The sale of a recently deconsecrated church in Glenlyon has been put on hold due to native title claims put forward by a group of indigenous and non-indigenous locals.
Daylesford Aboriginal woman Sissy Austin raised the matter with the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo earlier this month after the Glenlyon church had been listed for auction on Saturday, March 25. The church held its last service in December 2016 and had been closed due to falling attendance figures.
The 0.6 hectare block where the building is situated was originally Crown land and was loaned to the church in the 19th century. The diocese was granted a formal title to the land in 2014 after an application was signed off by the state’s governor.
Ms Austin said while questions surrounded whether the Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation was adequately consulted back in 2014, the sale provided the Anglican Church of Australia with a chance to put its Reconciliation Action Plan into practice.
“The Anglican Church of Australia has stated a commitment to Aboriginal people and that’s been ignored through the sale of this land,” Ms Austin said.
Under the Dja Dja Wurrung Settlement, which was struck in 2013 between the state government and the corporation, indigenous people within the region have special access to Crown land throughout the region and the Corporation must be compensated in the instance of the sale of such land.
Bishop Andrew Curnow from the Bendigo diocese said the church hoped to finalise the sale of the land by the middle of the year and was confident it had not made any mistakes in regards to native title.
“The sale was postponed because we felt it had become a matter of sensitivity, we believe it was better to postpone,” Bishop Curnow said. “There’s been a lot of Crown land given to churches since the 19th century and some of that land has been subject to native title claim, but we believe they’ve all been resolved.”
Bishop Curnow said while he understood the moral argument being presented, the church would only respond if those calls were seconded officially by the Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation.
Bishop Curnow also said due to the Use of Church Funds Act 1884, gifting the land or the profits of its sale to another group or charity would not necessarily be possible.
The act which was formulated to stop the church from accumulating excessive wealth governs how land sale money must be spent, with funds having to go towards capital works.
Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation chief executive Rodney Carter said the group and the church had been working constructively along with the state government and that his main priority was ensuring the rights of local Aboriginal people were recognised.
He said he encouraged the contribution from local indigenous people such as Ms Austin, provided it was polite and constructive.
“We would just like to make sure our rights are recognised and the conversations we’ve had some very respectful conversations with the church and we want to make sure we get the best outcome for everyone,” Mr Carter said.