Elders appeal to respect sacred sites


2417 Billygoat Hill 680

Tourists enjoying Billygoat Hill.

Sir – Last Friday a fire was lit and burnt across Akeyulerre / Billygoat Hill, in the centre of Alice Springs.
Luckily there was no damage to private property and the fire was put out by the fire brigade.
However, there was damage to an important sacred site and also to some sacred trees that are a part of this site.
This is very disturbing for the traditional owners and other Arrernte people who have a strong respect for their traditional culture.
The elders and community associated with Akeyulerre Inc, the Arrernte Healing Centre would like to remind people that the town of Alice Springs has been built upon a sacred landscape. Even though the land is now covered in houses and roads and so on the spirit of the land still lives on.
We would also like to ask tourists, and visitors to Alice Springs from outside communities, and also local residents both Arrernte and Non-Arrernte, please respect our sacred heritage. Please don’t light random fires, help look after our country and respect our sites.
Amelia Turner Kngwarreye, Chairperson,
and the Elders from Akeyulerre Inc.


  1. I can guarantee that it wasn’t tourists that lit the fire. It is a sad state of affairs when the people whose sacrad sites these are meant to be, are more often than not the people who damage, vandalise and throw their waste all over these areas.

  2. So “Walt”, when Dan Murphy’s Liquor Barn challenges the government in court, forcing it to defend taxpayer-funded community health standards with taxpayer funds, and sets up in Alice Springs with its low-price packaged grog and free promotional products, will you be signalling alarm or continuing to flag the victims as destroyers of what’s left of their cultural heritage?

  3. OK, “Russel Guy”. I will play this game. So tell me, Wussel, in your vast experience of the subject tell me the difference all these well thought out restrictions on alcohol sales have made.
    Have they lessened the crime rates, have they reduced the number of people being taken in protective custody, have they reduced the number of accidents directly attributed to alcohol, or the admissions to the hospital? Actually have they done any good at all?
    So what difference will opening a Dan Murphy’s make? Some would say fornication all. I would agree with them.
    [ED – Russell Guy is the writer’s real name.]

  4. To respond to “Difference”: There is very convincing data that demonstrates around the world that by reducing the supply of alcohol to people living in traditional hunter gatherer cultures reduces drinking to harmful levels.
    The NT Government has never been serious about dealing with the issue because of the pressure from the alcohol lobby and voters that either don’t care or don’t understand the impact.
    If you speak to the NT Police I think you will find that the policing of take away outlets which has impacted on supply has had a significant impact on drinking patterns.
    And Walt’s bigoted comment about a consistent message: What traditional owners have been saying for at least 40 years, from my memory, is that it doesn’t matter who you are please respect Alice Springs when you visit, something all sane residents should want.
    Its a simple message and I’m am surprised that Walt doesn’t blame Muslims as well.

  5. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the time of the notorious drought that effectively changed the course of history of Alice Springs, my father worked for the NT Herbarium which was based in offices where the Jock Nelson Building exists today.
    One of the tasks my father did each year was to gather local wildflowers that were sent interstate for a national flower show.
    A favourite locality for gathering the wildflowers was Billygoat Hill which reliably had plenty of different species growing there, even at the height of the drought.
    The botanist George Chippendale and my father nicknamed the hill “The Rockery” for this reason. Sadly, for many years now with this hill smothered in buffel grass, it’s now a shadow of its former splendour.
    This situation applies to many sites around Alice Springs which my father knew extremely well for their botanical diversity (and of course he invariably documented his observations in his diaries). All of them have been lost to the encroachment of buffel grass.
    The native vegetation has either been choked out from the competition or destroyed by buffel-fueled wildfires, a process which is accelerating over most of the region but for the most part is studiously avoided by the relevant authorities that are in some position to act upon this unfolding environmental catastrophe.

  6. Controlled burning is what is needed. Billygoat hill is just one place with buffell problems.Patch burning is what people call it and Billygoat hill needs it too.

  7. Elders from Akeyulerre Inc.
    Get real we all know what people have lit those fires. Take control and responsibility of your people and stop blaming others.

  8. I commend the women of Akeyulerre for speaking up on this issue. Much of this town’s management failures and social dysfunction rebounds negatively on sacred sites. The multi agency neglect of these special places is inexcusable.
    Mabel’s right, patch burning in the cooler months to reduce fuel loads would make a huge difference. We have the resources but they are not substantially deployed in fire prevention. Supported by fire tenders, several people on foot with fire-fighting back packs could achieve much at tiny sites such as Billygoat and Anzac Hills. This is ridiculously simple. Both hill tops are accessible to support vehicles. Both sites were damaged in recent weeks with hot fires impacting on fire sensitive vegetation. Imagine that.
    Instead of promoting anarchy and recrimination in Alice Springs, we could parade the values of initiative, cooperation and civic pride. Blaming the messenger is pathetic. We need more Arrernte people to speak up about the behaviour of visitors and locals alike.

  9. @ Mike: The management of fuel loads on sacred sites is paramount to their ongoing management. This would also show pride in these places that have been managed for millennia and appreciation for sacred sites will be a flow on effect from the broader community.
    Unfortunately, the problem in Alice Springs is TOs working out. Who? Who talks? Who agrees? Some think this work can’t happen without AAPA approval?
    There’s far too much conjecture around the place and too many that are more comfortable criticising who does what, as opposed to actually doing something about the problem.

  10. Is a permit needed too eradicated weeds? Who cares who is doing it? May be the kids in detention should do it the same way that adults prisoners crew clean yards in the community.

  11. Smithy: When I need action to put out a fire I don’t ring around looking for Davey. I call the fire brigade.
    Organisations wishing to undertake work on sacred sites call the Sacred Sites Authority (AAPA) and I suspect that fire management would get an urgent hearing.
    I realise this logic might get in the way of Alice Springs urban mythology and face book melodrama. Put simply Smithy, you are misinformed but you are not alone!
    Refer to the recent articles attacking the Sacred Sites Authority over tree pruning – I must have missed the apology from those who mislead our community!
    I’ve got a copy of Alice Springs Crown Land Strategic Fire Management Plan (2004) which has probably been revised.
    The plan includes some specific fuel reduction burning for sites such as Ilparpa but was mainly concerned with the establishment of formal fire breaks / control lines. Significantly many fire-breaks were installed with the full support of the Sacred Sites Authority in areas such as the Todd River corridor, an area with a high density of registered sites.
    I see NO sacred sites impediment to prudent, respectful and competent burning of buffel grass at sites such as Billy Goat and Anzac Hills and the Todd River channels for that matter.
    I suggest you look for another reason why the town is sitting on its hands.
    The fire-break philosophy should be expanded to include broader scale patch burning in the town area.
    However the width, shape and size of a fire break is debatable. There was a time in the distant past (before the buffel grass explosion) when fire crews from the NT Bushfires Council undertook winter burns of couch grass in the Todd to prevent hot summer fires destroying red gums …

  12. Evelyne: Weeds are problematic and a little knowledge can be dangerous.
    I assume there are inter-agency agreements for the control of weeds on sacred sites.
    There is however a need for the Sacred Sites Authority (AAPA) to facilitate broader involvement.
    Many locals with some land management experience have lost faith in the ability of governments to care for the environment.
    They are sick of watching the decline of bushland and the loss of major habitat trees in their neighbourhood.
    Obviously, individual efforts need to be coordinated by an umbrella organisation.
    The neglect of sacred sites is appalling but ad hoc removal of buffel grass from a hillside or areas of high and unregulated recreational impact will trigger erosion.
    The gullies are visible all over the town area, some in the upper reaches of the Todd are deep enough to bury a car.
    Native vegetation would be hard pressed to cope with this level of land abuse.
    As a first step, the removal of buffel grass around significant trees is critical.
    In this endeavour Landcare groups are key.
    Correction, removal of impacts through basic management should be the first step but I won’t hold my breath.

  13. Evelyne: Thanks for your interest in the critical issues that go begging while we endure endless and fruitless rounds of political football.
    Here’s a quote from page two of the Fire Management Plan that I mentioned: “It cannot be overemphasised that the management and strategic reduction of fuel loads is the key to effective fire management …”

  14. @ Mike,
    Thanks for your comments. However, I cannot agree that for any sort of minor weed management on significant sites (such as hand weeding for example) or rubbish collection – AAPA needs to be consulted.
    That implies that AAPA are now the owners / caretakers and takes real decision making and Aboriginal governance away from the hands of TOs. Unfortunately, this has become a reality as there is too much conjecture over who the TOs are (despite who you may think they are), who has the right to talk and whether the people that do talk have the authority to.
    The addition of AAPA into any such conversation over simple NRM management is ridiculous, especially when local Aboriginal people want to be proactive in the management of their country.

  15. All your comments are very interesting! Someone made the point it was left up to the bushfires council?
    1. Unfortunately, this is not in their area.
    2. Cultural burns in the Todd River are very dangerous unless special techniques are used.
    This article mentions tourist and visitors please respect sacred sites? This comes to me as a real surprise.
    This week three fires have been ignited in the Todd River and these fires have been lit by members of the public walking through the river.
    To my knowledge I don’t think visitors walk through the river. There are many sacred sites that we are not aware of and if we found out some of these I guarantee that some of these red gums which have been burnt are sacred.
    To use visitors as a cause is a total cop out and highly offensive.
    I once lived in the Alice and coming back to visit I see the same issue occurring.
    Programs need to be implemented in which our local Indigenous can participate in fire management. The young adults need educating from their elders.

  16. Smithy, you’ve introduced fresh innuendo and new gripes here including rubbish removal!
    Seriously, give it a rest – I hardly think anyone is going to be concerned with you picking up rubbish unless your actions threaten a sacred site.
    Now you add Aboriginal people “who want to be proactive in the management of their country”.
    So, let’s assume it’s about your weed control on a sacred site without permission, a concern I’ve already responded to.
    I’m sure your conscience is clear and you believe in the value of what you’re doing but Government agencies must be made accountable first and foremost.
    I think sacred sites are far too important to be left in the hands of proactive individuals, all free agents and uncoordinated.
    The system is far from perfect but try harder Smithy.
    Ideally, work with Landcare and make a determined approach to AAPA and/or the agency responsible for land management at the site of your concern.
    Write to the board if necessary and ask the director to waive any processing fees.
    Hopefully you realise that AAPA are not land managers. In the town area most sacred sites are located within Lot numbers, each land parcel is managed by the Crown Lands section of DLPE or the Alice Springs Town Council.
    On the subject of bush-fires I wrote a lengthy submission to the enquiry that followed the destructive fires in 2011.
    Amongst other issues, I raised the need to engage Aboriginal people in fire management.
    Clearly there is plenty of work to go round and also scope for volunteers working alongside bushfire specialists in what could be a community building exercise.
    In Alice Springs, too many commentators indulge in blame-shifting and excuses while our magnificent natural monuments burn.
    I’d like to see these individuals slashing grass around trees and showing us what they can do instead of moaning about the limitations apparently placed upon their boundless energy and brilliance.
    The chronic lack of visitor accommodation gets a mention during election campaigns and is quickly forgotten, one of the many political and organisational failures that rebounds negatively on sacred sites.
    Yes, visitors from bush communities do start many of the fires that damage sacred sites and contribute to the atmosphere of anarchy and inertia that harms this town.
    The status quo is not working. We need leaders who are prepared to address the institutional and cultural blockages that are holding us back.


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