Me-Mel (Goat Island) transfer to Aboriginal ownership and management

The NSW Government is committed to developing a business case for the island's future and to transfer Me-Mel (Goat Island) to Aboriginal ownership and management.

Goat Island view from the ferry. Sydney Harbour National Park. Goat Island known as Me-mel by the local Cadigal people.Me-Mel (Goat Island) is currently part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Me-Mel is one of the 9 islands of Sydney Harbour. It is State-Heritage listed and contains a rich and diverse array of Aboriginal, historical and natural heritage values, including over 30 buildings and other structures dating from the 1830s to the 1960s.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will lead the project, working with the Transfer Committee to make recommendations to the NSW Government for the transfer of Me-Mel in Sydney Harbour to Aboriginal ownership and management and will conduct essential works to expedite the transfer process.

During 2018 and 2019, Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, NPWS and Aboriginal Affairs met in a series of facilitated workshops to collaborate and jointly develop a set of guiding principles for exploring future opportunities for Aboriginal ownership and management of Me-Mel to activate and unlock the cultural and economic potential of Me-Mel.

It was also determined that a Transfer Committee needed to be established to make recommendations for the transfer, and future management, of Me-Mel by developing a strategic business case.

This will include engaging with the Aboriginal community, the broader public and other stakeholders on the plan for future management.

NPWS called for nominations from the Aboriginal community for 4 Aboriginal community representatives to join the Me-Mel (Goat Island) Transfer Committee. Nominations closed on Sunday 9 October 2022. For more details on the nomination process, please view the Expression of Interest in the Nominate tab below.

Me-Mel Transfer Committee

The purpose of the committee is to make recommendations for the transfer of Me-Mel Goat Island to Aboriginal ownership and determine its future management, by developing a strategic business case. The committee will provide the strategic business case and any recommendations for future management and activation of Me-Mel for cultural, tourism and public use purposes to the NSW Government. The Minister for Environment and Heritage and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs will jointly appoint the Transfer Committee members.

The Transfer Committee will have majority Aboriginal membership and appropriate gender representation.

The Transfer Committee will comprise 14 members, including 10 Aboriginal members – 4 from Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, 2 from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and 4 Aboriginal community members. There will be 4 members from the NSW Government, 2 from NPWS, 1 from Aboriginal Affairs and 1 from Department of Premier and Cabinet. The committee will be supported by an independent facilitator.

Expression of Interest: Me-Mel Transfer Committee: Aboriginal Community Representatives

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) called for nominations from the Aboriginal community for Aboriginal community representatives for the Me-Mel Transfer Committee. We called for 4 Aboriginal community representatives for the committee. Nominations closed on Sunday 9 October 2022.

Purpose of the Me-Mel Transfer Committee

The purpose of the committee is to make recommendations for the transfer of Me-Mel to Aboriginal ownership and to determine its future management, by developing a strategic business case. The committee will provide the strategic business case and any recommendations for future management and activation of Me-Mel for cultural, tourism and public use purposes to the NSW Government.

The committee will comprise 14 members, including 10 Aboriginal members – 4 members from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, 2 members from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and 4 community representatives. The other committee members are 4 NSW government representatives (2 from NPWS, one from Aboriginal Affairs and one from Department of Premier and Cabinet). The committee will be supported in its recommendations by an independent facilitator. The Transfer Committee will be Ministerially appointed.

How long will the committee operate for?

The committee will operate for approximately 18 months. It is expected the committee would at first meet monthly, and then every 1 - 2 months. Being on the committee will require a significant amount of time. Standard board and committee sitting fee rates will be paid to the Aboriginal community representatives.

About Me-Mel and the project

Me-Mel is currently part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Me-Mel is one of the 9 islands of Sydney Harbour. It is a complex site. A range of expert advice will be provided to the committee to help them develop a plan and a business case for future management of the island. This may include legal, heritage, planning, governance and business advice.

The committee will be asked to consider culturally appropriate options for identifying Aboriginal people with cultural connections to Me-Mel, and models for future ownership and management that involve those people. The role of the committee includes undertaking wider Aboriginal community engagement as part of its work.

The process will include engaging with the broader public and other stakeholders on the plan for future management. 

Guiding principles for Aboriginal ownership and management of Me-Mel (Goat Island)

The guiding principles will be used to guide decision making for the future ownership and management of Me-Mel. The overarching purpose is to re-establish Me-Mel as a place to strengthen and celebrate Aboriginal culture for the health, well-being and benefit of all Australians.

1. Health and wellbeing

Aboriginal ownership and management of Me-Mel will be on the basis of self-determination with a focus on the health and wellbeing of the Aboriginal community, the wider Australian population and the environment of the island itself.

2. Recognition, respect and acceptance

Me-Mel will be a meaningful, tangible symbol recognising and respecting Aboriginal culture, history and custodianship in a nationally important and accessible location.

3. A place of connection and meaning

Me-Mel will enable the Aboriginal community to celebrate and connect to their culture and history in a place of great significance and authenticity.

4. A place and a history for everyone to share

Me-Mel will be a place for all people to come, learn and directly experience Aboriginal culture and history through sustainable, high-quality experiences so that visitors can understand how Aboriginal history blends into colonial and maritime history as a continual story of Sydney, New South Wales and Australia.

5. Knowledge sharing

Me-Mel will enable the establishment of education and training on the island to generate skills and employment for the benefit of people from both the Aboriginal and wider community.

6. Sustainability

Me-Mel's natural and built environment will be improved, adapted and maintained to enable sustainable commercial and non-commercial activity, including tourism, events, ceremonies and training and education so that it becomes a key part of the New South Wales and Sydney visitor economy, attracting domestic and global visitors.

7. Aboriginal leadership, self-determination and partnership

Achieving an internationally significant place of Aboriginal culture, colonial and maritime history will require strong and effective Aboriginal leadership, engaging stakeholders in the Aboriginal and wider community and working in partnership with government and the private sector to achieve deep and enduring support for the future of Me-Mel.

A panel comprising 4 senior Aboriginal executives from the Department of Planning and Environment, and Aboriginal Affairs will consider the expressions of interest and recommend 4 Aboriginal community members for the Ministers to appoint.

It is anticipated that the Transfer Committee will be appointed and operational in 2022, with the support of an independent facilitator. The committee will continue for approximately 18 months, during which time they will develop a strategic business plan and make recommendations to the NSW Government about the transfer of Me-Mel to Aboriginal management and ownership.

The Transfer Committee will be supported by an independent facilitator who will facilitate the negotiations in accordance with the guiding principles. The process will include engaging with the Aboriginal community, the broader public and other stakeholders on the plan for future management. During the process, the committee will be able to seek advice from Aboriginal leaders with relevant skills and experience to guide the committee's decision-making. A range of other expert advice will be provided to the committee to help them develop a plan and a business case for future management of the island. 

It is up to the Transfer Committee to make recommendations to NSW Government on how the transfer of Me-Mel should occur.

The committee will be asked to consider options for identifying Aboriginal people with cultural connections to Me-Mel, and options for future ownership and management models that involve those people. The committee will undertake wider Aboriginal community engagement as part of its work.

The expression of interest was initially run from 29 May to 27 June. Since running the expression of interest process and receiving community feedback, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is increasing the number of Aboriginal community representative roles on the Transfer Committee from 2 to 4 positions. Due to this change, NPWS is reopening the expression of interest process to ensure Aboriginal community members have an opportunity to apply.

Nominations submitted between 29 May and 27 June do not need to be resubmitted as they will be included in this process.

The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) is the leading Local Aboriginal Land Council on the Me-Mel project and Transfer Committee as Me-Mel is located within MLALC’s boundary.

Due to the significance of the island, the NSW Local Aboriginal Land Council is participating on the committee to represent the statewide community in its capacity as the peak Aboriginal organisation in New South Wales representing land rights. Acknowledging that it is an advocate for Aboriginal rights and interests, it recognises, however, the autonomy of Local Aboriginal Land Councils.

The role of the Transfer Committee will include making recommendations for wider Aboriginal community engagement to ensure that everyone has a voice and is provided with an opportunity to become involved and contribute to the process.

Once the committee is established, one of its tasks will be to define a culturally appropriate engagement pathway and develop recommendations to help guide Aboriginal community and stakeholder engagement.

The committee will be asked to consider culturally appropriate options for identifying Aboriginal people with a cultural connection to Me-Mel and options for future ownership and management models that involve those people.

Once the engagement pathway is designed and finalised, there will be a broad range of stakeholder and community engagement opportunities seeking input and feedback as the project progresses.