West Wallsend Butterfly Cave

Tonight I will speak about the sacred Aboriginal women’s site in the Cessnock electorate known as the Butterfly Cave. The Butterfly Cave is situated in bushland adjacent to the West Wallsend village, which is on the outskirts of the broader Newcastle‑Lake Macquarie area. In this bushland is the sacred Aboriginal site known as the Butterfly Cave, a natural cave that has been used for women’s business for some 35,000 years. The developers are moving in. I have spoken in this place a number of times on this issue, and I will continue to speak on it.

As it is a natural formation and has not been built using bricks, concrete and steel, it is difficult to have this feature recognised in the heritage planning rules and instruments for what it is. Over 35,000 years it has been a meeting place, a hospital and a place of ceremony and for other special women’s events. Today in modern times the Aboriginal women of the Awabakal people continue to use it. They take young Aboriginal women up there for sista speak. Sista speak is when the women talk to the young Aboriginal girls about identity and the history of peoples, traditions and culture. The Awabakal women have an ongoing constant connection with this particular site.

These days the land is owned by a developer who is planning a nine-stage development. Six of the stages have been completed. In total, the developer expects to divide the land into some 400 blocks. The Butterfly Cave itself and 20 metres of surrounding bushland have been secured and recognised as an Aboriginal place. This recognition was granted under the stewardship of a former Minister for the Environment, Robyn Parker. However, the 20-metre exclusion zone does not secure much of anything. It certainly does not secure the secrecy of the location or the confidentiality of what happens in that Aboriginal place. For example, in a 1233 ABC Newcastle online news article, Aboriginal women claimed the developer had “spied” on them when they were conducting women’s business at the site.

The women had spent three hours at the sacred site doing sista speak and other women’s business. They told 1233 ABC Newcastle that as they were leaving the site the developer said to them, “It must have been good up there, you were there for three hours.” This was a stupid, arrogant and culturally insensitive remark and is disrespectful to our Aboriginal people. It is disrespectful of the developer to watch women at sacred sites and monitor how long they spend at the site. It would be like a neighbour commenting on how long we have driven our cars on certain days or saying, “Your friends were at your home for two hours last night.” This is a sacred site, yet the women have been told that soon closed-circuit television will be installed at the site. We need to respect this site because it is sacred to our Aboriginal women.

Recently there were discussions about who should undertake a geotechnical report of the site. Although I am the local member of Parliament, out of respect for the women I have never been to the site because it is a women’s site. I have been close to it, but I will not step onto a women’s site. As a male, I respect that place. But the surveyors did not respect it, sending in males to do the geotechnical report. They were asked to send a female surveyor but they said that was not possible. Imagine having your house wired by an unauthorised electrician because an authorised one was not available. We have to do better when dealing with the Awabakal Butterfly Cave. I will continue to raise this issue in this House.