The Wreck Bay Aboriginal community has been forced to stop cultural practices and stop teaching those practices to children following the identification of toxic chemicals in soil and a waterway, according to their annual report.
The community council's 2018-19 annual report said residents intended to join a class action in the future, after the findings of contamination had "considerable impact on the ability of the community to exercise cultural rights".
"Unfortunately, there can be no positives out of the PFAS contamination," the report stated.
The township, located in the Jervis Bay Territory, has its day to day services provided by the ACT government.
The PFAS firefighting chemicals were detected in September 2018, more than two years after the ACT government was warned about the potential problem. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam and are now known to persist in the environment.
PFAS contamination has been found at the Jervis Bay Range, HMAS Creswell and numerous surrounding areas. There has also been a number of other sites identified in the Shoalhaven including naval base HMAS Albatross.
After the chemicals were detected, authorities restricted access to some areas, including a creek traditionally used to swim and catch yabbies, among other things.
In 2018, Freedom of Information documents sought by the Sunday Canberra Times revealed two residents had described the yabbies in Wreck Bay as being "deformed".
In the annual report, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council said "no amount of lobbying" would change the fact that PFAS had been detected at the South Coast locality.
"Signage has been erected by the department of health, trees have been cut down at the Jervis Bay Public School and people have stopped cultural practices and teaching of children in those practices."
The report said the council is in discussions with Wollongong University to consider potential research projects to help the community look at solutions for keeping culture alive in places where traditional gathering, hunting and fishing may no longer be able to occur.
University of Wollongong Pro Vice-Chancellor of Inclusion and Outreach Paul Chandler is helping the community to drive the research project. Mr Chandler is also a Jervis Bay School board member.
Mr Chandler said one aspect of the research will look at the psychological impact of the contamination.
"Particularly for the children of the community, because they will now potentially not grow up with the same relationship to country," Mr Chandler said.
"We're hoping to retain that connection to country that distinguishes Aboriginal people."
"We're looking for solution-focused ways of ensuring cultural practices can continue, as the bond between Aboriginal people and their country is the most sacred and critical aspect of their life."
Mr Chandler said the impact of the contamination was far greater than the cultural aspects.
"The food stocks are suspect, so there's not just cultural issues there, there are diet and health issues as well. A lot of people have gone off eating seafood and moved to less nutritious options."
He said in areas where the population was non-Indigenous, a solution might be for the government to buy the homes and have everyone move out, but that wasn't an option for residents of Wreck Bay.
"We're connected to land, we're connected to country which we consider our mother. If that bond is broken, then the community is broken," he said.
This story PFAS contamination's huge impact on Aboriginal cultural practices on South Coast first appeared on The Canberra Times.