Australia Canberra school boys caught driving dangerously on endangered grasslands identified as possible sacred site

02:27  13 august  2020
02:27  13 august  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a car driving down a dirt road: A white ute is one of several cars that has reportedly been seen drifting on grasslands behind the Australian War Memorial. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS A white ute is one of several cars that has reportedly been seen drifting on grasslands behind the Australian War Memorial. (Supplied)

Four teenagers caught drifting and doing circlework on a possible sacred Aboriginal site near the Australian War Memorial in Canberra have been fined and had their cars impounded.

The boys, three from Daramalan College and another from Dickson College, were caught by police on Friday as they attempted to leave the site.

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An Australian Aboriginal sacred site is a place deemed significant and meaningful by Aboriginal Australians based on their beliefs. It may include any feature in the landscape, and in coastal areas, these may lie underwater.

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Locals said they had called police at least a dozen times in the past year warning that P-platers were using the grasslands for dangerous driving, damaging an endangered habitat and risking their own safety.

The land is under assessment by the federal Environment Department for its significance as a sacred Ngambri site.

On Friday, a resident told the ABC that he saw several boys were once again at the site, drinking and swapping cars as they took turns skidding across the wet grass.

He said he became concerned when a car scraped a tree.

"It came out off Quick Street ... it spun around on there and went onto the footpath," he said.

"Even though the drivers weren't drinking, there's alcohol involved, there's lack of judgement under those situations. I was genuinely concerned they'd roll a car there, it's quite steep."

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Police officers caught the cars as they were leaving, and fined four of the boys for driving on a nature strip, not displaying P-plates, failing to stop at a stop sign, and improper control of a vehicle.

"Police interviewed all the occupants of the vehicles, and after receiving assistance from the occupants, four of the drivers were issued with Traffic Infringement Notices," a spokesman for ACT Policing said.

"Further investigations into similar activity identified another driver who has been responsible for similar behaviour in the same area between November 2019 to August 2020."

Police said none of the identified drivers returned positive alcohol breath tests.

The resident, who had made multiple complaints to police in the past 12 months — including the previous Friday when a separate car was seen drifting — said government inaction had led to more teenagers abusing the site.

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"When one of them, the white four-wheel drive, starts to show it off, the others say 'well okay, that's where you can do this kind of thing', because the ACT Government does nothing, basically."

ACT Policing said it was investigating other reports into similar behaviour at the site.

"The area is identified as an area of significance to the traditional owners," the spokesman said.

"Police are urging members of the public with any information regarding dangerous driving of vehicles in this area to contact Crime Stoppers."

'Deep-seated frustration' at destruction of claimed Aboriginal site

The site has been identified by the ACT Government as an important habitat for several endangered flora and fauna, but the grasslands have been significantly damaged by vandalism.

Earlier this year, the ABC reported that claims the land was also a sacred Ngambri site, used for men's business, had been ignored.

Ngambri man Shane Mortimer, who raised the claim to the site's Aboriginal significance, said he felt the land had been disregarded.

"It's a deep-seated frustration, it's an intergenerational frustration. The land really does need to be cared for," Mr Mortimer said.

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"It's not only the vandalism of the site, but it's the total disregard for the 405 million year-old dacite outcrop that's there, the endangered species that are dependent on the site."

Daramalan College said it could not comment on issues concerning individual students.

However Mr Mortimer said the school had agreed to organise for its Year 12 students to visit the site and learn about its significance.

"We really have to look now for that opportunity out of adversity," Mr Mortimer said.

The ACT Education Directorate told the ABC that because the incident was outside of school hours and off school grounds, it had not been involved.

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Residents said they had been calling for the ACT Government to do more to protect the site for some time.

In June, ACT Greens leader and Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury wrote to the City Services Minister Chris Steel asking for them to be installed urgently.

"Last week, I became aware that there has been regular illegal driving on a piece of ACT land adjacent to the CSIRO site in Campbell," Mr Rattenbury said.

"The area is natural temperate grassland with significant geological features onsite. It is an important ecosystem incorporating significant Aboriginal heritage [and] susceptible species such as the Canberra spider orchid, sunray daisy, golden sun moth and button wrinklewort.

"I write to request that you consider asking City Services to erect a series of bollards on Quick St in Ainslie, where vehicles are gaining access to this site in order to protect the significant ecology and cultural significance as a matter of urgency."

A spokesman for the ACT Government said it would undertake an assessment of vehicle access through the section, and work with the owners of the adjacent land, now Doma Group, on options to limit access for vehicles.

Mr Rattenbury said it was disappointing to hear the site had been damaged again since he first raised the issue.

"This area should be protected, and the solution here isn't complicated. Bollards along the border of the site could have prevented this unnecessary damage from taking place," he said.

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