A minority party MP is trying to overturn a ban on climbing a popular mountain, saying claims that it is a sacred site are fabrications by “left-wing extremists” to create racial division.
Mount Warning (known as Wollumbin to indigenous people) near Murwillumbah in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, once welcomed more than 120,000 visitors each year, but has been off-limits since 2020 despite an argument among elders indigenous people about their cultural importance.
New South Wales Upper House Libertarian Party MP John Ruddick has launched a request reopen the mountain to the public and requires 10,000 signatures to start a parliamentary debate on the issue.
Mount Warning, near Murwillumbah in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, has been off-limits to the general public since 2020.
Ruddick says there is a lack of evidence that the mountain has any religious significance to local indigenous people.
“I don’t think it’s the Aboriginal version of Jerusalem, Mecca or St Peter’s,” he told Daily Mail Australia on Friday.
“If it were sacred, of course we respect those sacred places and we don’t want to upset people if they have a genuine belief in something spiritual.”
However, Ruddick said he suspected the claims came from other sources.
“I am convinced that these claims are recent fabrications by left-wing white extremists who are exploiting Aboriginal people and I do not believe there is any documentary evidence of this,” Mr Ruddick said.
‘There are left-wing academics who exploit some Aboriginal people by encouraging them to make misleading claims that inevitably put white people in a bad mood and fuel the racial divide that is the goal of the left.
‘They don’t care about the negative impacts that will have on Aboriginal people.
‘This is just a tool by left-wing white academics to make Australians feel bad about themselves.
“That’s why we have to back off now, because it started with Uluru and now there’s this and there’s going to be more and more and it’s not helping Aboriginal people, it’s actually making things worse.”
NSW MP John Ruddick says evidence that Mount Warning was an indigenous sacred site is lacking
In March 2020, the Wollumbin Consultative Group petitioned the then Liberal state government to ban access to Mount Warning to non-Aboriginal Australians, citing the specific cultural and spiritual significance of the Bundjalung men.
Other local Aboriginal groups, such as Ngarakbal Githabul and Yoocum Yoocum, disputed the Bundjalung’s cultural legitimacy over the site.
“Aboriginal people are not a monolith, there are always conflicts between local Aboriginal people,” Mr Ruddick said.
‘It means that white academics have reached the ears of some of them and the others say this is nonsense and we are going to publicly denounce it as nonsense.
‘It happens every time and that shows how much credibility there is in it being a sacred place.
Pictured are three hikers on top of Mount Warning, which has been closed since the pandemic period.
“Until this century there is no 19th century or 20th century document from Aboriginal people that says this is a sacred mountain that you are not allowed to climb here.”
Marc Hendrickx, author of A Guide to Climbing Mount Warning, is co-sponsoring the petition to reopen Mount Warning and told Sydney radio station 2GB on Friday morning that the ban was “unbelievable”.
“We want to put pressure on (NSW Environment Minister) Penny Sharpe to inject some common sense into this and reopen this mountain right now,” he told interviewer Ben Fordham.
‘This was a climb visited by families, scout groups and nature lovers. More than 100,000 (people) climb the mountain every year.
‘It is a complete travesty that they have closed the mountain during this Covid period and it looks like it will never open again unless we raise our voices.
“This is an opportunity to say no to division in our national parks.”
Hendrickx is one of the founders of the Re-Open Mt Warning group, which has 4,700 members on Facebook.
It was previously revealed that from April to October last year, private security guards were hired to keep people away from Mount Warning at a cost of around $7,000 a week.
In total, almost $200,000 was spent securing the mountain and security is still called upon on occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Australia Day.
In the early hours of Australia Day last month, protesters led by Hendrickx and Ngarakbal elder Sturt Boyd climbed to the top of Mount Warning to record a video, in what has become an annual tradition of defiance .
In 2022, the New South Wales Department of National Parks recommended fully handing over management of the Tweed Coast site to the small Wollumbin Consultative Group, which supports banning visitors to the popular hiking spot.
The Wollumbin Consultative Group says the national park has physical and spiritual importance to the community, particularly the Bundjalung nation.
“Wollumbin is of utmost importance to Aboriginal nations, particularly the Bundjalung nation in northern New South Wales, as a sacred ceremonial and cultural complex linked to traditional laws and customs,” the group told local publication Echo in October 2022.
‘Wollumbin is interconnected with a broader cultural and spiritual landscape that includes Creation, dream stories and rites of passage of men, of deep antiquity.
‘Bundjalung beliefs illustrate the spiritual values embodied and evoked in Wollumbin and their connections to the broader cultural landscape.
“These connections are important to the spiritual identity of the Bundjalung nation and many other nations and families connected to Wollumbin, predominantly men and also women.”
Attempts to contact the Wollumbin Consultative Group with Mr Ruddick’s claims have been unsuccessful.
Ms Sharpe’s office has been contacted for comment.