Former Australian of the Year joins Lake Eyre sailing controversy

Lake Eyre sailing - will it ever happen again?
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Dick Smith, former Australian of the Year and keen activist across his wide ranging interests, has joined the fracas surrounding the ban on sailing on Lake Eyre (see http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/international/Lake-Eyre-Yacht-Club---no-sailing,-says-traditional-owners/80901!Sail-World_story). Smith has criticised the South Australian government's boating ban on Lake Eyre, calling it 'amazing.'

Smith's protest has taken the form of a letter to Premier Mike Rann objecting to the government's decision to ban sailing on the lake because local Aboriginal people have claimed the lake is culturally significant.

Water levels in the lake are at their highest in two decades, and for many years now members of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club have rushed from all over the world to sail on the lake whenever it has water.

In joining the debate, there are ironies which could turn out to be fortuitous. Mr Smith is a former ambassador for the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and was last year appointed Rear Admiral of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club.

After sailing on the lake with his family last year, Mr Smith wants to return for the club regatta in July, he told The Australian newspaper. 'I have written a letter to the Premier about this,' he said. 'This situation seems amazing to me.'

In his letter to Mr Rann, the philanthropist offered his services as a 'go-between' to find a solution to the dispute.

'I think the idea of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club is really fantastic for South Australia, for tourism and for Australia in general,' Mr Smith says in the letter. 'I am sure you agree that almost every watercourse in Australia would have some degree of Aboriginal significance, but it would be a great pity if sailing, canoeing, boating or general enjoyment on Lake Eyre was stopped.'

Mr Smith said the club would respect the wishes of the Arabana people. 'If there are sensitive or sacred areas, we will keep away from them,' he said. 'I hope that we can have sensible discussions to allow both old Australians and new Australians to co-exist.'

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Grace Portolesi told 'The Australian' newspaper that it could be a long time until an agreement was reached.