First steps taken to return Sydney harbour island to Aboriginal community

By Anna Macdonald

May 30, 2022

Me-Mel (Goat Island), Sydney Harbour. (AAP Image/Supplied by David Finnegan/DPE)

An island in Sydney’s harbour is set to be returned to the Aboriginal community as the NSW government commences the formal transfer of ownership.

Me-Mel, also known as Goat Island, will be returned to the Aboriginal community after a $42.9 million investment in the restoration of the island, which the NSW government says will include repairing seawalls, improving wharf access, and the removal of asbestos.

The announcement comes during National Reconciliation Week, which began on May 27. 

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet said returning Me-Mel to the Aboriginal community was the ‘right thing to do’.

“A big part of my commitment is ensuring the island is remediated before it’s transferred to the Aboriginal community,” Perrottet said in a statement. 

Me-Mel is open for guided tours. Noted Aboriginal historical figures Bennelong and Barangaroo were inhabitants of the island. It is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, managed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

The NPWS will continue to manage the island until the transfer is complete, and will continue to be open to the public. 

Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council deputy chair Yvonne Weldon said respecting all histories important to the healing process.

“Me-Mel is a place where we can go to be within our culture, pass culture on to our younger generations and share with other people,” Weldon said.

 “Me-Mel is an opportunity for truth-telling, and it’s about recognising the past and unlocking the future,” she added.

The government has cautioned the transfer is ‘complex’, requiring advice from experts in legal, heritage, planning, and governance areas. 

Minister for Environment and Heritage James Griffin called for expressions of interest from the Aboriginal community to join the Me-Mel Transfer Committee, which will make recommendations on how the transfer should take place, as well as determine the future uses of Me-Mel. 

The committee will be mostly made of Aboriginal representatives, with 12 members in total and including eight Aboriginal members: four from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, two from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, and two Aboriginal community members. 

From the NSW government, two members will be from NPWS, one from Aboriginal Affairs and one from the Department of Premier and Cabinet. 

Nominations for community representatives close on 27 June 2022. 


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