As Academy Award nominees opened up their exclusive goody bags this year, they found vouchers for cosmetic surgery, invitations for complimentary stays at a lighthouse in Italy, and a chocolate box with a personalized video embedded inside. They also found a certificate to plots of land in Australia, one square meter of Indigenous territory in northeast Australia, gifted to recover the “spiritual connection” Aboriginal people have had with Australia and conserve and protect the area.
But members of the Barunggam and other Aboriginal communities, the original caretakers of the territory in question, say they were never contacted on the matter, and Indigenous groups cited in materials given out to Oscar nominees also say they had no communication with the organization behind the goody bag gift.
Pieces of Australia, a for-profit conservation organization that claims to buy and sell private land in order to protect it, is one of many brands that paid to be included in the award-nominee gift bags, which are valued at about $126,000. Companies pay up to $4,000 to secure a place in the bag but are not affiliated with the Academy and prepared by a private advertising company. The gift of land from Pieces of Australia is known as the “Australia Mate Conservation Pack” and includes a personalized certificate of land license, a plot number, and the promise that for every conservation pack purchased, two trees will be planted. Online, the pack retails for $79.95.
According to the Guardian, the pack also came with a handbook and claims that Pieces of Australia partnered with the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network, or ICIN, an Indigenous-led advocacy group that promotes and facilitates Indigenous inclusion in the carbon industry. But ICIN says there is no relationship with Pieces of Australia, and that there has been no correspondence with the Academy Awards, Distinctive Assets (the brand behind the goody bags), or Niels Chanelier, Pieces of Australia’s 29-year-old CEO.
According to Pieces of Australia’s website, the area where the parcels are located is nearly 38,000 square kilometers — an area just slightly smaller than Switzerland — and home to species like koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, and red belly black snakes. The company calls the area their “flagship piece of Australian native land that we are proud to own and preserve.”
Chaneliere told the Telegraph his intent was to get nominees to engage with the Australian bush in a responsible manner, adding that he also wanted to make a profitable business while raising awareness for Australia’s Indigenous heritage and the unique flora and fauna.
Pieces of Australia’s website includes a land acknowledgement but has also been accused of stealing text and photos from Indigenous groups. ICIN CEO Anna Boustead told National Indigenous Television, or NITV, that several photos featuring Aboriginal ranger groups appeared to have been taken from their website and reproduced by Pieces of Australia, as well as written material, without the organization’s permission.
Tim Wishart, principal legal officer of the Queensland South Native Title Lands, an organization that provides native title services, said that Chanelier’s business is a “money-making scheme” and that his involvement in the Oscars goody bags was an “unseemly and inappropriate piece of self-promotion.”
In 2022, Highland Titles gave out land parcels in Scotland that included nominees receiving the title of Lord, Lady, or Laird of Glencoe. On Piece of Australia’s “about us” section, Chanelier writes he was inspired by the novelty Scottish plots. “I realized our own backyard is abundant in unique flora/fauna known to the world and currently undergoing its own set of environmental stresses.”
Requests for comment from Pieces of Australia were not returned.