Virginia Robinson, Secretary of Dharriwaa Elders Group at the ceremony we held 1/11/23 to celebrate the opening of the public road to the Baawan Weir at Walgett. "My name is Virginia Robinson and I am a Gamilaraay woman
born and bred in Walgett. I’d like to welcome you here today – near where the Ngamaay joins the Baawan, for an historic occasion. I pay my respects to Traditional Custodians of this Country past and present and to all Aboriginal people attending here today. We are on Aboriginal land that has never been ceded.
Today is an historic occasion because ever since 2003 (That is 20 years ago) Dharriwaa Elders Group has been working with its legal advisors to ensure that the Walgett community and its visitors, have the right to access this road down to the Baawan.
When we first started asking for the locked gates to be opened, we found out that it was a Crown Public Road and had been since the early days of Walgett white settlement. Locked gates on Crown Roads were unlawful, but the NSW Govt would not ensure they were kept open. It is our opinion that its public servants were instead acting in the interests of landholders who did not want our community to access the river. We learnt this from the exchange of legal letters back and forth, and regularly photographing the locked gates.
8 years passed. In October 2011 DEG presented to Council and wrote to the General Manager requesting that Council take over management of the Crown Road in order to keep it a Public Road. We knew that they had been funded to raise the weir so would probably need to use the road for the work. Meanwhile we were doing lobbying and community education to explain why a fishway is absolutely essential at a weir – against a lot of resistance from many in this town.
From 2013 - 2017 the NSW Government tried to close the Public Road and DEG kept objecting formally in writing. In January 2018 DEG was advised by NSW Dept Industry – Lands and Forestry that while nearby Crown Roads to the river were closed (despite DEG’s written objections) this particular road was given to Council to remain a Public Road. The road still remained locked.
In July 2021 DEG wrote to the General Manager of Walgett Shire Council to ask if it was still a Public Road and requesting a community event like this one to celebrate the re-opening of the road and public access to the river. We received a nasty reply threatening trespassing charges. We didn’t give up – and went to Water NSW and NSW Fisheries to find out when the weir and fishladder would be working, and to explain DEG’s desire to have the road opened so all could enjoy the weir and that it become a public place just like similar weirs are in other western river towns. After their intervention, Walgett Council opened the road over Christmas 2022 and ever since then we have been planning this celebration.
We have invited Water NSW, NSW Public Works, NSW Fisheries and our collaborator - independent scientist Martin Mallen Cooper, to join us today to explain how it all works, because we want our community to have the best available information. What we are going to do now is have a small ceremony of opening the gate. The school dance group will perform a dance and then we ask that you all process slowly through the gate down to the weir and we will meet you there for the rest of the ceremony."