A stoush is brewing on Mount Panorama — Australia’s home of motorsport — where plans to build a go-kart track on a sacred indigenous women’s site have outraged some Wiradjuri elders.
The Wiradjuri Traditional Owners Central West Aboriginal Corporation (WTOCWA) has succeeded in putting a temporary stop on the development and is seeking emergency protection orders from both the state and federal governments.
“Knowledge holder” aunty Leanna Carr-Smith “Wirribee”, from WTOCWA, said the area was sacred for Wiradjuri women.
It is a place where women are said to have handed their sons to men for tribal initiations, she said.
“We don’t oppose the go-kart track, we just don’t want it here on our sacred women’s area,” she said.
“This is our grandmother’s and this is our ancestor’s place.”
Elder aunty Jill Bower fears the project would stop oral storytelling at the top of the mountain.
“That go-kart track won’t go there while I am alive, I will do everything in my power to ensure that it never gets built there,” Ms Bower said.
While the Bathurst Regional Council has already approved the project, there are more hurdles to overcome before it can be built.
“What it brings to Bathurst is yet another event of international standard and that is what we are looking at, [because] it brings people from all over,” Bathurst Mayor Graeme Hanger said.
“We need approval, obviously from NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.”
The Federal Government can make an emergency order if the area is found to be “a significant Aboriginal area” under threat of injury or desecration.
‘It is a spiritual matter’
Mount Panorama is home to the annual Bathurst 1,000 — also known as The Great Race — Australia’s most-famous motorsport event.
The proposal has divided the local community, including Indigenous groups, with some claiming there is no evidence the area is culturally significant.
Senior Aboriginal sites officer from the Bathurst Local Aboriginal Lands Council, Tina Scott, scoured the mountain for six months but found nothing she believed would aid the elders’ case.
“I haven’t found any landmarks or pieces of artefacts or evidence to tell me that that is a significant area,” Ms Scott said.
There are also gaps in oral history of the region, where martial law was declared in 1824, leading to a sharp rise in conflict between European settlers and the Wiradjuri people.
Bathurst Kart Club President Mark Dunbar said most professional motorsport drivers started in go-kart racing.
“I think for every young girl or boy who is interested in motorsport, to have a track on Mount Panorama and to say ‘I started my career on top of Mount Panorama’, it would mean a lot to our sport,” he said.
Ms Scott said the fight over the go-kart track was sad.
“I can’t deny what they are feeling because obviously it is a spiritual matter that is important to them, all I can do is pay my respects to their beliefs and value their opinion,” she said.
“As a Wiradjuri woman, if there was any chance that something was there that pertained to a women’s site, I would be the first to protect it.”