Sydney Harbour’s Me-Mel Island to be reclaimed by Aboriginal community

Sydney Harbour’s largest island is under new management, with its Indigenous owners at the forefront of a new committee.

Dominic Perrottet and the NSW Government have committed $43 million to the reclamation of Sydney Harbour Island, Me-Mel (Goat Island), to the Aboriginal community in one of the first 2022-23 NSW Budget announcements.

The reclamation of Me-Mel, or Goat Island, to its Aboriginal owners is a “personal priority”, premiere Perrottet said on Sunday.

Aboriginal smoking ceremony
Credit: Sydney Solstice

“Returning Me-Mel to the Aboriginal community is the right thing to do, and it helps deliver on my commitment of improving outcomes and opportunities for Aboriginal people across all parts of Government,” he said in a statement.

“A big part of my commitment is ensuring the island is remediated before it’s transferred to the Aboriginal community.

“Through the NSW Budget 2022-23, we’re delivering $42.9 million to regenerate and restore Me-Mel, and ultimately pave the way for the transfer back to the Aboriginal community.”

The government funding will repair seawalls and buildings, improve wharf access, upgrade services, and remove contaminants like asbestos over four years.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service will establish a transfer committee to guide future management of the island. The 12-person committee will include 8 indigenous members and 4 from the NSW Government.

Aboriginal affairs minister Ben Franklin said, “Me-Mel holds great significance to Aboriginal people, including the creation story Boora Birra, where the great eel spirit created the water courses known today as Sydney Harbour”.

Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council Deputy Chair Yvonne Weldon told ABC that the transfer was “so long overdue”.

“Me-Mel is a place where we can go to be within our culture, pass culture on to our younger generations, and share with other people.

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

The State-Heritage listed island is home to a diverse collection of Aboriginal, historical, and natural heritage values, including over 30 buildings and structures dating from the 1830s to the 1960s.

The Me-Mel Transfer Committee will be guided by the expertise of the island’s Indigenous owners and will set the course for the island’s future management.