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Controversial past lingers at brewery site

FOR many in Perth, the Old Swan Brewery site is remembered for big protests staged in the early 1990s, largely by the Aboriginal community, amid claims and counter claims regarding the site’s significance to indigenous people.

There were suggestions that the sacred tag was an invention of convenience, an issue which was inflamed by differences of opinion among the Nyoongar community connected to the area known for its spring water.

In fact, the site was recognised in Government circles as early as 1833, when permission was sought from local Nyoongar leaders to pass through the site known as ‘The Waugal Site’, in reference to the the Creator Spirit in Nyoongar Dreaming.

The row that ensued between the (then) Labor Government and the Aboriginal protestors caused bitter divisions which last to this day.

To Nyoongar leader Clarrie Isaacs, who has flown the Aboriginal flag at the site every Tuesday morning since 1989, the (then) Heritage Minister, Jim McGinty (now Attorney General in the Gallop Government) is to blame.

“Jim McGinty came to Parliament from the Miscellaneous Workers Union, and he became the Minister for Heritage, and he said that the Swan Brewery was not a political issue, it was a social issue,” Mr Isaacs says. “He then went on to write all the anti-Aboriginal legislation to empower Multiplex to start work and override our interests totally.”

Mr Isaacs fought the developer all the way to the High Court on the heritage of the site, but the case was lost, leaving Mr Isaacs more than $20,000 out of pocket, which was paid by the sale of donated art works.

However, Mr McGinty defended his record on the issue and said the Aboriginal heritage issues were taken into account during the controversy of 1991-92 when a Multiplex subsidiary won a 65-year lease over the property, which required significant investment to be commercially viable.

“The best advice that we had was that while it was a site of significance it was not a sacred site,” he says.

“All of these matters were weighed up and I was given the job of making sure that the heritage-listed buil-dings on the site were retained and I was happy to do that because I don’t believe you can advance one person’s heritage and culture by destroying the heritage and culture of another. I think Perth is the richer for the retention of those buildings which go back a long time and are a very important part of the social and cultural fabric of the city.”

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