Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council has mobilised to stop archaeological scraping of grave sites at Huskisson's former Anglican Church.
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The group has applied to the federal government for emergency protection of two lots at Huskisson - on the corner of Hawke, Bowen and Currambene Streets
Jerrinja LALC's application comes days after the site's owner, Steve Bartlett, was given state government approval to conduct archaeological scraping on the land.
As per the approval from Heritage NSW, the exploration would scrape topsoil to expose the tops of potential grave cuts.
There are seven known graves on the site, as confirmed by two ground penetrating radar studies.
Five graves lay in the former church yard, and two are on neighbouring Jerrinja LALC land.
In a statement, Jerrinja LALC CEO Alfred Wellington referenced a third ground penetrating radar study by a firm called Hunter Geotech, which raised the possibility of more grave sites on the land.
The Hunter results differ significantly from other radar studies, and have been disputed between parties for a number of reasons.
Jerrinja LALC and Mr Wellington argue the Hunter report indicates more graves on the site.
He said the move to scrape other sections of the land was culturally insensitive.
"What they call verification we call desecration", Mr Wellington said.
"There are no words for how deeply distressing and offensive we find this.
"Just like last time, Heritage NSW did not even have the common decency to inform us, let alone consult us prior to granting this permit.
"And just like last time, when we and others successfully pressured Council not to proceed, we will do everything in our power to fight this plan and ensure the resting place not just of our ancestors but of all those buried there is not disturbed."
Shoalhaven City Council has backed Jerrinja LALC's emergency protection application, with Mayor Amanda Findley moving a Mayoral Minute at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday (September 20).
In a divided chamber, councillors voted 7-6 to fully support the application and start the process to list the former Huskisson Anglican Church (and associated items on the site) as a 'Heritage Item' of local significance in council's plans.
Land owner Steve Bartlett made a deputation to council, in a bid to clarify what was planned for the site.
Conditions of the state government approval state 300mm of topsoil is permitted to be scraped from parts of the lot.
Mr Bartlett confirmed the seven known graves on the site won't be touched by the exploration, but other areas of the site will be looked at by the archaeological scrape.
"I've indicated that where the graves are does not require investigation, because we know they're there," Mr Bartlett said.
"The other parts need investigation, because while the Hunter [Geotech] report is out there, it's uncertain what's on the site. I'm leaving it to the experts."
Also in his deputation, Mr Bartlett outlined issues on site and spoke against potential heritage listing.
"I said in 2018 that we wouldn't be digging up any graves, and I haven't changed that position, he said.
"We had a study done in 2019 that said it's probably worthy of [heritage] listing - but it's privately owned and unless there's a use for it, there's no point listing it because it won't be maintained.
"Lastly, as part of the planning approval process, we had a contamination report done for the entire site. That building has got toxic lead paint poisoning right through the building and in the ground underneath.
"The recommendation is that the building comes down, and I've chosen not to do that... the effect is that heritage listing won't change the contamination in the building and it needs to be addressed.
"At some stage the EPA will issue us with a notice to do it, which means the building comes down and the ground around the building gets excavated and removed."
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