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Ariel image of Goat Island and the city.
Photograph: Supplied

The biggest island in Sydney Harbour has just been returned to traditional Indigenous owners

Once home to Bennelong and Barangaroo, the land known as Goat Island has been given back to the Eora Nation

Maya Skidmore
Written by
Maya Skidmore

In a landmark move for New South Wales, the historical island of Me-Mel, also known to Sydneysiders as ‘Goat Island’, has been handed back to traditional owners for permanent ownership, signalling a new chapter in this island’s long and complicated history.  

Situated north of Darling Harbour, Me-Mel, meaning ‘eye’ in Gadigal language, lies across the water from Barangaroo Reserve, with this land-mass carrying a deep spiritual significance for Sydney’s First Nations people. Speaking to SBS News, foreign affairs minister Ben Franklin said that Me-Mel was a central part of the Boora Bira creation story, with it being known as the great eel spirit that created Sydney Harbour, while Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Nathan Moran said that; “this is the cultural sacrament of the Eora - this is the dreaming place of Sydney.”

The NSW Government has committed $43 million to the hand-over, with the funding to go towards repairing the island’s infrastructure, removing contaminants, and upgrading the island’s wharf and services, with the end goal to open to the public in the next four years, for them to learn first-hand about Sydney’s rich First Nations heritage. 

With a history that dates back more than 10,000 years, and having once been home to famed Indigenous couple Bennelong and Barangaroo of the Eora Nation, the return of Me-Mel to First Nations hands is an important milestone for Sydney’s recognition of traditional ownership and in redeveloping the cultural and historical story that underpins our city. 

This is all wrapped up by Nathan Moran, who while speaking to SBS News said; “we look forward to having this cultural place returned to us, operated by us, but for the benefit of everyone”. 

Want more? Check out all the things happening on Gadigal Land for Reconciliation Week this year.

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