One of the most unusual yacht clubs in the world, Australia's Lake Eyre Yacht Club, surrounded by thousands of miles of desert, with water only every few years, is now stopped from sailing by the objections of the traditional owners of the land around the lake.
For many years, whenever the Lake has water, yacht owners stream in from all over the world to sail on her, but no more.
The Club's president, Bob Backway, has been negotiating with Australia's National Park and Wildlife organisation to get permission (see Sail-World Cruising's story), but the situation has reached a stalemate. This is the first year in history that the Yacht Club has been unable to sail on the Lake when it has water in it, demonstrating the rise of the power of traditional owners over significant areas of Australia.
The level of the lake is rising as floodwaters move in from surrounding creeks and the yacht club says it is the ideal time to sail but national parks still will not give approval.
Backway does not hide the fact that he's angry, and thinks that not only the sailing world should be alarmed. 'It's got ramifications Australia-wide because Indigenous people lived along every waterway in Australia, so if irrational decisions like this are allowed to be made we won't be able to boat anywhere,' he said.
The Environment Department says the club was refused permission because of cultural concerns from the Arabana people.
The club has been waiting for the Environment Department to have more meetings with the Arabana people who are the traditional owners, but this will only be meaningful if it occurs while there is still enough water in the Lake to sail.
........................ Thought-provoking letter from reader:
Sender: Donagh Waldron
Message: ?.....The club has been waiting for the Environment Department to have more meetings with the Arabana people.......?
I'm very surprised at this story. Why would the Yacht Club require the Australian Government to talk to the locals.
Backway should talk directly to the locals. Why not bring them out sailing? Teach their children to sail? Make the chief an honorary member?
Is Australian sailing stuck in the 19th century mindset that sailing is only for the elite!