After 20 years of campaigning Billagoe (Mount Drysdale), in northern New South Wales’ Orana region has been listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.
The listing in February strengthens the rights of Ngemba, Ngiyampaa, Wangaaypuwan and Wayilwan people to manage the sight and allows for repatriation of Aboriginal objects and remains and the right to prevent removal of material with cultural ties.
Ngiyampaa Elder aunty Elaine Ohlsen said the registration brought a lot back to her mobs identity, culture and history.
“I am pleased with this result as it retains our connection with our Ancestors and ancestral lands,” she said.
Billagoe holds strong cultural significance, with close connections to the travels of Biamie, the creator god in the Dreamtime stories of local and surrounding custodians.
“Mount Drysdale is part of the creation line, the Dreaming line and the song lines,” aunty Ohlsen said.
“It goes right down to the Lachlan river.”
The area’s history was one of particular colonial attention. Pastoral leaseholds date back to 1885, initially as a sheep station with the massacre of Aboriginal people taking place. Interest remained as the area later became popular for gold mining.
“This is a mining town,” aunty Ohlsen said.
“It’s all mining, new mines opening up all over the place..we don’t have any control of it, none.
“I know the Government, they support mining.
“Heritage and culture doesn’t mean much to too many people, unless you’re Aboriginal or a registered owner.”
The listing of Billagoe came as a welcome relief for local mob, with the struggle for recognition an outlier in the area.
Mount Grenfel, 40 kilometres south-west of Billagoe, was handed back to the Ngiyampaa Wangaaypuwan people in 2004.
“We’ve fought hard, this isn’t the only place” aunty Ohlsen said.
“Unless you’ve got other people in your area that are committed… you sort of get nowhere”
“We didn’t know how far we’d get with it, then all of a sudden the new minister turned up and he’s put it on the register”.
NSW Environment and Heritage Minister James Griffin was present in February to announce the listing.
Plans for repatriation of further rights had not been actioned in the weeks following Billagoe’s listing. Local custodians hope to begin soon.