NBN tower on Mount Camel axed by Aboriginal quarry

The tribunal found that, while the tower was unlikely to affect Aboriginal artefacts, it could ride roughshod over ‘intangible’ cultural values. Photo: Rob HomerAn attempt by government-owned NBN Co to build a telecommunications tower on rural Victoria’s Mount Camel has been scuppered by “intangible” cultural heritage sensitivities and an Aboriginal axe quarry.

The NBN Co is charged with rolling out Australia’s largest infrastructure project, a country-wide broadband network that includes building extensive wireless and cable infrastructure.

The decade-long building process, which started in 2009, has hit snags in the past, including asbestos contamination in underground ducts and significant political opposition.

Now, NBN Co has been rebuked for failing to properly consult the Taungurung Aboriginal Clan about an access track and fixed wireless broadband tower it wants to build on Mount Camel’s summit near Bendigo.

The Mount Camel area has registered Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, including axe quarries.

NBN’s plans for a 25-metre-high tower and an equipment shed were scuttled by Victoria’s planning tribunal, which also chastised the company for failing to talk to local Aboriginal groups.

“The tribunal was not assisted by NBN Co’s expert choosing not to contact the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation to inquire about possible intangible values before preparing her witness statement and giving oral evidence,” a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal member said.

The tribunal found that, while the tower was unlikely to affect Aboriginal artefacts, it could ride roughshod over “intangible” cultural values like stories and traditions about the landscape.

The tower would have a large and unacceptable visual impact, which, combined with the possible impact on cultural sensitivities, led the tribunal to reject it.

However, neither NBN nor the tribunal was able to assess what the intangible impact would be because the local Taungurung Clan “declined” to get involved in legal action or attend hearings.

It also failed to participate in a cultural heritage management plan that NBN Co volunteered to put together, the tribunal said.

Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Lawrence Moser said at the time the corporation was under-resourced and unable to respond.

NBN Co could have “gone about it a whole lot better”, Mr Moser said.

“All we wanted . . . was to engage in the process that’s set out under the legislation and to maintain our right to protect our cultural heritage. I think we’ve been treated unfairly.”

Consultation was a “high priority” for NBN Co, which took “great care to minimise the impact of our facilities in these areas”, a spokeswoman said.

“NBN is currently reviewing its options for making a decision on the best way to service the Mount Camel community,” she said.

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