West Wallsend Butterfly Cave

I speak today about the sacred, beautiful Butterfly Cave in my electorate of Cessnock, couched in the bushland of West Wallsend. I do so on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the tabling of the “Bringing Them Home” report. Before question time today we recognised a number of attendees from the stolen generations.

We stood united as one in this Chamber. If everyone was like me, I suspect they felt deeply emotional about having the opportunity to recognise the stolen generations and the “Bringing Them Home” report. It embarrasses me enormously that the Aboriginal people have been treated poorly since white settlement of this land. As we stood in our places today I am sure that all members were equally embarrassed about things done well before their time and beyond their control. However, we must all have wondered what we could do today to try to make amends.

The Butterfly Cave is a beautiful, sacred women’s site nestled in bushland that has a history of some 35,000 years. The Awabakal women of the Cessnock electorate still use the Butterfly Cave for women’s business. The elders take the young women there as part of a process of ceremony, education, explanation and induction that helps them identify with their Aboriginal heritage. It is incumbent on us as political representatives to do all we can to support the Aboriginal people and help solve some of the problems we have caused. To that end, saving the Butterfly Cave is probably the single most important thing we can do for the Aboriginal people in the Cessnock electorate. In fact, it is one of the most significant things we can do for the Aboriginal people of New South Wales. To save the Butterfly Cave we need to buy the land from the developer. I emphasise this point: The developer has done nothing wrong. It acquired land that was zoned residential, put in a development application and sought approval to build on the land. The developer followed all the white fella rules, but that does not help the Aboriginal people and the Aboriginal women who will lose one of their most sacred sites on the east coast.

Earlier today the Speaker of the House beautifully recognised the “Bringing Them Home” report. I acknowledge that the government of yesterday did not do enough on this matter, but I urge this Government to find the money to buy the land from the developer. The budget is coming up. During question time today the Minister for Heritage spoke about funding that will be provided to protect some Anglo-Saxon heritage that is less than 200 years old. I have no problem with preserving the Newcastle Post Office. I also have no problem with the $310 million being committed to protect some more white heritage at Parramatta. But why can we find so much money so easily for white heritage but not find $1 million or $2 million to purchase land from a rule-abiding developer so that it can remain sacred and we can preserve the 35,000 years of history and culture of which we are all immensely proud? At the beginning of question time today I could not have felt more proud yet at the same time more embarrassed and feel more strongly the need to say sorry to our Aboriginal people.