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Clarence Valley News

Voice Yes campaign draws big crowds



Vocal indigenous spokesperson Patricia Laurie addresses the Yes23 forum in Grafton on August 29.

Voice Yes campaign draws big crowds


By Tim Howard

Hundreds of Clarence Valley residents flocked to hear prominent Yes 23 campaigners Thomas Mayo and Kerry O’Brien explain why it was necessary to support the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament in next month’s referendum.

Held in Grafton and Yamba last Tuesday and Wednesday, the forums coincided with the announcement of the referendum date on October 14.


The organisers of the events, Clarence Says Yes, were thrilled at the turnout, first in the upstairs Les Beattie Room at the GDSC and the following night at the Yamba and District Golf Club.

Tuesdays event in Grafton GDSC staff was delayed slightly as staff found more chairs to seat the crowd of around 160 who turned out.

The following night’s turn out in Yamba was even bigger with more than 250 attending.

As well as the public meetings Mr Mayo and Mr O’Brien met with Aboriginal Elders earlier in the day.

In his address to the meeting Mr Mayo reflected his past as a wharfie and unionist where he learned the value of collective action and on the history of attempts to bring an indigenous voice into Australian public life based on the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.

This document is an invitation to the Australian people to enshrine an indigenous voice in the constitution to enable First Nations people to advise parliament on issues involving indigenous people.

“I became a union official, eventually in 2010 after 16 years on the wharves and I’m here talking about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, not because it’s a union matter,” he said,

“It’s a social justice thing. I understand that this is the key to improving the lives of my families and my communities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across this nation.”

He talked about the many groups set up to give Aboriginal people a Voice, but which had been shut down when government changed hands.

He described the Yolngu people and the Yirrkala bark petitions, petitions to kings and queens, Aboriginal bodies like the NAC, the NACC and ATSIC formed and disbanded from the 1920s to the early 21st Century, which sought to give his people a voice, but were silenced because of the power the authorities had over them.

“What I’m illustrating here is this pattern that we have established voices many times before,” Mr Mayo said.

“But we have learned through the history of our struggle, that always another government will come along and take it away.

“So that’s one of the lessons that go into this call for a constitutionally enshrined voice.

“We must rebuild a voice because we know that when we have a voice, we see greater progress when we lose our voice when there isn’t this structure with which to speak together with coherency things get worse. The gap widens.”

Yes 23 speaker Thomas Mayo describing how the Voice would fit into the Australian constitution should it succeed in the October 14 referendum.

Yes 23 speaker Thomas Mayo describing how the Voice would fit into the Australian constitution should it succeed in the October 14 referendum.

In his turn at the lectern, Mr O’Brien described with some shocking examples, what he had seen growing up in Queensland and in 50-plus years of journalism in Australia.

“When I grew up in Queensland, like practically all of my generation and generations before mine, and sadly even generations after mine, I was always totally ignorant,” he said.

“Firstly, of indigenous history, culture, tradition, and civilisation, and I was equally ignorant of the the colonial and immediate post colonial history where white settlers arrived in his country essentially took it over.

“And the history is, is written in blood since that time.”

He said that as a young journalist in 1970 on assignment in Alice Springs he saw things that “shocked him to my core”.

“What I saw was the rawest of racism,’ he said. “I saw people treated in the most appalling fashion. There was just no way that this could be justified.”

Mr O’Brien also reminded the audience of the milestones in indigenous affairs like the Mabo and Wik decisions in the High Court and how they had to overcome the misinformation campaign of the time.

“The scare tactic of the time was that people’s backyards were going to be taken by indigenous people through native title,” he said.

“And when the Wik Judgment came in, which related to pastoral leases, the scare tactic of that time was that farmers were going to have their land stolen from under them.

“None of it ever happened.”

He compared those events to the more recent Marriage Equality Plebiscite.

“Remember how we were told that it was going to rob you have your religious freedom,” he said.

“And look at what’s happened since the marriage equality vote. This country is more united around that issue than ever before.

“There is kindness and tolerance in this country with regard to that issue than ever before.”

Mr O’Brien asked the audience to imagine how it would feel waking up on October 15, knowing the Voice Referendum had been passed.

“We wake up and we’re going to have a wish enshrined in our Constitution, giving indigenous people the right to have a say … before it goes out into the community to be enacted as policy that they are actually going to have a say. How dangerous is that?

“Giving indigenous people or say, not giving them a veto, not giving them a separate parliament, giving them a say.”

He said indigenous people had a long and successful history of running the country, which a Voice would recognise.

“Just just just think what it means, 65,000 years of civilisation is 65,000 years of not just survival, but in their own way, prosperity. 65,000 years,” he said.

“That is huge. We can’t say that. I certainly can’t say that.”

Yes23 campaigners, Kerry O'Brien, second from left and Thomas Mayo, second from right with Clarence Valley residents Kerry Skinner, Michael Kennedy and event organiser Julie Perkins at the GDSC on August 29.

Yes23 campaigners, Kerry O’Brien, second from left and Thomas Mayo, second from right with Clarence Valley residents Kerry Skinner, Michael Kennedy and event organiser Julie Perkins at the GDSC on August 29.

After the address, the speaker took questions from the floor including from several people who said they questioned its necessity.

One questioner sought to liken the Voice to South Africa’s apartheid policy, which drew a sharp response from Mr O’Brien.

He reminded the questioner that the model of apartheid was modelled on the Queensland Government’s Aboriginal Protection Act of 1897, which allowed forcible removal of Aboriginal people to reserves and missions.

There were moments when humour illuminated the debate.

Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung man Vincent Duroux told the gathering he was one of 15 children.

“My family married every European nation in the world,” he said. “The Scots, the English, the Norse, Dutch, American. You name it, we married them all. I took my name from a Frenchman. We love you.”

He said Aboriginal people had demonstrated their sincerity in seeking reconciliation with the white community.

“We have proven that we just want to be acknowledged as 350 nations of Aboriginals on this continent.

“We’re entitled to be respected as any other peoples on the planet.”

Auntie Janay Daley, who made the Welcome to Country, said she was convinced her community would benefit from a Voice to Parliament.

“People have been saying Yes, others are saying No,” she said. “But when you see it close up, you realise people need to know more about it and understand what’s behind it and don’t make a rash decision.”

Event organiser Julie Perkins was thrilled to see so many people turning out for the forums.

“We didn’t realise it was going to be so big,” she said.

To conclude the forum Mr Mayo recited from memory the Uluru Statement of the Heart, which concludes with this message.

“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

Mr Mayo also encouraged those who attended to continue to spread the message in the community and enrol to support the Yes 23 campaign.


For more local Clarence Valley news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

Lawrence Loves… lanterns to light up Lawrence Community




Lawrence Loves…

Lawrence Loves… lanterns to light up Lawrence Community


Lawrence Community Fundraising Inc. is inviting community members to participate in lantern making workshops over the weekend of Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 May, in preparation for Lawrence Loves… festival.

The free workshops, which run from 10.00am to 4.00pm both days, will be guided by master lantern maker Phill Relf of Ikara Celebratory Events. Phill, who is no stranger to the Clarence Valley in recent years – having conducted workshops and coordinated lantern parades in Ulmarra and Copmanhurst – said that lantern making is accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages.

“I just recently ran a workshop with students at Lawrence Public School, who made box lanterns. With the help of older ‘buddies’ from years 5 and 6, even the kindergarten kids were able to complete the lantern. I look forward to seeing them join the parade at Lawrence Loves…”


The workshops will be held at Lawrence Public Hall and offer two activities: attendees can build a small boat-shaped lantern to carry in the parade; they can also contribute to the construction of a model of the Lawrence Ferry, which will head up the parade on Saturday 25th May.

Phill is also keen to share insights with anyone curious about learning the techniques of building large processional lanterns. He remarked, “It’s a passion of mine to ‘teach the teacher’ so that others can pass on these skills. Lantern making is essentially a form of sculpture and by using a handful of core techniques, the models created can be extremely varied in style and size.”

Event manager Phil Nicholas said, “We are expecting school students, their families and community members from Lawrence and surrounding towns to attend the festival.”

“There will be activities and live music from 2.00pm to 9.00pm. In addition to sharing great food and live music, a lantern parade is one of the most magical ways of bringing a community together.”

Head to for detailed event information.


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Clarence Valley News

Government sinks Ulmarra ferry service




Ulmarra ferry in the mist

Government sinks Ulmarra ferry service


By Tim Howard

The pleas of a rural community and its representatives to keep the Ulmarra Ferry service have counted for nought, with the service scheduled to close permanently on June 10.

Transport for NSW announced last week the ferry, which has operated for 74 years carrying vehicular traffic across the Clarence River between Ulmarra and Southgate, will be decommissioned.


TfNSW director North Region Anna Zycki said the ferry had reached an age and condition where it was no longer fit to operate and ongoing river conditions also made the service untenable.

“The existing ferry has reached the end of its serviceable life,” she said.

“Because the existing ferry is now so old and requires so much repair, such a large restoration project would take about 18 months and cost an estimated $5 million, which is around a million dollars more than building a new car ferry.

“It’s effectively beyond repair, so this service would have been closed for that length of time anyway.”

Ms Zycki said silting on the southside of the river at Southgate was another problem for the service.

“The river is constantly changing course and there is nothing we can do to prevent the silt building up,” she said.

“We’ve dredged in the past, but it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks and the silt is back. It’s costly to do and has no lasting benefit.”

Ulmarra resident and Clarence Valley Councillor Steve Pickering was devastated and angry at Friday’s announcement which showed the views of the local community meant nothing to the State Government.

“It appears to be State Government cost cutting,” he said. “It looks like Ulmarra, little regional village, is just the recipient of the state government cutting its costs.

“And the community have basically been led up the garden path, thinking that there was the possibility of the ferry being retained. Turns out that was not true.”

Steven Pickering on the Ulmarra ferry closure

Steven Pickering is one of 13 people standing election to Clarence Valley Council on December 4.

Cr Pickering said the closure would have a big impact on the community ranging from school children, farmers, commuting workers and tourists.

He said the extra travelling would result in children changing schools, people switching jobs and relocating out of the area.

“There are people that work at Trenayr, so it could affect their employment if their 10-15 minute trip is now, 40 minutes each way,” he said.

He said local farmers who use the ferry to move slow-moving farm machinery around would not have to take that machinery to Grafton to cross the river.

“When you’ve got slow moving vehicles on the on Big River Way you’ve got drivers that will take risks, they will take risks to overtake these slow moving vehicles,” Cr Pickering said.

“And I don’t think that the safety issues, the safety concerns have been taken into account.”

Cr Pickering dismissed the cost argument for axing the service, saying the government had deliberately run down the service and not put regime in place to retain the service.

“Anybody that has an asset that’s approaching end of life has a plan, you know, they have a plan either to replace it or to or to repair it and this state government had no plans they’re only plan which we were led to believe was a plan was to take the Lawrence ferry.”

He said the lack of maintenance and the dredging issues had made the ferry service unreliable.

Cr Pickering said last year the Ulmarra ferry service was closed 250 times when low tide and silting combined to make crossing the river impossible.

He said this situation had been allowed to develop to discourage people from making ferry trips and paint a picture of declining usage.

Cr Pickering said the effect of this decision, going on the figures TfNSW provided on ferry usage would be to put more cars on road, travelling 6000km a day.

“When we’ve got a state government that say that they’re focusing on, you know, climate change mitigation, saying they’re looking at reducing vehicle emissions,” he said.

“We’ve got a government that could have shown leadership, but they could have brought forward perhaps an electric or a hydrogen powered ferry, you know, something innovative.”

The Member for Clarence Richie Williamson addressing NSW Parliament. On Wednesday he will speak about the community petition seeking to keep the Ulmarra Ferry operational.

The Member for Clarence Richie Williamson addressing NSW Parliament. On Wednesday he will speak about the community petition seeking to keep the Ulmarra Ferry operational.

The Member for Clarence, Richie Williamson, said the decision was a bitter disappointment, but he would still bring the petition with the signatures of thousands of Clarence residents to parliament on Wednesday night.

“I’m still going to speak on Wednesday night this week, because it’s, it’s vitally important to my community that I do that,” Mr Williamson said.

Mr Williamson said the issues with silting of the river were complicated, but he said the ferry had been able to deal with these issues.

“I understand the ferry had some kind of self-silting mechanism underneath, where every time it went past it pushed the silt away and every trip did a little bit to move the silt,” he said.

“Obviously for whatever reason, this stopped. And because of that the ferry became unreliable, because it was unreliable, patronage was down it makes perfect sense.”

Mr Williamson said was now up to the NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Jenny Aitchison, to reverse her decision.

“She wrote to me on Friday night, saying that acting on advice from TfNSW she was making the difficult decision to shut down the Ulmarra Ferry service,” Mr Williamson said.

“But she can’t hide behind the department. The Minister has made the call to close the ferry which will affect a lot of people in the Clarence electorate.”

He said the parliament would hear how the decision would affect local people.

“As far as I’m concerned I’ll be tabling the petition in Parliament tomorrow (Tuesday),” he said.

“I’ll be speaking on behalf of the petition and on behalf of everyone in my electorate, who uses the ferry on Wednesday night, and I’ll be informing the house how important it is that the ferry remain and how this decision by this government will affect many people.”

Ms Zycki said the decommissioning of car ferries was not unusual.

“Many will remember ferries between Southgate and Brushgrove, at Harwood, Maclean-Ashby, Sportsmans Creek at Lawrence, Iluka, Goodwood Island, Seelands-Junction Hill and, way back, between Grafton and South Grafton,” Ms Zycki said.

“As road transport networks have improved, ferries at these locations have all gone out of service and people have adapted to the change.”

She in the case of the Ulmarra ferry, the opening of the second bridge at Grafton almost halved the number of vehicles using the ferry.

“When the new Balun Bindarray Bridge opened in Grafton in late 2019, patronage of the Ulmarra ferry immediately dropped by 46%” Ms Zycki said.

“It was anticipated that demand for the ferry would decline once the new bridge opened so it would largely replace the ferry service.

“The patronage hasn’t returned and the ferry – when river conditions allow it to operate – now carries on average about one vehicle per trip, costing taxpayers $22 for each vehicle journey.”

She said Transport for NSW was aware of the importance the community has placed on this ferry and will work with Clarence Valley Council and the community on suitable ways to commemorate its long service.


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Clarence Valley News

Councillors knock back Brooms conflict consultant proposal




Crown Maintenance Reserve

Councillors knock back Brooms conflict consultant proposal


By Tim Howard

Arriving at a plan of management for the Brooms Head Reserve has become so contentious Clarence Valley Council staff considered a conflict resolution consultant necessary to continue the process.

Council resolved in February to hear a further staff report on the long running attempt to arrive at a PoM for the reserve.


But when the report arrived it recommended ditching previous efforts and estimate costs for a new draft plan.

It also included recommendations to engage both a planning consultant and a “facilitator specialising in conflict resolution given the polarisation within the community regarding future management of the Reserve.”

To fund it the plan was to allocate $100,000 from the Crown Maintenance Reserve and include it in the 2024/25 Operational Plan.

The proposal was not to the liking of councillors.

Cr Debrah Novak moved council continue with preparing the draft PoM in accordance with the resolution in February 2024, allocate funds up to $40,000 from the Crown Maintenance Reserve  to complete this PoM.

The motion recommended funding the engagement of a planning consultant, but not a conflict resolution consultant.

It also stipulated the Terms of Reference for the PoM do not include, or relate to, the 2017 Concept Design Report for Brooms Head Holiday Park.

Most councillors believed the need for conflict resolution was overstated, although all admitted the process to arrive at a PoM had been long and contentious, with some reference to attempts in 1995 to come up with a PoM.

In moving her motion, Cr Novak said many people at Brooms Head were happy with what the council proposed in its February 24 resolution and this motion if successful would “provide clarity” for the community.

But Cr Karen Toms said she could see trouble ahead if the council pressed ahead with current February resolution.

“It’s it is a it is a very contentious issue,” she said. “And I wish we could fix it so easily.

“But I come back to the information in the report that tells us that the Local Government Act 1993 does not make provision to amend an existing PoM.

“And we’ve got a very old PoM that I don’t think we even had proof that had went out to community consultation.”

Cr Toms said there she knew people in the community who were unhappy with the process.

“It’s it’s complicated because I think some of the community stakeholders don’t really understand what a plan of management is,” she said.

“They wanted to have it to have more teeth, they wanted to have nitty gritty things in there, but that’s not what Plans of Management do.”

Cr Toms was also concerned the $40,000 allocated would not cover what needed to be done and and the absence of conflict resolution consultant.

“In the report, it talks about $34,000 And it was $54,000,” she said. “So we’ve got a bit of money.

We don’t know if that’s enough.”

Cr Toms said conflict resolution was perhaps not the right term, but she believed there needed to be some interaction with the community to ensure both it and the council were on the same page.

“We need to somehow bring the community with us,” she said. “That’s what was said back in February or before we need to bring the community with us but I think the community also needs to understand really what a PoM is.”

Cr Steven Pickering said he had heard many different messages coming from the Brooms Head community about what was needed.

“They want a different goal from the plan of management I think that by putting the conflict resolution consultant back into the mix, will give for a more streamlined and hopefully a better outcome,” he said.

“In the end, we want to we want to plan of management that the community agree with.

We don’t we don’t want a plan of management that is being forced on the community because it just won’t work.”

He said the community were engaged and consulted in the previous plan of management, but when it came to council, there wasn’t one person that he spoke to me that agreed with the entire plan.

“If we don’t have the conflict resolution, and we don’t end up with a PoM that they all agree with, we’re going to be back to square one again,” he said.

“And we’ll be doing this for the third time within a couple of years and I don’t want to see that.”

But the majority of councillors were more optimistic.

Cr Bill Day said beginning again would offend many in the Brooms Head community.

“It seems this Brooms Head plan of management issue has been argued for just so long,” he said.

“Finally in February we seem to have reached a degree of consensus with most parties.

“I had quite a bit of feedback from Brooms Head, people, residents and people who use the caravan park saying that we’re very very happy with council’s decision in February.”

“It seemed that we were on the right track.”

Cr Greg Clancy said there were different views about what needed to be done, but his feedback was that it did not need a person to sort them out.

“I went to the campers and caravans annual meeting and I’ve talked to locals and I’ve talked to visitors so I’ve got a bit of an idea of across the board and I think we need to employ a planning consultant to complete the job,” he said.

Put to the vote, council voted 7-2 in favour of Cr Novak’s motion, with Crs Toms and Pickering against.


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