Aboriginal ‘King’ in Telstra battle

NO TOWER: Ron Milligan with bronze-like figures representing the Beangala people of St Leonards.

Objectors have raised the legend of a local Aboriginal leader to stop Telstra building a tower in a Geelong cemetery.
The mobile phone tower would dishonour the gravesite of Willem Baa Nip, or ‘King Billy’, who was buried in a Western Cemetery tomb with six other Aborigines, a tribunal hearing heard this week.
The tomb was a “portal” to the region’s Indigenous past, wrote Ron Milligan in a submission on behalf of Geelong One Fire Reconciliation Group.
“We believe that the erection of what is basically a commercial project in this cemetery diminishes the sanctity of a space that should be reserved for quiet reflection.”
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) heard submissions over three days in Geelong’s court complex this week.
Telstra wants to build the 35.7-metre tower within the grounds of the cemetery to improve mobile coverage around western Geelong but has encountered widespread resistance.
The issue reached VCAT after Geelong’s council received more than 370 objections to the tower last year.
Geelong Cemeteries Trust signed a lease with Telstra to build the tower on a soil storage area within the cemetery but the dispute with objectors must be settled for the proposal to secure planning approval.
Mr Milligan’s submission said the tomb of King Billy, who died in 1885 as the last of the Barrabool tribe, was important to reconciliation.
Annette Xiberras, on behalf of Lara-based “cultural heritage planners” Urban Colours, also argued against the tower on Indigenous history grounds.
The “visual impact” would disrespect the cemetery’s Aboriginal graves, she wrote.
“Aboriginal graves should not be dismissed as being considered unworthy of your protection”, she advised VCAT.
Ms Xiberras also raised cemetery trust regulations stipulating that cemeteries “cannot be built on until 100 years after the last person has been buried”.
The issue reached the floor of Federal Parliament late last year when Corio MP Richard Marles told colleagues that Telstra had made an “error or judgement” and must “listen to the community”.
“I add my voice to those locals against this,” he said.
Telstra’s Duane Dalton told the Indy in December that numerous factors determined where the company could site mobile base stations.
“It’s especially important to locate the sites as close as possible to the customers the site is intended to serve,“ Mr Dalton said.
“Due to the growth in demand in Herne Hill the cemetery has been decided as the best place, to provide the most coverage to people living in the area.”
VCAT will release its decision at a later date.

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