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On Tuesday night at least three councillors will try to quash the Mountain Bike Trails for good

December 2, 2022

By Peter Holmes

Three Orange City Councillors will move a motion at Tuesday’s meeting to kill off once and for all the controversial mountain bike trail proposal for Gaanha-bula Mount Canobolas.

The motion from deputy mayor Gerald Power and councillors David Mallard and Melanie McDonell is that: “Council resolves not to carry out any further work toward the State Significant Development proposal to develop the Mount Canobolas Mountain Bike Trails, in light of the economic priorities and challenges facing Council, in addition to the potential environmental and cultural heritage impacts associated with the proposal.”

The 100km of proposed bike trails have split elements of the community, with those in favour saying they would create tourism and jobs and assist with keeping the mountain free of blackberries, and those against saying the site is significant to Wiradjuri people and should be left alone.

Elders in town including Uncle Neil Ingram and Aunty Alice Williams have spoken out against the project.

On Monday October 31 Uncle Neil spoke with reporters outside the NAIDOC Week launch at Orange Function Centre.

“Mount Canobolas mountain bike track should be stopped,” Uncle Neil said. “We as Elders oppose it in its entirety.

“Gaanha-bula is part of our Dreaming story; it’s a sacred, spiritual place for the Wiradjuri people. The project will impact and damage Wiradjuru culture both intangible - spiritual - and tangible - the sites of artefacts.”

Uncle Neil said that the mountain was home to “sacred sites for men and women. There are initiation sites for men and burning places for women, and much evidence for this including tools, ceremonial artefacts and other symbols in the landscape”.

He said traditional flora and fauna were used for bush medicine and bush tucker, and that the mountain was home to threatened and endangered species unique to the area.

“The biodiversity is very important … We have occupied these islands for tens of thousands of years and they are of great significance to the Wiradjuri people. We need to protect this Earth and respect this special place.”

Aunty Alice Williams said she became involved in Uncle Neil’s campaign to stop the bike trails, “because my grandfather recorded the Wiradjuri line, which encompasses Gaanha-bula, so I was appreciative of Uncle Neil coming and getting me involved in the process.”

Aunty Alice said she was disappointed in the consultation process behind the bike trails, and felt as if the voice of Wiradjuri women had not been heard.

“We never had an opportunity to talk about the cultural values that we have within the landscape up there, and that connection to Country, and the ceremonies we used to do. How the women used to travel with the men along the various creek ways that led to Gaanha-bula - north, south, east and west.”

The Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Cultural and heritage Committee, headed by Uncle Neil’s son Greg Ingram, is also against the trails. He told The Orange News Examiner the committee was not satisfied with the way consultation with Wiradjuri people was conducted.

ZOO NEWS: A slice of the Serengeti is coming to the Central West

[The Orange News Examiner has been working on an in-depth feature story covering the whole mountain bike trail saga for some weeks. We have interviewed many of the key players, and hope to bring you this story soon.]

Councillor David Mallard (bottom left), Uncle Neil Ingram (seated, glasses) and Aunty Alice Williams (grey top) listen to Greens MLC Sue Higginson argue against bike trails. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

As background to the motion, the three councillors have stated: “At present, Council is working to deliver other major projects (e.g., the Sporting Precinct and the Conservatorium and Planetarium) and is faced with significant financial challenges due to rising inflation, escalations in construction costs, and the impact of ongoing severe weather events.

“Rather than directing further resources into work on this additional project that even its proponents acknowledge would need to measure up against strict assessment requirements relating to its impact on a sensitive and iconic area within our region, we suggest that Council should resolve that we will no longer progress the State Significant Development proposal.

“Expenditure and progress from previous Council work on the proposal In previous terms of Council, Orange City Council has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to staff resources directed to preliminary work toward seeking approval to develop a network of mountain bike trails on Gaanha-bula / Mt Canobolas.

“This work has resulted in the issuing of the Planning Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) for the assessment of the development proposal as State Significant Development.

“Progressing toward a development application would involve further resources and expenditure. The SEARs require a considerable amount of further work to be done and money to be spent in order to reach the stage of submitting a development application for assessment.

“The Budget documents adopted by this Council earlier in the year included forward planning for $1.5 million of expenditure in 2023-24, and even bringing a proposal to Council to approve expenditure on the next stages of work to meet the SEARs and prepare a development application will involve considerable work by Council staff.

“Seeking approval of the project would be costly and uncertain of success The project is being assessed as a State Significant Development because it is costly (capital investment value greater than $10 million) and involves significant environmental risks (development in an area of state significance).

“In addition to the considerable costs … significant concerns have been raised by conservation organisations, members of the First Nations community and the broader public that the proposed mountain bike trails would have significant impacts on the natural environment and Wiradjuri cultural heritage, which would make it inappropriate for the project to proceed.

“Rather than continue to allocate resources and funds to work on advancing the application for this costly and uncertain project, Council can choose not to progress it and focus our strategic attention and resources on delivering other major projects and activities for the benefit of Orange’s community and our regional economy.”

In response, council staff stated: “Council staff … note the objections of the Gaanha-bula Action Group expressed through correspondence with Council and in a meeting with Council on 11 July 2022 and note the requirements for further investigations to identify and avoid areas of cultural significance.

“There is no Budget allocation included in Council's 10 Year Financial plans for the conduct of these works.”

Deputy mayor Gerald Power was elected in December in 2021, in part on a platform against the mountain bike trails on Gaanha-bula.

“I am still of that view,” he told The Orange News Examiner recently. "I have not changed. I must respect the Elders here on this nation.”


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