Dharnya Centre Page

 Oncountry Students, 2012  Visit to Dharnya

Atkinson,W.R. Institutional Racism alive and well in the Barmah Forest: How white ants and white politics combined to undermine the Dharnya Centre, 2013.

Latest on Dharnya: Still Standing Still in 2012

In preparation for our visit to Dharnya Centre on Tuesday, 7 Feb the following article was published in the Echuca Riverine Herald, 18 Feb, 2012. Please read in context of Dharnya’s history and closure in 2007 because of government neglect and the lack of maintence for white ant infestation.

Dharnya Article, May,2013

Closure of Dharnya Centre in 2007 because of white ant infestation and government neglect.
Dharnya is about to be rejuvinated as a live in learning cultural centre of national and international focus. Meetings on the weekend of 23-34 November between Yora Yorta Nations Aboriginal Corportion and Parks Victoria and a report on the current condition of Dharnya by a Yorta Yorta builder saw a committment from Parks to get Dharnya up and running again. About  time as many Im sure would agree.
This will take place in different stages
After a committment from Parks for the development of Dharnya as concept that will bring it up to the modern era, the first stage is to restore the Cultural and Information Centre which is the least effected by uncontrolled white ant infestation. On the assessment of the builders advise this can be done before the end of the year and the centre will be restored to its key function as the entry point to the Dharnya complex. Advise on the other buildings however was not as positive. The overall  assessment is that they are behond repair because of the extent of white ant infestation. They will be demolished and the land will be used to build a new complex taking in other important functions to bring Dharnya up to the 21st Century as a fully functioning live in learning centre. It will include other functions of research, administration, teaching, including cultural programs and most importantly will continue to provide a base for family group  meetings and other Yorta Yorta activies such as meetings, entertainment, and the recording of oral knowledge from Yorta Yorta elders. This will re-establish the important family link that has been broken because of Dharnya’s closure in 2007.
In order to understand the background of Dharnya it does have a rather constrained history and its closure in 2007 was the subject of much protest, letter writing and campaigning by the Yorta Yorta and their supporters. One group that took up the issue of Dharnya as a case of blatant neglect and lack of duty of care on the part of   Parks Victoria as the management authority,  is a group called DAG, the Dharnya Action Group. Some of their work and research is included in this page to give readers an overview of the history and the issues that put Dharnya in the predicament that it found itself when the doors were closed in May, 2007.

Dharnya Story

Background on Dharnya
Re: FOI Documents on Dharnya Cultural Centre
Date: 11 November, 2008
From the documentary evidence it is clear that Parks Victoria knew of the structural condition of the Centre from the site inspections and reports conducted  by Maurice Farrugia & Associates Pty Ltd, on 15 July, 1999; 5 October, 1999;(two in one year nearly a decade ago) the  9 April, 2001,  and more recently on the 5, September, 2007. One also needs to acknowledge that there is the anecdotal evidence of the staff who have worked at the centre before and during this period that is not included in the documented materials. This would throw more light on the degree of neglect that has taken place since Dharnya’s inception in 1985.
The report of the 1999 site inspection of Dharnya and the examination of other building issues clearly indicates that the white ant infestation and other structural problems with Dharnya were well known by then. The report by consultants Toscano Architects from their site visit on the 14 July, 1999 states that:
‘all the buildings displayed varying degrees of dilapidation and failure from either poor design/detailing,  poor construction, ageing exposure to the elements, and exposure to pests such as white ants(p.4. Structural Site Inspection Report by Toscano Architects, 14 July, 1999.
Future actions and the maintenance that was required to address the ‘immediate problems’ and to bring the buildings back to a reasonable condition, including ‘the eradication of white ants’ were identified by Toscano Architects. This also includedother more ‘substantial works required to rectify the cause of the problem and to restore the building to an acceptable level of use’ (Toscano Architects, 14 July, P.5).
 That examination and report was in 1999-see Toscano Architects report in FOI docs.
Having found that the white ant infestation  was there in 1999, and likely to have been there before on the basis of the anecdotal evidence, we can now look at what the state of white ant infestation, and consequent structural  damage was like in 2007 which is nearly a decade from the first official report.
Subsequent site visits and reports by Maurice Farrugia of the 5 October and 9 April, 2001 and the 5 September, 2007 reiterate the same issues of the previous site visits in 1999. The final and most recent report of September 2007, concluded that ‘the structural soundness of the buildings will be totally dependant on the level of termite infestation and to this end a thorough survey of the termite infestation should be done to determine the extent of damage, and whatever live infestation still exist’ (Site Inspection Report, Maurice Farrugia & Associates Pty Ltd, 5, September, 2007).
There are many other issues in the FOI docs that highlight the wanton neglect and lack of duty of care on the part of the Government and Parks Victoria for the proper upkeep and maintenance of Dharnya, including its lack of equality of opportunity for the Yorta Yorta to use as a viable and commercial cultural facility.
I’m interested to know and would like to seek your advise on whether the matter goes beyond the question of negligence and needs to be handed over to the Ombudsman, or to seek legal advise on whether the treatment of Dharnya and the exclusion of the Yorta Yorta from the fundamental right to  practice, teach and to enjoy their cultural heritage constitutes an act of discrimination under the Racial Discrimination Act, 1975 and the Victorian  Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
It may even be worthwhile raising Dharnya in the context of s.19 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, 2006 (VCHR,) and the extent to which this section can be invoked to address the cultural interests of the Yorta Yorta and their rights to practice and to enjoy their cultural heritage through the provision of public facilities like the Dharnya Cultural Centre. Europeans are certainly given every opportunity to do the same by the amount of resources that are dedicated to the more recent colonial heritage. A good example is the resources allocated to local tourism and heritage in this year’s budget of some 35 Million Dollars and the amount of resources that have gone into the Echuca Wharf project.  In April 2007 the Port of Echuca Wharf received a national heritage listing and $ 500,000 of federal money for restorative work (The Hon John Cobb et al; ‘Media Release: Heritage Honour and $500,000 funding for Echuca Wharf’, 26 April 2007 (http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/ps/2007/pubs/psmr26apr07.pdf ).
Section 19 of the VCHR, 2006,   states that Aboriginal persons hold distinct cultural rights and must not be denied the right, with other members of their community to:
a) enjoy their identity and culture; and
b) maintain and use their language; and
c) maintain their kinship ties; and
d) maintain their distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with the land and waters and other resources with which they have a connection under traditional laws and customs.

Research Essay, on Dharnya by Caitlin Wood, visit to Dharnya, Oncountry, Course, 2012

Dharnya in its heyday with Yorta Yorta staff
Other Letters that were written on Dharnya
“Murray Tourism thrives while Dharnya Whithers”
The Dharnya Centres closure by Parks Victoria and the Department of Sustainability is an example of utter neglect. It is also demonstrates the lack of commitment by State, Federal and local Governments to  the upkeep of the Barmah Forest centre as a vital cultural education resource in the Murray Region.  It is a sad irony that at  the time Dharnya is being excluded from receiving adequate resources, the Government is pumping millions of dollars into tourism in Victoria including the allocation of “23 million dollars to regional tourism.
In the meantime Dharnya is left to wither from Government neglect and from white ant infestation that has been allowed to reach endemic proportrions -see Riverine Herald, 4 May, 2007; Shepparton News, 1, May, 2007.
The Circle of Learning a key concept of Dharnya Centre
One can imagine the public outcry if the same degree of neglect was allowed to happen to  the upkeep of the more recent colonial heritage and other public structures. The Government’s treatment of Yorta Yorta cultural facilities, as as a lesser interest to that of the more recent colonial heritage, is a clear example of the practice of inequality in cultural resource allocation. It must also be  seen as a breach of Section 19 of the VCHR, 2006,  as indicated above.
The decision to close Dharnya is a disheartening blow for all those who have enjoyed using the Center and particularly for the staff, who have dedicated their lives to its continuity, as a jewel in the crown cultural education facility. To see the Center virtually crumbling around them from white ant  attacks and Government neglect,  and to remain dedicated to keeping the Center going as a vital link for the Yorta Yorta is an admirable achievement.   It is also a sad reflection on the part of the Brack’s Government and the Department of Sustainability, through its Regional Office in Bendigo, who have stood by steadfastly and watched Dharnya deteriorate to its point of closure.
Perhaps the ultimate blow was politically motivated? That is by closing Dharnya it would  have a direct effect on the continuity of Yorta Yorta connections with their ancestral lands and a place where their family group meetings took place. Like the diversity of groups that use the Centre the Yorta Yorta rely on its existence to hold their regular community and family gatherings, to reaffirm their kinship relations, and  to teach the younger generations about their connections with country. One can’t help wondering whether or not the decision was designed to sever the important link  that the Center plays in Yorta Yorta life.The Brack’s government is in a position to rectify this inequality in cultural resource empowerment.
As an elder of the Yorta Yorta people, I strongly urge this government to reconsider the closure of the Dharnya Center, and to allocate resources that will enable the Centre to reach its full potential as jewel in the crown cultural centre of local, national and international significance. This will not only restore Yorta Yorta connections with country and allow them to practice their culture but will also provide positive benefits to  the community as a whole.
Dharnya Action Group
Time for Dharnya to rise to its full potential as a Yorta Yorta and Bush University Resource.
see DHARNYA 6panel1 (1) previous design of the Bush University Concept


3 Responses to Dharnya Centre Page

  1. Peter Marke says:

    Disgraceful that his outstanding facility has closed through such neglect. It was an excellent window for us to learn so much about the local indigenous history/heritage and culture and at the same time it was an excellent holiday facility and venue for so many School kids etc.
    We had four great stays there and am so upset that we only now find out from a visit last weekend that it is no longer. What must Clyde W. and John B. feel also!

    • waynera says:

      Couldnt agree more with your comments Peter. Good that you were able to see the utter contempt with which the Yorta Yorta have been treated in the negligence of such a magnificent jewel in the crown centre. Glad that you enjoyed Dharnya in its former glory and have had the opportunity to see it in its current ‘disgraceful’ status for which I encourage you to send a message expressing those concerns to the Govt.


  2. Peter Marke says:

    Thanks Wayne. I will do so. I also wish I had Lin O.. who was a good friend, to discuss it with!

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