Maroochy River Rowing Club Head Coach Donna Muller, with President Russell Muller with are closing down the club until a dispute with the Indigenous community is sorted.
Maroochy River Rowing Club Head Coach Donna Muller, with President Russell Muller with are closing down the club until a dispute with the Indigenous community is sorted. Jason Dougherty

Indigenous land rights stoush over rowing facility

A WELL-intentioned plan to provide facilities for the young Sunshine Coast rowers has degenerated into a stoush over indigenous land rights.

The situation has become so bad there are now claims of physical violence, which both sides blame on the other.

It was a battle Donna and Russell Muller could not have anticipated when they began planning a junior rowing facility at Bli Bli's Muller Park.

Now they are locked in a stoush over the cultural protocols which should be followed when seeking building approval on indigenous land.

The Maroochy River Rowing Club, which was established for junior athletes three years ago, has jumped through state and local government hoops to build a 19.5m-wide clubhouse and storage facility at the park.

The club is ready to build but must first go through a public consultation period.

Muller Park and the surrounding areas at Bli Bli are classed as "heritage hotspots" for sites, story places and artefact areas representative of the Aboriginal cultural landscape on the Coast.

And that's where the trouble lies.

The Kabi Kabi First Nation people native title spokesman and cultural heritage coordinator, Tony Dalton, said the park had a rich indigenous heritage as it was a "midden".

It seems Bli Bli has always been noted for its Aboriginal shell middens or kitchen middens on both sides of the river at the David Low Way Bridge.


Mr Muller disagrees his leased section of the park is included.

"We got the 10-year lease on this site because this particular area of the park was confirmed as not being a midden," he said.

"Through the process over the past three years, the state and local government have consulted with indigenous groups - that's why we got this lease in the first place.

"We've done a soil test that indicates it was a hole filled with landfill by Maroochy Shire Council. This is not a midden."

Mr Muller has closed the junior rowing until the argument can be resolved, leaving the sporting activities of 80 families in limbo.

He and his wife met with 30 senior indigenous people, from different clans, to address their concerns after receiving a phone call from Mr Dalton on Saturday.

The meeting became heated when the two parties disputed whether the site was a shell midden.

"One group wanted our site shifted, another wanted us out completely," Mr Muller said.

"I told them to bring their children down to learn how to row and we can enjoy the river together.

"We are aware we are at a cultural significant site, we have always been respectful, and the site is always well maintained.

"This is just so unnecessary."

Mr Dalton said he attended the meeting to discuss things in a civil matter and enlighten Mr Muller about the park's significance.

He said the discussion became heated and there had been a scuffle.

"We are not opposed to the shed going up, we are trying to establish a mitigation process for what is happening to the shell," he said.

"We are still open to a conversation with him, but not with his attitude.

"And they (the Mullers) weren't interested in entering into any civil discussions.

"We have concerns of the size of the slab that is going in for the shed."

Mr Dalton said it was possible to move soil from the clubhouse site to another area to preserve the heritage and track the location with GPS coordinates to create a database of significant sites.

He said the middens contained invaluable signs of the traditional peoples of the Sunshine Coast.

"It is important that we preserve our history of our ancestors. We have been working closely with the council and anytime they break ground they are working with us through a mitigation strategy.

"The shell is under the ground and any development can disturb it.

"We don't want the shell to be removed from the park. On Sports Rd, Bli Bli, one of our senior people found shell residue dating back 2500 years."

An angry Mr Muller spent yesterday attempting to tell the broader community about the situation, staging a protest outside the Bli Bli IGA complex.

"We have created this club as a passion, we do it for the parents and the kids and we have huge support from the Bli Bli community and we will go further with this if we are blocked by this," he said.