(Investigator 43, 1995 July)


A bridge is banned from being built for 25 years; a development company goes bankrupt; a Federal politician loses his front bench seat; there are calls for another to be sacked; Aborigines accuse each other of lying; some fear being sung to death by Aboriginal medicine men; two government inquiries are planned; and it's all due to "women's business" details of which can't be publicised.

The government inquiries may cost $millions.

These problems originated in the lengthy disputes of developers and conservationists over the building of a 200-metre bridge linking Hindmarsh Island with the banks of the River Murray south of Adelaide.

In April 1994 claims emerged that building of the bridge would threaten the fertility and health of Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal women.

Subsequently, in July, Robert Tickner, Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister, imposed a 25-year ban on building of the bridge.

The reason was sealed evidence apparently detailing that Ngarrindjeri women believed the bridge would lower their fertility and health.

Ian McLachlan, a federal Liberal MP, had to resign when some of the sealed information came to his office and a staff member photocopied it.

Meanwhile the Federal Court squashed the ban in February after an appeal by developers Tom & Wendy Chapman but Mr Tickner is appealing against the decision.

On May 19 claims emerged that the "women's business" was a fabrication and that most of the Ngarrindjeri women knew nothing about it and that men had invented it to help conservationists stop the bridge.

This led to calls for Mr Tickner's dismissal and talk by bankrupt developers of a $47 million damage claim.

Now there will be a State Government royal commission into the "women's business". A separate Federal inquiry is planned by Mr Tickner for October.

Some Aboriginals who support the fabrication claim now say that the opposing group is arranging to have them sung to death.

A spokesperson of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement says that the royal commission into cultural beliefs would offend the Racial Discrimination Act.

Skeptic Annie Warburton wants to nominate for the Skeptic Association's annual Bent Spoon Award the Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner "for allowing the superstitious beliefs…to dictate government policy." (the Skeptic Volume 15 No.2)

The Bent Spoon is awarded to an outstanding promoter of what the Skeptics consider "paranormal piffle".

Another attempt to bridge the widening ripples of controversy is a statement by the Catholic Church condemning the royal commission because it may inquire into cultural and religious beliefs.


(Investigator 51, 1996 November)

The building of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge was banned in 1994 for 25 years due to unspecified aboriginal "women's business".  (Investigator 43)

Afterwards the SA Royal Commission ruled that the women's business was a fabrication.

A further 6-month inquiry by Federal Court judge Justice Jane Mathews advised that concerns about desecration of aboriginal sites had "sufficient evidence". This cost over $1 million but was ruled invalid by the High Court in September.

This led to calls for a third inquiry.

Total costs on inquiries and court disputes have been estimated at $12 million which is almost double the estimated cost to build the bridge.

The bridge was promised by former SA Labor Government in 1990 to persuade a Westpac subsidiary to keep a marina company going on Hindmarsh Island. The SA Brown government said in 1994 it would have to pay Westpac at least $12 million if the bridge is not built.

What came out of all this is that the Heritage Protection Act of 1984 seems inadequate for solving disputes involving the issue of secrecy.

The latest phase is dispute over the possibility of special legislation by the Federal Government to exempt Hindmarsh Island from the Heritage Protection Act.


(Investigator 81, 2001 November)

In 1995 Investigator No. 43 asked: "How Far Will This Bridge Go?"

The answer is 290 metres. In March 2001 the 140-year-old ferry service linking Hindmarsh Island to the mainland of South Australia became defunct and the Hindmarsh Island Bridge officially opened.

For ten years the bridge was a national scandal that pitted Aboriginals against Whites and conservation against development. It led to costly court battles, a Royal Commission and dragged in unions, anthropologists, religions, the State Government and the Federal Government.

By 1994 the protesters known as "Friends of Hindmarsh Island" had gained support from unions, the Conservation Council, and Greenpeace. But the tide was still against them and "Built Environs" was about to start work.

The protesters then gained help from leaders of the Ngarrindjeri tribe. There were claims of "secret women's business" and Aboriginal burial grounds. The State Government tried to ignore this but the Federal Labor Government imposed a 25-year ban on construction. Prospects for building the bridge seemed sunk.

A Royal Commission established in 1995 then found the Ngarrindjeri claims to be a "fabrication".  

The Hindmarsh Island Bridge – first proposed in 1989 by developers Tom and Wendy Chapman – is now boosting tourism and property values in the area.

The Bridge cost $6.5million to build — but the legal disputes at least twice this amount. (Investigator 43 & 51; Sunday Mail 2001 March 4)

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