Aboriginal Victoria is in discussions with a north central Victorian farmer to determine what needs to happen so his plans for a tourist park at Lake Tyrrell can proceed.

Key points:

  • Work has stopped on a plan four years in the making to turn the edge of Lake Tyrrell into a tourist park
  • Barengi Gadjin Land Council is looking into whether there needs to be a cultural heritage study undertaken since its boundaries changed
  • The landowner insists his plans do no encroach on the protected area

The local Registered Aboriginal Party says the current situation, whereby cultural heritage could be under threat, could have been avoided three years ago. 

Murray Allan from Sea Lake wants to establish 10 cabins, and as many caravan spots, at the southern end of Lake Tyrrell.

The lake has become trendy with domestic and international visitors in recent years for its mirror-like reflections of the sky when full of water, and its covering of pink salt when empty.

In 2017, council gave Mr Allan’s proposal the green light, and earthworks began this year.

But the Victorian Government says it now wants Mr Allan to see whether a Cultural Heritage Management Plan is required.

A question of timing

Mr Allan said he was sure all the paperwork was up to standard.

“I checked and we had the council permits … and there were no mistakes,” Mr Allan said.

“It was legal and above board. Anyway, they [state government] have the power to overrule the council and we’ve had to stop work for about a month now.”

Mr Murray said though the boundaries have changed since the council approved his plan four years ago, he believed he has done nothing wrong.

Salt scraping machinery on pink salt lake under a glowing sunset

Lake Tyrrell in north west Victoria is Australia’s largest inland salt lake, and named after First Nations people: Direl, meaning “sky”.(

Supplied: Ron Bonham

)

In a letter dated June 4, Aboriginal Victoria raised concerns with Mr Murray that he was placing himself at risk of harming Aboriginal cultural heritage if the activities continued.

“The location in which the activity is taking place is an area of Aboriginal cultural heritage sensitivity, being dunes,” it read.

Lake Tyrrell is the largest inland saltwater lake in Victoria. Its name is derived from that given to it by the First Nations people: Direl, meaning “sky”.

The ABC understands there are significant cultural and spiritual values at Lake Tyrrell dating back 32,000 years, with it being used as a place of ceremony, gathering and trade.

A government spokesperson said it was not for them to comment on exactly what this cultural heritage was, and this was sensitive knowledge held by Traditional Owners.

The ABC requested an interview with Buloke Shire Council, and in response a spokesperson said it had advice the permit it issued in 2017 remained valid even after the boundaries changed in 2018.

Buloke Shire themselves undertook a cultural heritage management plan before building the newly opened boardwalk and tourism signage at the Sea Lake end of Lake Tyrrell, as this area has always been within the cultural boundaries.

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Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 35 seconds

Meet the Sea Lake locals behind the isolated grain towns’ transformation into a tourism hotspot.(Jennifer Douglas and Danielle Grindlay)

Why CHMPs are so important

Barengi Gadjin Land Council, was the registered Aboriginal Party covering the area the Allans were looking to develop.

Acting CEO Tim McCartney, a Wotjobaluk man, said the council engaged BGLC in 2018 when looking over Mr Allan’s proposal.

He said while BGLC advised a cultural heritage management plan was needed, the council issued the permits without one being done.

“We thought it would be beneficial to do a voluntary CHMP, given the significance of the site,” he said.

“We understand the land tenure over the whole lake site is complex — with Parks Victoria, council, DELWP and private landholders having responsibility over parts of it, but as Barengi Gadjin Land Council we have an obligation to make sure cultural heritage is protected.

“We raised this concern with the council in 2018 and they went against our advice.

“We haven’t gone and inspected it because it’s privately-owned land. We rely on cultural heritage management systems to do the work to ensure every group, party to the agreement, is protected. It’s not about stopping business, it’s about making sure there is protection and a plan in place.

“We can understand why people want to display it and get people to go and visit, but we need to make sure why it’s amazing doesn’t get destroyed.”

Questions of Aboriginal heritage at popular beauty spot Lake Tyrrell halts work on tourist park
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