Hindmarsh Island Bridge Controversy

The Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy was a 1990s Australian legal and political controversy that involved the clash of Indigenous Australian religious beliefs and property rights. A proposed bridge to Hindmarsh Island, near Goolwa, South Australia (intended to replace the existing cable ferry and service a proposed marina development) attracted opposition from many local residents, environmental groups and indigenous leaders. In 1994, a group of Ngarrindjeri women Elders claimed the site was sacred to them for reasons that could not be revealed. The case attracted much controversy because the issue intersected with broader concerns about Indigenous rights in the Australian community at the time, and coincided with the Mabo and Wik High Court cases regarding Native Title.

"Secret Women's Business", as the group's claims became known, became the subject of intense legal battles. Some Ngarrindjeri women came forward to dispute the veracity of the claims. The Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission found that "secret women's business" had been fabricated. Subsequently, the Howard Government passed the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act (1997), which allowed construction to go ahead. The bridge was completed in March 2001.

In August 2001, a civil case in the Federal Court of Australia re-ignited the debate. In rejecting claims for damages by the developers, Justice John von Doussa stated that he was not satisfied that the claims of "secret women's business" had been fabricated, although never explicitly stating them to be true. The Ngarrindjeri and their supporters took the decision as a vindication, and many organisations subsequently apologised. Opinion remains divided over the issue to the present day.

Read more about Hindmarsh Island Bridge ControversyBackground, Opposition, Binalong Fails, Royal Commission, Heritage Applications, The Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act, The Von Doussa Decision, Aftermath

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