Comment by the Lake Eyre Yacht Club in response to objections raised with the South Australian Government by the Arabunna Peoples in regard to “Sailing” on Lake Eyre

10 March 2011


1.1. People have been intending to boat in the area since Charles Sturt carried a whaleboat into the desert and individuals have been successfully and safely boating on the Lake for 61 years.

1.2. As far as we know no other navigable waterway in SA has a complete ban on boating.

1.3. A ban on boating would set a precedent of far reaching consequences of national proportions.

1.4. Many Australians believe they have a common law right to access and boat on navigable waterways.

1.5. Given the above the chances of a ban on boating on Lake Eyre are slim.

1.6. A rare opportunity to boat on Lake Eyre has occurred and will remain only for a short period.

1.7. The Lake Eyre Yacht Club is nationally recognised as an authority on Lake Eyre and boating in the area.

1.8. The Lake Eyre Yacht Club through its activities contributes significantly to the economy of Far North South Australia.

1.9. The Lake Eyre Yacht Club is a not-for-profit organisation.

1.10. The Lake Eyre Yacht Club has actively promoted Arabunna Tours and encouraged local tourism since establishing the Clubhouse in Marree.


2.1. When initially informed of the complaint we were of the belief the ability of the Arabunna to influence the management of Lake Eyre National Park had recently been changed by government action such as the creation of an ILUA or co-management arrangements. This is not the case.

2.2. We do note the Arabunna have a Native Title Claim to an area surrounding and including Lake Eyre. We also note:

•  This claim has not been acceded to by the Government of South Australia.

•  It includes land also claimed by other indigenous groups

•  The only ILUA we can find relating to the Arabunna excludes lands that are in dispute, including Lake Eyre National Park.

2.3. For us to agree the Arabunna are the Traditional Owners of Lake Eyre would jeopardise our relationship with the other indigenous groups who may also claim ownership of the whole or parts of the Lake.


  3.1. We have no problem with the Arabunna holding any belief associated with Lake Eyre but with regard to section 116 of the Australian Constitution:

116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance , or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

We must point out the Arabunna can not impose their beliefs on us by Government decision.

3.2. We also note the complaint is based on a belief is very specific in nature – sailing . Does the belief specifically refer to sailing or is it a general “no go” statement?

Regardless we are aware and have photographic evidence of non Arabunna people walking, paddling, floating and swimming on Lake Eyre while participating in tours conducted by Arabunna Tours. The Arabunna Tour website ( has such an image and the Arabunna's legal group LAMP's web site ( mentions “swim on the shores of … Lake Eyre.” The complainant is well aware of and therefore must tolerate many other activities occurring on the Lake. For example Jerrycan Films annual journey onto the Lake by bicycle (Salt). I have discussed islands located in the middle of Lake Eyre South with a senior member of the Arabunna who has obviously visited the area.

We ask how strong this belief is and why does it seem to be Lake Eyre Yacht Club specific?


3.3. Lake Eyre is within a National Park and all persons have a non-exclusive right to recreate within its boundaries.


2.1. Control of boating and boating regulations in the State of South Australia is the domain of South Australia's Marine Safety Authority by Act of Parliament.

2.2. However to access Lake Eyre we have to cross Crown Land under Pastoral Lease and a beach controlled by DEH as a National Park.

2.2. In discussions we need to differentiate between day boating and overnight boating. Most tourists only have time to have a quick paddle in their canoe as they do now on Coongie Lakes. Their boating would be confined to "in shore" or within sight of their launch point. They might boat "in shore" for a few days while camped nearby.

2.3. Overnight boating requires additional safety equipment. We recommend SA Marine Safety apply the same standards they have for other large inland waters such as Lake Alexandrina where the same safety equipment has to be on board as if you were in open coastal waters.

2.4. In view of the Arabunna's sensitivity to the matter and the delay already in reaching a resolution we will not pursue holding a regatta on Lake Eyre this year.

2.5. We would like however to be able to boat in small groups under supervision from experienced members. Due to the narrow window of opportunity available to boat on this current flood we are not prepared to allow further delay. We feel the Complainant, and perhaps Government Officers, are well aware a delay could achieve their objectives.


2.6. As mentioned in the Introduction there has been no change in the legal situation over recent years and so we feel boating should be allowed to continue while discussions take place.

2.7. We agree to adopt similar provisions for boating safety and equipment as applied by SA Marine Safety to Lakes Alexandrina and Albert.


3.1 We acknowledge indigenous peoples of many groups have lived alongside and utilised waterways in the Far North of South Australia.

3.2 We have previously, in April 2007, asked the Arabunna if there are any “special places”, or sites registered in the Register of Aboriginal Sites and Objects we should avoid. We were not provided with a reply.


3.3 Our membership is already instructed to show respect for any heritage site of any culture.

3.4 Before any future trips to Lake Eyre our members will be asked to read and sign off on the following guide…

A Handbook for Managers and Recreational Users 2005

Department for Environment and Heritage & South Australian Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (


4.1. Sailing would have to rate highly as one of the most environmentally friendly recreation activities. Sailing has far less environmental impact than bushwalking.

4.2. Our members can easily be described as being environmentally aware. A number of our members study earth sciences and we have a couple who are Greens candidates. The Club itself has instigated environmental works in the Far North with our Fish Ladder project in association with the Dept of Transport. We are outspoken defenders of the Lake Eyre Basin on major environmental threats such as cotton growing and dam construction.

However we also follow a rational approach to environmental matters. For example we support sustainable farming practices, including support for local graziers who utilise a natural climate cycle with no chemicals to produce a quality meat product.

4.3. To reach a navigable depth any of the three basins comprising Lake Eyre must at least be 1000 square kilometres in area and have a shoreline 100's of kilometres long. It is a BIG lake.

4.4. For humans to access Lake Eyre there is inevitable minor environmental impact. We argue boating on Lake Eyre has no permanent impact on the environment. Any temporary impact such as footprints and boat roller marks is limited to an infinitesimally small percentage of the total area of park. Lake Eyre National Park probably has the smallest area of land devoted to public access than any Park in SA.

4.5. Our general policy is no motor vehicles to be driven onto the National Park. We use wide and soft tyred boat rollers to launch our boats. Should a flood exceed 3.5m we would ask permission to use a firm area of beach to vehicle launch larger boats as has been done on previous major floods.

4.6. We try to use where possible the firmest beaches for launching although this is becoming more difficult due to removal of access.

4.7. We camp on the numerous sandy gravel points around the Lake. At most campsites barely a footprint is left behind. These beaches comprise recent alluvial deposits which are regularly altered by wind and wave action.

4.8 We practice low impact camping as described in the above publication.

4.9 The infrequency of flood ensures natural environmental rest periods occur.


5.1. A National Park belongs to all Australians and we believe all Australians have a right to access Lake Eyre National Park. Over the past 5 or so years access to Lake Eyre South has been gradually restricted to the point that visitors can now only look at the Park from a distance. As a consequence many visitors attempt to drive overland with inevitable environmental consequences. This will not stop until proper public access is restored to the lake shore.

5.2. Lake Eyre South near the Oodnadatta Track has water in it more frequently than the other basins.

5.3 We are aware Arabunna Tours believe the Lake Eyre Yacht Club is a threat to business and wish to retain a monopoly on vehicle access to Lake Eyre South.

5.4 While we intend to vigorously pursue the access issue we don't mind if Arabunna Tours retain their monopoly on vehicle access to Emeroo Point.

5.5 We do however believe our members, visitors and other tour companies have a right to decent access to Lake Eyre South in an area more typical of the Lake shore, with deeper water and sandy clay beaches within metres of the National Park Boundary. This is particularly of value to aged visitors who do not have the ability to walk long distances as they must now.

5.6. This access [click thumbnail of map in left margin], via the "old" Oodnadatta Track around Priscilla Dune to a place we call View Point and on to the point opposite Swan Island has been used by us (since 1986), many locals, observant tourists and tour companies for many years.

5.7 With only 5.8Km of track, the first section being mostly along a ridge with no real watercourses, it is easy to maintain. It should be able to be used whenever the Oodnadatta Track is open and would not have the problems the two other PARs have with their long distances, stream erosion and water ponding problems.

5.8. We have already spoken with our sponsors and believe we can easily obtain the funds to maintain this access track. Eventually we hope, with tourist industry support, to purchase our own grader for use on all access tracks in the area.

Bob Backway, Commodore, Lake Eyre Yacht Club V1.2

21 Feb 2011