Land claim by Aboriginal preschool defeated in council vote

THE land on which the Kulai Preschool sits, cost Coffs Harbour City Council just $1, and they haven't had to spend a cent on it in almost 50 years.

This point was emphasised as Councillor Sally Townley tried to convince her fellow councillors to transfer ownership of the Myuna Place land to the Kulai Pre-school Aboriginal Corporation.

"When the school started, Aboriginal people were not even recognised as people who could vote in this country. Think about what they have built against all the odds," Cr Townley said.

"The land was transferred to council for a $1 and over the next 48 years the centre has grown to what it is today.

"It is a caring, nurturing space for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community providing culturally specific education that is directly relevant to these families.

"The benefits are myriad and the risks are nil in my view - I urge councillors to make a great step forward in Aboriginal self-determination in Coffs Harbour today to transfer this land that cost us $1 to a corporation who have been running it brilliantly."

Kulai pre school 's Julie Carey in the Preschool grounds.15 AUG 2018
Kulai pre school 's Julie Carey in the Preschool grounds.15 AUG 2018 Trevor Veale

She was arguing against a staff report which suggested that: 'to transfer the property to the existing tenant without recouping its market value (approximately $425,000) would set an undesirable precedent for the transfer of public property into private hands, and would not be in the financial and long term interests of ratepayers.'

Cr Swan urged her fellow councillors to be 'brave' and support the transfer of the land to provide some financial independence and certainty for the organisation.

But when put to the vote the motion to transfer the land was lost. 

Councillors Sally Townley, Tegan Swan and John Arkan were in favour with councillors Denise Knight, Paul Amos, John Cecato, Michael Adendorff and Keith Rhoades against.

Coffs harbour City council chambers

Photo: Trevor Veale/The Coffs Coast Advocate.
Coffs Harbour City Council debated the dangerous precedent the land transfer would create with the vote of councillors divided. Trevor Veale/The Coffs Coast Adv

The decision was met with shouts of 'shame' and outside the chambers pre-school director Julie Carey calmly vowed they would not be giving up.

A non-Indigenous man Keith Norris, who attended the meeting in relation to another matter was so angered by the outcome, he had this to say:

"I thought racism was supposed to be dead in Coffs Harbour but I saw it alive and well in the meeting tonight.

"At every meeting they (councillors) pay respect to the custodians of the land but tonight they spat in the face of these people and their hopes for self-determination."