NSWALC Councillor Craig Cromelin
NSW Aboriginal Land Council Councillor for the Wiradjuri Region 2007 – 2019.
It was 1986. A 22-year-old man busily filled in a membership form at the Murrin Bridge Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC).
Craig Cromelin had been part of the community since childhood and was keen to join the new Land Council and make his mark locally within NSW’s new Aboriginal Land Rights network.
Little did he know it but signing the form that day sparked a passion that would ultimately see the Ngiyampaa Wiradjuri man represent his region nationally and internationally, as a Councillor with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
The young Craig was already a carpenter, after leaving home at the age of 17 and undertaking a pre-apprenticeship course in Dubbo.
Craig says his experience in the big smoke shaped him.
“I left home for Dubbo at 17 and I like to say that I came home a man. I’d learned my trade and became an independent person through genuine life skills.”
Craig became a Board member at Murrin Bridge LALC, co-founded Australia’s first Aboriginal wine company and learned all he could about governance, running community meetings and how to interact with agencies that visited his small community.
The Land Rights network at the time consisted of a three-tiered structure of NSWALC’s Councillors, Regional Aboriginal Land Councils and the Local Aboriginal Land Councils.
So, it was no surprise that by 2005, Craig Cromelin was nominated by his LALC as one of two delegates to the Wiradjuri Regional Aboriginal Land Council (RALC) and then elected unopposed as the Region’s Chair.
It was a pivotal time for the Land Rights network.
NSWALC itself had been in administration since 2004 but the administration period was almost over, and Craig Cromelin knew what he wanted to do.
“My time as Chair of Wiradjuri RALC gave me the confidence and insight to be able to consider running as a Councillor in 2007. I knew I was ready.”
Following the new Council’s election in 2007, Councillors had a big job ahead of them.
“We had to deal with major changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the regions. We had the enormous task of repairing NSWALC’s reputation with the Network. There was a rift between us, and we had to re-engage with our members in a different way.”
Re-uniting the Land Rights Network remains one of Councillor Cromelin’s proudest memories along with becoming the NSWALC Chair in 2013 for two years, and genuinely engaging with community, political stakeholders and the media.
“We would not be where we are today if Council didn’t do the hard work of bringing the Network back together. That 2007 – 2011 term was critical to everything that’s followed.”
Councillor Cromelin’s 12 years as a NSWALC Councillor haven’t dimmed his passion for self-determination, governance and leaving a solid structure for future generations.
He’s proud of representing NSWALC and his people at the United Nations on numerous occasions and walking with communities at the successful 2014 protest against the Crown Lands Amendment (Public Ownership of Beaches and Coastal Lands) Bill, as well as many other marches.
But they all pale before his most outstanding inspiration – the people of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Network itself.
“Currently anyone from any walk of life, provided they’re not exempt, can nominate to run for Council. It’s an inclusive process that recognises life experience and life skills as being of incredible value. For me, someone who doesn’t have a degree but is educated in the school of life and taught by some of the greatest teachers in my Elders, I want that process to continue.”
And Craig Cromelin’s thoughts for candidates becoming new Councillors?
“My biggest challenge was coming to grips with the absolute enormity of the legislation and NSWALC’s role. The importance of coming from local and regional perspectives. A role like this comes with many responsibilities. Councillors must rise to the standards set in legislation and the high expectations of the Land Rights network. You may not totally understand till you’re in it. You’ll make lifelong friends. And most importantly, embrace and encourage the younger generations to want to be a part of the Land Rights network. They’re our future.”