By Amy McQuire, October 30, 2013, Tracker Magazine.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: A site containing thousands of significant rock engravings, including a massacre site, on the precious Burrup Peninsula could be destroyed under a Pilbara Operator’s proposal to quarry rocks from the area.
The proposal by Burrup Materials has been blasted as “outrageous” by Wong-goo-tt-oo elder Wilfred Hicks, who on a recent visit to Sydney asked how much damage will be done to their “Bible” – the word he uses to describe the internationally renowned sites on the Burrup Peninsula and wider Dampier Archipelgo.
Thousands of rock engravings have been targeted by Burrup Materials who have lodged three prospecting licenses and one mining lease application at King Bay, on the western side of the peninsula.
The operator wants to quarry the area to supply crushed rock for a marina development.
The lease for the area at Kings Bay was originally held by Rio Tinto, which surrendered it to the WA government in the belief it would be incorporated into the national park.
A Rio-commissioned survey in 2008 found the area had high archeological value.
For Mr Hicks, it also has spiritual and cultural significance to his people.
The site is also significant because it contains standing stones memoralising the Flying Foam massacre in 1868 – where it is estimated up to 150 members of the Yaburrara tribe died. The series of killings nearly wiped out the tribe.
Coordinator of the Stand Up for the Burrup Campaign Mark Lawrence told Tracker the site had already been damaged by vandalism.
“The memories of the old stories are very fresh,” Mr Lawrence told Tracker.
“There were 138 standing stones for the Yaburrara people massacred… around 2001 or 2002 the vandals went there and smashed down 90 of them but are still about 40 left.”
Mr Hicks says “it’s just not on”.
“Aboriginal people don’t deal with things like that. The rocks with the carvings are spiritual. We’ve been fighting hard all along but more construction is going on in the Burrup and development. Enough is enough,” Mr Hicks told Tracker.
“How much more are they going to damage our Bible? How would we like to go into their church and destroy everything?
“What about realizing this is Aboriginal rock art and its there for European people as well.”
Greens MP Robyn Chappell has hit out at the government for even considering the proposal to quarry the area.
“It’s crunch time for heritage – how the government could even let such a crazy proposal get to first base defies belief,” Mr Chapple said in a statement.
Burrup Materials Director, Leon Kurt Mauritz told the ABC it was an economic decision to quarry close to the proposed marina site.
“We will be subject to all of the laws, both state and federal, with regard to the rights and interests of the Indigenous people,” he told the ABC.
“It is a criminal offence to disturb those Aboriginal artefacts, so I won’t be doing anything, until all the boxes are ticked.
“People are jumping to conclusions.
“I hope to establish a rock art museum on the site, I see this as an opportunity to centralise some of that rock art and protect it from the elements, protect it from theft and from vandalism, so that future generations can come and look at it, study it and enjoy it,” he said.
Mr Hicks rejects this idea.
“We will never have a museum because they shouldn’t be going around cutting rocks and moving rocks from where its lying, from where the ancestors and the people have left it there. It should be left alone, not moved because of new industry.”
Mr Chapple says the lease over the land was handed back to the government in order to protect its heritage value.
“This area is on the National Heritage List, thanks to the former federal Liberal government, and has been extensively surveyed, revealing thousands of petroglyphs (ancient Indigenous rock carvings).
“The Burrup has the largest concentration of rock art in the world, and is an extraordinary cultural landscape telling the story of ancient Aboriginal occupation over the past 30,000 years.
“Hamersley Iron (owned by Rio Tinto) was the former owner of the area now in question, but recently handed the lease back to the state government because of its heritage values, and to ensure that the rock art would never be mined.”
Mr Hicks told Tracker the operator should look for other places to mine rocks and has called on the WA government to ensure the area is protected.
“Why can’t they treasure our Australian rock art instead of damaging it all?
“There’s no need to have any more (industry), especially another quarry in the middle of the Burrup.”’