It was a small number of Aboriginal people from throughout Port Stephens who gathered together in a small tin shed at the back of Mallabula football oval on Wednesday 13th November 1984, to validate what is now recorded as the first Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council (WLALC) meeting.With only 8 people present, they still had to coax two young Aboriginal men to walk off the touch football field and join them. This secured the required legislative quorum of 10 persons, in accordance with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) that was only introduced a year earlier in 1983.
In no particular order those persons present included Jackie Henderson, Aunty Valerie Merrick, Aunty Gwen Russell, Aunty Colleen Perry, Carl Simms, Kim Manton, Grace Kong, Dion Lilley, Rodney Merrick and Donna Witt. The first elections saw Kim Manton (Chairperson), Jackie Henderson (Secretary) Dion Lilley (Treasurer) elected as the foundation WLALC Executives. Although absent at the time, a special note of recognition and respect is extended to Brian (Poppy) Russell for his consistent hard work and commitment in eradicating the issues being suffered by the Aboriginal people of Port Stephens. The minute book recording this prominent movement in the Aboriginal history of Port Stephens is still housed in the WLALC office.
Although elected as Secretary, Jackie Henderson (on a temporary basis) took up the role of WLALC Co-ordinator. Jackie undertook this role for a period of 15 months until Mr Geoff Bradford was employed in Feb 1986. The WLALC Administration Office was initially opened in the Kooindah shopping centre at Tanilba Bay however, following the successful Aboriginal land claim over Lot 355 (granted on the 13th January 1985), the WLALC relocated to Lemon Tree Passage Rd, Tanilba Bay.
For interested parties, Lot 355 (a.k.a the Farm) was the official first of many successful land claims to follow. To date, the WLALC has successfully gained ownership and management of 98 parcels of land and 18 Rental properties totaling an awe inspiring amount of 116 properties. It wasn’t long before the WLALC utilised Lot 355 to develop a ‘Market Garden’.
It was this activity that gave the property its name ‘The Farm’. The market garden days were a significant time in the history of WLALC as this was the first commercial development that created a revenue stream. Although it provided ample training and employment it wasn’t sustainable and the business ceased in the late 90’s, although local knowledge has it that being owned and operated by an Aboriginal community didn’t do it any favours as far as customer relations were concerned, if you know what we mean? It was during 1995 that Mr Geoff Bradford (following 9 years’ service) was replaced by Mr Len Anderson. Len undertook the role of General Manager for a period of 10 years’ service, resigning in 2005.
In 2003, the WLALC Administration office relocated again, this time to Williamtown after acquiring a property formerly occupied by an amusement park known as “Tomteland”. This purchase was made with the vision of developing a Culture Park, showcasing the Aboriginal culture & heritage of Port Stephens with the wider community. In order to reflect WLALC as the new owners the property name was immediately changed to Murrook which in the traditional language of the Worimi (Ghaddung or Kattang) means good/happy. Unfortunately, happy times were not to come.
The purchase of Tomteland was financed with monies received from a land sale development over lands known as ‘Gan Gan’. This sale unfortunately, didn’t sit too well with the Members at the time and, following this transaction and a number of other business developments that were deemed inconsistent with the ALRA, the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council was on the cusp of becoming insolvent and placed under Administration. Further investigations undertaken by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council saw the WLALC finally placed under Administration by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2004.
Mr Terry Lawler from Lawler Partners (Newcastle) was appointed as Administrator for an initial 2 year period on Friday 16th January 2004 however, after only 3 months into his appointment, he resigned his position as Administrator on Tuesday, 13th April 2004. Following this resignations, Mr Peter Hillig from Smith Hancock Chartered Accountants (Parramatta) was newly-appointed on the very same day. During the Administration period Mr Andrew Smith was appointed as the WLALC General Manager on Monday 6th February 2006.
The following month saw elections for WLALC Executive Officers held at an Extra-Ordinary meeting on Monday 27th March 2006. The successful candidates were Jamie Tarrant (Chairperson), Rhonda Finlay (Secretary) & Grace Kinsella (Treasurer). With these positions in place, the GM and Executives sought to implement good governance, efficient and transparent financial management, policy & procedures and became fully conversant with ‘ALL’ affairs being handled by the Administrator, including all outstanding litigious issues.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs (having identified this) saw no reason for the Administration to continue and requested an exit strategy be developed. The Administration period ceased effective Thursday 12th October 2006.
The Administration period was a time of extreme sadness and disappointment for the Worimi community however, (included in the WLALC Values) it is the belief of the WLALC that despite the hardships and tragedies visited upon us we look towards the future with optimism and determination to guide our destiny.
In July 2007 new amendments were introduced to the ALRA which included a restructure of the WLALC’s corporate structure. All General Managers / Co-ordinators were replaced with Chief Executive Officers and the previous Executive structure was replaced with a Board of Management consisting of 10 persons, with an elected Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson. The Annual General Meeting held on Monday 3rd Sept 2007 saw the election of the first WLALC Board of Management.
Those elected were:
- Jamie Tarrant (re-elected as Chairperson)
- Aunty Val Merrick (elected as Deputy Chairperson)
- Aunty Gwen Russell
- Grace Kinsella (Kong)
- Jackie Henderson
- Rhonda Finlay
- Leigh Ridgeway
- Scott Newlin
- Glen Newlin
- Aunty Elaine Larkins
- Steve Larkins (stepped down during initial implementation)
*Note: Board members highlighted were present at the first WLALC meeting 23 years earlier. Unfortunately, due to increasing work commitments, Steve Larkins resigned from his position however; an Extra-ordinary meeting held to fill this vacancy saw the successful appointment of Aunty Elaine Larkins whose passion, commitment and knowledge provided a welcomed richness to the WLALC Board.
Since the inception of the WLALC its focus has continued to be on protecting and fostering the best interests of its community and Aboriginal Culture. The WLALC will continue to work tirelessly towards the day when the Aboriginal community once again proudly feels it belongs to its culture, its land and each other. The WLALC continues to seek opportunities for Aboriginal people to regain their cultural identity, financial independence and self-determination and believes this has been sufficiently reflected throughout this Plan.