Labor to return Goat Island – Me-mel – to the Aboriginal people of NSW


NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has declared that an elected Labor Government will return Goat Island to the Aboriginal people of NSW.

Goat Island – known traditionally as Me-mel, is the second largest island in Sydney Harbour. It was home to the Wangal people when Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788.

The Island has been in State Government ownership in its entirety since 1908. It is currently managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services and is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

Mr Foley and former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating were joined for today’s announcement on Me-mel by Deputy Opposition Leader Linda Burney, Craig Cromelin (Chairperson of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council), Roy AhSee (Deputy Chairperson); Yvonne Weldon (Deputy Chairperson of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Council); Nathan Moran (CEO of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Council) and Terry Olsen (Tribal Warrior Association).

“I am honoured to announce that a Labor Government will return Goat Island, known traditionally as Me-mel, to the Aboriginal people of NSW,” Mr Foley said.

“This commitment will make every Australian proud.

“It heralds the next chapter in the unfolding story of NSW – and our journey towards true healing as a unified and reconciled nation.

“The writings of the early settlers make clear that the harbour and its islands were majestic and bountiful. The Wangal people followed a peaceful, traditional way of life before the diseases came and the stain of violence and dispossession occurred.

“I have considered at length the fierce connection to Me-mel shared by Bennelong and his wife Barangaroo – two icons of this city and its harbour.

“This strengthens the argument for an act of restitution returning the island to the Aboriginal community.”

Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Linda Burney added: “This is a moment where we right a historic wrong and begin anew. I wish to acknowledge the many members of the Aboriginal community who have guided Labor in developing this significant policy. I am simply overjoyed and thrilled.”

Mr Foley confirmed that a Labor Government elected in March would enter into an agreement with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to return Me-mel. This would occur pursuant to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.

This provides for the divestment and transfer of Crown land to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, which in turn will work with Labor, the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Tribal Warrior Association to develop a plan of management for the Island.

The parties will be guided by the work of the Goat Island Reference Group on which former Prime Minister Keating served.

Present operations on the Island will be respected.

“Long a jewel of our harbour, Me-mel should now be preserved and enhanced as a community asset.  Labor is confident that this unique place will provide positive opportunities – cultural, economic and educational – for the local Aboriginal community and we will partner with them to make it happen,” Mr Foley said.

Mr Foley paid special tribute to former Prime Minister Keating who delivered the famous Redfern speech in 1992 and legislated the High Court’s historic Mabo decision by passing the Native Title Act.

“Twenty-three years ago in his inspirational Redfern speech, Prime Minister Keating spoke the difficult truths that set our nation free and on a path to healing and reconciliation,” Mr Foley said.

"The return of Me-mel to the Aboriginal people is a milestone on the journey.”

Labor's Plan to Return Goat Island - Me-mel - to the Aboriginal People of NSW