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Sydney Harbour’s largest island to be returned to Indigenous ownership

A Sydney Harbour island is returning to Indigenous hands with the NSW government committing $43 million to its clean-up and repair.
The transfer of Me-Mel, also known as Goat Island, to its traditional owners is a “personal priority”, Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Sunday.
“A big part of my commitment is ensuring the island is remediated before it’s transferred to the Aboriginal community,” he said.
The funding will help repair seawalls and buildings, improve wharf access, upgrade services and remove contaminants like asbestos over the next four years.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is calling for expressions of interest to join a committee making recommendations about the transfer of Me-Mel to Aboriginal ownership.

The island was once inhabited by Bennelong and Barangaroo of the Eora Nation.

The island was once inhabited by Bennelong and Barangaroo of the Eora Nation. Source: SBS / David Finnegan/DPE

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Franklin said the Me-Mel Transfer Committee includes Aboriginal people and representatives of NSW government agencies.

“Me-Mel holds great significance to Aboriginal people, including in the creation story Boora Birra, where the great eel spirit created the water courses known today as Sydney Harbour,” he said.
Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council deputy chair Yvonne Weldon said the island is a place for people to be within their culture, pass stories to the next generation and share with others.

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

The island marks the start of an EORA songline – it’s the creation site for Sydney Harbour.

The island marks the start of an EORA songline – it’s the creation site for Sydney Harbour. Source: SBS / David Finnegan/DPE

The island is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register and has a range of important Aboriginal, historical and natural values including more than 30 buildings and other structures from the 1830s to 1960s.

“Me-mel” is a Gadigal word for “eye”.

Colonial records document Wangal man Bennelong who said Me-mel or Goat Island was his inheritance, handed down to him by his father, who was born on the island.

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It’s the largest island in Sydney Harbour, located just north of Darling Harbour opposite the new Barangaroo Reserve.

The NPWS will continue to manage Me-Mel until the transfer is finalised and will maintain public access to the island.

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