Jerrinja elders and tribe members are deeply concerned about construction work on a culturally-significant block of land in Orient Point.
Historically, three blocks of land on Orsova Parade housed a ration shack on the former Aboriginal mission known as the Roseby Park Aboriginal Reserve, established in 1900 and effectively disbanded in 1966. Prevented from hunting and gathering elsewhere, Jerrinja people would go to the shack for rations of sugar, tea, flour and tobacco.
Community members say a teenage girl from their tribe died, and was buried on that site.
Now, earth on one of three blocks is being disturbed, and the Jerrinja people are angry.
They're angry Shoalhaven City Council approved the development application for a two-storey house in December without flagging their cultural concerns with the current landowner.
"In our culture, you get sick for touching things you shouldn't be touching, for disturbing the peace, especially if you don’t have elders there to smoke the place," Graham Connolly junior said.
"If they dig her up we don’t even know if they’re going to tell us."
By law, if human remains are found on a construction site, work must stop while the matter is investigated. Even though this protection exists, the Aboriginal community would have appreciated some input in the earth-moving process.
"They could be digging up artefacts," Ron Carberry said.
"If this was happening anywhere else, they’d go through and check for artefacts while they’re digging," Steve Williams said.
"Who knows what’s in those [dirt] hills right now?"
Steve, Ron and Graham are not against development - they just wanted it done respectfully. And they don't have a problem with the builder.
"It's their job to move on with the thing, not look at what’s in the dirt," Steve said.
Council's general manager Russ Pigg and mayor Amanda Findley visited the site last year, and told the tribe that council would like to create a memorial for the historic ration hut across the road, on a block of land managed by the Jerrinja Aboriginal Land Council.
"The Mayor and I agreed to recommend that the council contribute financially towards the memorial once agreement was given by the land council, and we could work together to create a concept design and seek government funds too," Mr Pigg said.
"Shoalhaven City Council values our working relationship with the Jerrinja LALC and we have undertaken works together previously."
The land council is considering council's proposal
Ron feels as though it's too little, too late.
When Shoalhaven council initially sold the block, he advised them of cultural concerns.
"I’ve been going in there and complaining about it for years," he said.
"The first owner knew about my issues, they didn’t want anything to do with it, so they sold it.
"The thing is, council never left a paper trail to let the next owner know there was a ration shack here."
In telling their story via the South Coast Register, the men hope to create awareness in the broader community about the matter.
"Our main objective is to bring awareness to the public," Graham said.
"We are going around being the police of our sites, and we shouldn’t have to do that, there’s an act to protect it."
"Under tribal lore there's an old saying, 'we don't own the land, the land owns us,'" Ron said.
"If we don't look after it, it will not look after us. The environment comes under this saying, the land, rivers, likes, creeks, flora and fauna."