Andra Jackson The Age March 23, 2011
Police escorted Victorian officials through a blockade at East Gippsland's Lake Tyers settlement yesterday, where there is a dispute over the running of the settlement.
Indigenous women imposed the blockade two weeks ago after the state government refused to rescind the appointment of an administrator.
The administrator, Simon Wallace-Smith, who was appointed eight years ago, passed through the blockade early yesterday with other officials, driven in by police.
A spokeswoman for the protesters, Leanne Edwards, said the women did not attempt to stop the officials. "This is a peaceful action," she said, vowing that community members would maintain the blockade until Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jeanette Powell agreed to meet them.
Ms Edwards said there had been ongoing concern about the administrator's actions but the latest trouble flared after a manager was appointed by the administrator earlier this year.
Under the direction of the manager, trust members and traditional landowners were now being charged for funerals, she said, whereas previously there had been no charge.
Other community grievances include:
• A prohibition on building shacks in nearby bush areas;
• Prohibition on people from outside the area, such as relatives, camping in the settlement.
• Frustration that funded housing upgrades had stalled.
Lake Tyers was handed to Aboriginal control in 1970 under the Aboriginal Lands Act. The Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust was established as the governing body, and community members became members of the trust.
Bairnsdale solicitor Joel Orenstein, who represents the community, said that under the act, the administrator was required to consult trust members, but he had sacked a community board of management set up last year.
Legal action may be possible over issues of discrimination and political process, he said.
An administrator was appointed to Lake Tyers after funds were mismanaged, but Ms Edwards said money had been repaid. A number of trust members had completed two-year courses in community services and governance, a condition laid down by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria for returning control to the trust, she said.
The Lake Tyers community includes trust members, residents who moved in after 1970, and traditional owners.
The minister, Ms Powell, said Lake Tyers had been afflicted with deep social problems.
"The community of Lake Tyers was encouraged to undertake community development courses to build their capacity for self-governance. It is encouraging that 14 people have undertaken the course, but further work will need to be done before the community is in a position to resume self-governance."
She said it was inappropriate to meet protesters during a blockade, but trust members would be invited to a meeting in May.