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 to Aboriginal ownership and management.

Me-Mel is one of the 9 islands in Sydney Harbour and is part of Sydney Harbour National Park. 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.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is leading a project to work with the Me-Mel Transfer Committee to make recommendations to the NSW Government for Me-Mel's transfer to Aboriginal ownership and management. It is also conducting essential works to expedite the transfer process.

About the Me-Mel transfer project

Me-Mel is a complex site which needs careful consideration before it is transferred. An advisory committee has been established to make recommendations for the transfer of Me-Mel 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 the future management and activation of Me-Mel for cultural, tourism and public use purposes, to the NSW Government for consideration. 

A range of expert advice will be provided to the committee to help it develop a recommended plan and a business case for future ownership and management of the island. This may include legal, heritage, planning, governance and business advice.

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

To assist in this role, the committee will define a culturally appropriate engagement pathway to guide Aboriginal community engagement in the project. This will include opportunities for community input and feedback as the project progresses. 

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

Me-Mel Transfer Committee

The advisory committee is ministerially appointed and has majority Aboriginal membership and appropriate gender representation.

The committee has 14 members: 

Shane Phillips, Me-Mel Transfer Committee

Shane Phillips

Shane was born and raised in Redfern and has cultural connections to the Bunjalung, Wonnarua, and Gringai peoples.

Shane is the CEO of Tribal Warrior and has focussed on making it a source of pride, employment, and empowerment for the Redfern community. Tribal Warrior's activities are designed to contribute to a Redfern that is strong in its history, proud of its achievements, and economically self-sustaining into the future.

Shane is an outstanding community leader, respected by the Aboriginal and broader community for his integrity, hard work and determination to get things done.

'I want this island to be accessible, used and shared for the community from all over.'

 

Amanda Jane Reynolds, Me-Mel Transfer Committee

Amanda Jane Reynolds

Amanda is a Guringai curator, cloak-maker, storyteller and multimedia artist passionate about cultural healing and connection programs, community-based collaborations, exhibitions, public art and publications.

Amanda has had the privilege of working with cloaks and cultural reclamation for over 20 years. She initially assisted in delivering possum skin cloak workshops for over 2,000 Aboriginal people in Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and South Australia through Banmirra Arts before graduating to become a possum cloak teacher.

Amanda's curatorial career spans 3 decades - she began in national and state museums and cultural institutions before starting her own business, Stella Stories, in late 2010.

'It is a great honour to be involved with the Me-Mel Goat Island Transfer Committee, and I will do my best to honour our Ancestors, Country and future generations.

It is particularly important to me that Aboriginal Owners of Sydney clans can engage in the research and community engagement we are undertaking and work together respectfully with the great knowledge base in our Aboriginal communities and community organisations.

I welcome the support of the NSW Government ministers and agencies in establishing the Advisory Committee to conduct research and make recommendations for the return of the Island into Aboriginal management.'

 

Elizabeth Tierney

 

Ash Walker

 

Jennah Dungay

Jennah is a proud Wiradjuri/ Dhungutti woman and ABSEC Youth Ambassador. She is an Aboriginal trauma specialist counsellor and currently completing a post graduate degree in Human Services. Jennah is an active member in her local community of Redfern and Waterloo and an advocate for social justice. Jennah brings weaving into her work with community groups.

 

Nathan Moran

Nathan Moran

Nathan is a proud Biripi Thungutti Goori who has worked in government and non-government with and for NSW Aboriginal communities for over 25 years.

Nathan has been CEO of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council since June 2014, previously working with the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, NSW Department Education, Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council, NSW Aboriginal Land Council, TAFE NSW and Aboriginal Housing Office NSW.

He has served as Director or Board member on several identified and mainstream organisations, including the Mid North Coast Regional Aboriginal Land Council, Association Resource Cooperative Housing (NSW), Redfern All Blacks, Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance and Werrin Medical Service.

 

Allan Murray

Allan is a descendant of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nation, where his parents belong. His father is a stolen generation, and he comes from the Cummunga village on the Murray River. Allan has held both the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson role of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and has been a member of the Land Council for more than 25 years.

Allan is tasked with bringing change and striving for economic and self-determination to 17,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who reside in the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council boundaries.

 

Eunice Roberts

Eunice is a proud Gomeroi woman and lives in Sydney. Eunice has been an active Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council Board Member since 2011.

Since 2002, Eunice has been involved with Innari Homeless Care for Aboriginal people.

 

Heidi Hardy

Heidi is a proud Ngemba and Ualaroi woman from Brewarrina, North West New South Wales.

As the Land and Property Manager at the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Heidi provides strategic advice to Local Aboriginal Land Councils concerning land acquisition and activation matters.

It's an important role that allows Heidi to help communities make informed decisions about their land and property. For Heidi, it's a privilege to work in this field, and she is committed to making a positive impact in the lives of Aboriginal people across New South Wales.

'The Me-Mel project has immense potential to promote and share Aboriginal Culture and Heritage and create economic benefits for the Aboriginal community. I'm excited to see the positive results that will come from it. It's an honour to be involved in such a significant project.'

 

Barry Duncan

Barry is currently the NSW Aboriginal Land Council alternative committee member representative.

 

Smiling man wearing a hat

Jonathon Captain-Webb

Jonathon is a NSW Government Senior Executive working at Aboriginal Affairs NSW within the Premier's Department. He is Gomeroi and Dunghutti man from the Redfern Aboriginal community, with a passion for Aboriginal Affairs, Land Justice and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. In his current role, Jonathon leads the NSW Government's commitment to Aboriginal Land Justice initiatives including Aboriginal cultural heritage, Aboriginal land rights, and natural resource management and protection. Jonathon has both lived experience and a demonstrated history working with the complex social issues within Aboriginal communities and brokering cultural, social, and economic outcomes for Aboriginal clients and communities.

 

Angie Stringer

 

Deon van Rensburg, Me-Mel Transfer Committee

Deon van Rensburg

Deon is the Acting Executive Director Park Operations (Coastal). He leads 4 operations branches and the Fire and Incident Operations Branch responsible for the on-ground management of more than 7 million hectares of land in national parks and reserves across New South Wales.

Deon joined the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2001, after several years in senior roles in protected area management in South Africa. Deon holds several South African and Australian tertiary qualifications in environmental management and has focussed on coastal and estuarine management and restoration.

 

Nikki Williams, Me-Mel Transfer Committee

Nikki Williams

Dr Nikki Williams has over 20 years of professional experience in the public sector, academia and private sector consultancy and drives strategic and settled outcomes to contested public policy issues through collaboration. Nikki works in The Cabinet Office NSW and leads a team to deliver cross-agency initiatives and provide evidence-based solutions to complex natural resource allocation issues.

 

The committee is supported by an independent facilitator. External advice is also available to assist the committee.

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.

Background

In July 2023, as part of the NAIDOC week celebrations, the NSW Government committed to transferring Me-Mel, noting this is about real action on recognition, reconciliation, self-determination and heritage protection.

The NSW Government and the advisory committee signed a Memorandum of Understanding to support this ambitious project, including cross-government support from the Premier's Department and the Cabinet Office, Aboriginal Affairs NSW, and National Parks and Wildlife Service. It will guide the journey to realise the long-term benefits and possibilities of the transfer.

The management of Me-Mel is currently the responsibility of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, and we are driving this project to transfer Me-Mel's ownership and management on behalf of the NSW Government.

The tourism potential of Me-Mel is expected to provide significant opportunities for self-determination, economic development, employment, and training for the Aboriginal community. Combined with a NSW Government commitment to maintain public access and protect cultural and colonial heritage, this presents a unique opportunity for all stakeholders.

The first steps to transfer Me-Mel (Goat Island) back to Aboriginal ownership and management began with requests from the Aboriginal community and discussions with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) many years ago. The commitment to transfer the island, located in the middle of Sydney Harbour, received bipartisan support.

This commitment included specific action on establishing an advisory committee, the Me-Mel Transfer Committee, to guide the early steps of the scoping and feasibility of the transfer process. This includes exploring options and opportunities to activate and unlock the cultural and economic possibilities that could benefit the Aboriginal community, especially regarding the tourism potential of Me-Mel.

Early steps led to the forming of a joint working group in 2018 with various government agencies and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. Importantly, the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council supported and recommended other Aboriginal groups and community leaders to become part of this process to reflect the many different views and points of connection to Me-Mel, as this approach would support the best possible outcomes for the community and ensure the ongoing protection of both cultural and colonial history on Me-Mel. This led to the appointment of the committee with diverse Aboriginal representatives.

The project now has dedicated resources from across government to support the committee in determining the best possible outcomes, reflecting community aspirations, and developing firm plans for the future of Me-Mel. This will include the development of a strategic business case, including a new master plan, feasibility study, sustainable financial modelling, and various cultural, environmental, and heritage research and protection plans.

In parallel, a Registered Aboriginal Owners research project will be independently undertaken by the Office of the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 to identify Aboriginal people who could register as Aboriginal Owners under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983. The research project was unanimously supported by the committee. The committee will consider models for future ownership and management, and they will be designed to involve those people for now and into the future.

Projects like this are ambitious, with new pathways being created. Projects such as this are not always easy. There will be successes, challenges, and sometimes disagreements throughout the project. What is constant between the Government and the Aboriginal community is to realise the benefits of this transfer to the Aboriginal community and continue caring for the island into the future by Aboriginal community. This is a project where cultural, spiritual and community links will be strengthened, the past recognised, and a new shared future created.

The committee and National Parks and Wildlife Services appreciate that this project will be of strong interest not just amongst the Aboriginal community but broader public and other stakeholders. Over the next 18 months, these matters will be worked through collaboratively, and the community will be kept up to date with website and community updates.

The advisory committee was appointed on 24 November 2022 and held its first meeting on 3 February 2023, with the support of an independent facilitator. The committee will continue for approximately 18 months or until the transfer occurs, and it will initially meet monthly. During this time, the committee 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 advisory committee is supported by an independent facilitator who facilitates the committee meetings and the recommendations 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 ownership and 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 it develop a plan and a business case for future ownership and management of the island for NSW Government consideration.

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

The committee will be asked to consider options to identify 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 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 its boundary.

Due to the significance of the island, the NSW 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 committee's role includes 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.

To this end, the committee will define a culturally appropriate engagement pathway to guide Aboriginal community engagement in the project. This will include opportunities for community input and feedback as the project progresses.

The committee will be asked to consider culturally appropriate options to identify 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.

The NPWS called for nominations from the Aboriginal community for Aboriginal community representatives for the Me-Mel Transfer Committee.

The public expression of interest was initially run from 29 May to 27 June 2022. During the process and on receiving community feedback, NPWS increased the number of Aboriginal community representative roles on the committee from 2 to 4 positions. Due to this change, NPWS reopened the expression of interest process from 13 September to 9 October 2022 to ensure Aboriginal community members had an opportunity to apply.

Nominations submitted between 29 May and 27 June 2022 did not need to be resubmitted as they were included in the process.

A panel comprising 4 senior Aboriginal executives from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and Aboriginal Affairs evaluated the expressions of interest and recommended 4 Aboriginal community members for the ministers to appoint.

The committee will operate for approximately 18 months or until the transfer occurs. It is expected the committee will at first meet monthly. Being on the committee will require a significant amount of time. Standard board and committee sitting fee rates will be paid to the Aboriginal non-government representatives.

The NPWS undertook an open-market request for quotation (RFQ) process seeking an independent facilitator. The RFQ was publicly advertised on the NSW Government procurement website e-Tendering between 19 September and 19 October 2022.

The selection process was undertaken by an evaluation panel consisting of Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water directors and unit managers. The panel evaluated all compliant tenders on 27 October 2022. The panel made a unanimous decision on the preferred facilitator and the facilitator was appointed in late January 2023.

Adam McLean is the independent facilitator for the Me-Mel Transfer Committee.

Adam is a barrister and has worked with Aboriginal communities for over 30 years throughout Australia as a legal advisor, mediator and facilitator.

Adam’s legal work is principally representing Aboriginal communities in native title, land rights, land transfers and cultural heritage matters. He has worked with communities and boards of management for many Aboriginal-owned national parks in New South Wales and has a good understanding of the relevant legislation in most states and territories and what works and what doesn’t.