationship with these lands, years beyond recorded time as ‘saltwater country’, ‘muddy river country’ and ‘running water country’ respectively.
Greater Sydney holds a special place in Australia’s history because it is where the first major point of contact occurred between European and Aboriginal people. However, during the making of the city post 1788, the multi-dimensional nature of Country has never been deeply considered, reconciled or remembered. For example, many contemporary roads and public parks rest upon ancient traditional Aboriginal tracks and camping grounds. The future design and development of Greater Sydney including the naming of streets, roads, parks and suburbs will draw from the richness Aboriginal culture and custodianship of the land can offer for the whole community and environment. Meeting ancient Aboriginal knowledge and relationship with the Greater Sydney landscape, together with the contemporary land use and planning aims of A Metropolis of Three Cities will ignite a positive shared future for all of Greater Sydney’s people and its stunning environment.
Greater Sydney has the largest gathering of Aboriginal people in Australia with many families originating from homelands in wider NSW and throughout the nation. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 estimates that 57,000 Aboriginal people live in Greater Sydney, representing approximately nine per cent of the national Aboriginal population.
Aboriginal Land Councils, constituted under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, are major landowners in most local government areas, empowered and resourced to achieve the social, cultural and economic aspirations of Aboriginal people through those and holdings. As corporate citizens and unique players within the Greater Sydney economy they should be afforded the same opportunity to develop their sites as other landholders. Furthermore, when approved by consent authorities, Aboriginal Land Councils use their lands to great benefit for housing, community and cultural purposes, commerce and enterprise, increasing prosperity and social inclusion for Greater Sydney’s Aboriginal communities.
It has taken 230 years for a shared understanding of Greater Sydney’s landscape to emerge. This shared vision will draw on both spirit and nature to guide respect, reconciliation and recognition, bringing the depth of Aboriginal culture and custodianship to the fore in the future planning of Greater Sydney.
Lucy Hughes Turnbull AO