Traditional owners dubbed an attempted takeover by Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS) of waterfront land at Deanbilla Bay in Dunwich as the second coming of the First Fleet.
Just as back in 1788 it certainly came as a complete surprise to the locals when Mayor Karen Williams hove to, metaphorically speaking, with an announcement on her webpage, just before the last council elections, that RQYS would be establishing a sailing academy and member destination on the bay at Adams’ Beach.
RQYS plans for a sailing school
RQYS forecast they would attract 1,500 to 2,000 visitors a year to a beach less than one kilometer long and a metre wide at high tide and the most popular recreational beach in the township of just 800 people. It is also a prime waterfront position close to existing ferry terminals and RQYS maps revealed plans to include an adjoining block that contains storage sheds.
This area is part of a mooted redevelopment of the waterfront under a new town plan and Dunwich residents openly doubted the ultimate plan was for a sailing school. Several RQYS members also opposed spending money on the area to pay a caretaker for a year. They believed the money could be better spent on existing sailing school facilities at Manly where the club is headquartered.
Another surprise was unearthed by local businesswoman and traditional owner Natalie Mazonni who discovered through legal searches that the property had been transferred for $1 in May 2016 from sand miner Sibelco, shortly before it expired. This had then been extended for a year by the state pending negotiations on a change of lease conditions from residential leasehold to freehold or long term sporting use. RQYS claimed to have state government support for these options.
The land has several shacks on it once used as miners’ quarters but now in a state of disrepair with asbestos that would cost up to $200,000 to remove.
Quandamooka Yoolaburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) had not been advised the lease was available for transfer and had not been approached at any time over the plans or the lease transfer and application for a change to its conditions.
QYAC CEO, Cameron Costello, made it clear that native title had to be considered before the government made any decisions, saying: “To continue to try to progress this project without engaging with us is not an appropriate way to do business with people who have property rights. The Quandamooka People’s native title commences as soon as you step into the water on that site,” Mr Costello said
While QYAC entered negotiations with the state government, Mrs Mazonni led a public campaign of island residents and disgruntled RQYS members that included a Facebook page and a public meeting in Dunwich of more than 300 people. The meeting passed a motion opposing RQYS proposals, including its application to Queensland Marine Safety to manage two thirds of 66 Category 1 moorings gazetted for the bay, in addition to ten it already has there. This led to a furious reaction from thousands of members of associations representing boat owners, fishers, environmentalists and other users of the Moreton Bay Marine Park.
A Combined Club and Associations group formed to fight RQYS’ plan, which it warned would give exclusive control over the majority of the bay to a “private and exclusive organisation.”
After a year of trading insults and claims and counter claims between RQYS and opponents, the club’s Commodore, Ian Threlfall, announced last week it had returned the property to the state.
The Royal servants and convicts on the First Fleet took three months to get to Botany Bay from Portsmouth to claim the land for Mad King George 111, claiming there was nobody there (terra nullius). The invaded Aboriginals have been arguing the toss on that and much more pretty much ever since.
Given their lack of consultation with QYAC and the community, the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron and Mayor Karen Williams, seem not to have caught up with legal developments that quashed the terra nullius argument more than 20 years ago or with the rights of recognised native title holders.
The Deanbilla fiasco should be a salutary lesson for anyone looking to future developments in Quandamooka Country.
In May 2017 the third and final stage of negotiations that began once native title was recognised in 2011, the Quandamooka Coast Claim, was lodged with the Federal Court by the Native Title Tribunal. Negotiations would have been more complex than the initial two stages as they involved greater use by a number of statutory bodies and many more facilities in the areas covered.
Quandamooka Country comprises the waters and lands of and around Moorgumpin (Moreton Island), Minjerribah, (North Stradbroke Island), the Southern Moreton Bay islands and South Stradbroke Island. It includes the coastline from Wynnum Creek in the north to the Logan River in the south, crossing the boundaries of four Queensland local governments.