The federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, has stepped in at the last minute to stop construction of a contentious go-kart track at Wahluu/Mount Panorama in Bathurst over concerns it threatens a sacred Indigenous site.
Ley made an emergency protection declaration on Friday, three days before construction was due to begin at the famous motor racing site in regional New South Wales.
The declaration, made under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, will pause construction of the track for 30 days to prevent the injury or desecration of an Indigenous site.
The Wiradyuri Traditional Owners Central West Aboriginal Corporation in 2019 lodged a protection application over concerns a sacred women’s site would be destroyed.
“Having now received reports from the department, including those submissions received recently from traditional owners, I would like to meet with the parties involved,” Ley said in a statement.
“I will travel to Bathurst next Friday before reviewing the issues further to determine whether a declaration with longer effect should be made under section 10 of the Act.”
The corporation has been fighting the development since 2016.
Yanhadarrambal, the corporation’s co-director and public officer, said the planned track had evolved from a proposal for a basic hobby track to an international standard facility.
“We’re not opposed to a go-kart track being built in Bathurst, we’re just opposed to it at this site,” he said.
Yanhadarrambal said the mountain was a sacred site where boys were initiated as warriors. The area where the go-kart track would be built was the location boys would be brought to by their female family members for that initiation.
He said traditional owners would show Ley the site next week.
“We’re hoping it will take all of three seconds to realise it’s a significant site,” he said.
“We’re hoping she makes a declaration for permanent protection of the site.”
Four local councillors also oppose the current location for the track, and last year launched an unsuccessful bid to overturn the council’s approval.
The developer, Bathurst Regional Council, said on Friday it would comply with the minister’s emergency declaration.
In addition to the minister’s declaration, the NSW supreme court on Friday issued a cease-work order for works associated with the track.
The legal action is being pursued by King & Wood Malleson, acting on behalf of the Wiradyuri Traditional Owners Central West Aboriginal Corporation.
The council’s general manager, David Sherley, said the council had agreed to the cease-work order.
“Council continues to consider its options in regards to these two matters,” he said.