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Changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act saw protesters at the Australian State Parliament last year
Image credit and © ABC News: Katrin Long

Laura Gartry, writing for ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), reports that –

A proposed new West Australian heritage bill highlights a “disturbing racial differentiation” between the level of protection offered between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal sites, archaeologists say. It comes after the State Government released for public comment the draft Heritage Bill 2015, aimed at modernising heritage regulation.

The draft bill oversees the protection of all WA heritage sites except Aboriginal sites of significance, which come under the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA), itself also the subject of proposed changes by the Government. The draft Heritage Bill 2015 has been welcomed by the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA), the peak national body for the profession. But spokesman Professor Ben Smith from the University of Western Australia said the discrepancies and contradictions between the two proposed sets of changes were “untenable”.

“There is a perhaps unintentional but nonetheless very disturbing racial differentiation between the two types of heritage,” Professor Smith said. He noted how in the new Heritage Bill, the decision to add or remove a site will remain with the minister for heritage, while in revisions to the Aboriginal Heritage Act the decision will be left with a senior public servant.

“So here we have a very interesting contradiction where a site of state significance is Aboriginal, it will be a civil servant that decides whether it goes on [or off] the register. If the site is non-Aboriginal — that is settler, colonial — it is the minister that decides … the minister is the highest authority possible,” Professor Smith said.

“We have watering down of the Aboriginal Heritage Act whereas we have continued strength of non-Aboriginal preservation.”

“We seem to want to protect white fella heritage, better than we want to protect black fella heritage” adds AACAI WA Chairperson Phil Czerwinski.

Full article here. See also our earlier features on Australian heritage issues by keying in Australia in the search box above.

 
One of thousands of rock engravings made over a period of some 30,000 years by the aboriginal peoples of the Murujuga Peninsula of Western Australia
Images courtesy Dr Ken Mulvaney
 
As the United Kingdom celebrates Australian Indigenous heritage at the British Museum and as Sotheby’s London Indigenous Australian Art auction achieves record prices, back in Australia the Western Australian Government silently moves to deregister Aboriginal sacred sites.
 
“The Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people are deeply concerned about the effects of the proposed development on the Burrup Peninsula. As the traditional owners, we have a spiritual connection given to us by the Mingkala and a responsibility handed down to us by our ancestors to ensure the cultural heritage values of the Burrup are protected for future generations”.
 
Pilbara Native Title Service, June 2002
 
Once Australia is erased it can never be put back. It will be lost forever. To us this is an enormous sadness. When I speak to Wong-goo-tt-oo elder and law man Wilfred Hicks about the Murujuga situation there is great sadness in his voice too and we should all think about the cultural grief and suffering created by the destruction of culture and heritage in Australia. It is a crime against humanity.
 
Peter Hylands
 
Read more here.
 
 
Beginning on the 23 April, and running through to 2 August 2015, the British Museum will be hosting an exhibition  focusing on the remarkable story of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures –
 
The show will be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, and will celebrate the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This culture has continued for over 60,000 years in diverse environments which range from lush rainforest and arid landscapes to inland rivers, islands, seas and urban areas today. Hundreds of different Indigenous groups live across this vast continent, each with their own defined areas, languages and traditions.
 
Indigenous Australians developed sustainable ways of living from the land and sea using objects of great beauty and efficiency. From the deadly precision of a boomerang to bags and baskets for carrying water and food – essential for survival – these objects require supreme skill to design and make. In the exhibition, examples of practical objects such as spear-throwers (the ‘Swiss Army knife of the desert’) will sit alongside magnificent works of art, such as Uta Uta Tjangala’s Yumari (1981) – a masterpiece now featured on the Australian passport. The oldest continuing art tradition in the world, Aboriginal art tells stories of the great ancestral beings who created the land and the people, and gave the law and lessons for living which still continue today. In contrast, the objects from the Torres Strait Islands reflect the centrality of the sea and its creatures to the Islanders’ beliefs and way of life, including spectacular turtle-shell masks used in ceremonies before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Together, the objects in the exhibition will give an overview of Indigenous Australian culture throughout the continent, both remote and urban.
 
More here.
   
 
 
Aboriginal rock art at Nourlangie, Australia. Image credit: Thomas Schoch /CC BY-SA 2.5.
 
Sci-News.com reports on 25 September that –
 
A new study, reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science, explores behavior of Aboriginal Australians during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM for short).
 
“The period scientists call the Last Glacial Maximum is the most significant climatic event ever faced by humans on this continent. The magnitude of change was phenomenal. Lakes dried up, forests disappeared, deserts expanded, animals went extinct and vast swathes of the Australian land mass would have been simply uninhabitable,” said Prof Sean Ulm from James Cook University in Cairns, who is a second author of the study.
 
Annual temperatures plummeted by as much as 10 degrees below present-day levels, with massive reductions in rainfall. Glaciers appeared in the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania. “This was a time of massive change. Sea levels fell more than 120 metres during the LGM, exposing much of the continental shelf and connecting mainland Australia to Papua New Guinea and Tasmania.”
 
Prof Ulm and his Australian colleagues teamed up with scientists from the United Kingdom and Canada to use advanced geospatial techniques to analyze archaeological radiocarbon dates from across Australia.
 
“The archaeological evidence reflects major changes in settlement and subsistence patterns at this time. Many previously occupied areas were abandoned. There were changes to hunting practices, the types of food people were eating, and the technologies they were using, to deal with new circumstances. We expect there would have been huge impacts on social relationships and religious beliefs as well, but these types of changes are much harder to detect in the archaeological record. One thing we can say for sure is that extreme climate change results in the fundamental social and economic reorganisation of society. This was certainly true in the past and will be true in the future.”
 
Full feature here.
 
 
 
Damage to the sacred Horse’s Head Australia Aboriginal site by OM Manganese Mining
Image credit AFP
 
OM Manganese Mining has been found guilty of desecrating a sacred Australia Aboriginal site in Australia’s Northern Territory. According to BBC News Asia
 
Mining firm OM Manganese was found guilty on Friday – the first time a company has been successfully prosecuted in Australia for desecration of a sacred site. The site is known as Two Women Sitting Down and is at Bootu Creek, north of Tennant Creek. OM Manganese was fined A$150,000 ($134,000 £88,000).
 
Prosecutors told the Darwin Magistrates Court that the company performed explosive blasting close to the site to break up ground, Australian broadcaster ABC reported. The company was permitted to mine in the area, but was advised to steer clear of sacred sites, and was warned in early 2011 that cracks were appearing in rocks at the Bootu Creek site, the broadcaster said.
 
Dr Ben Scambary, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, said that the site was of great significance to Australia’s indigenous people. “This site… relates to a dreaming story about a marsupial rat and a bandicoot who had a fight over bush tucker [native Australian bush food],” he said. “As the creation ancestors fought, their blood spilled out, turning the rock a dark-red colour that is now associated with manganese.”
 
Kunapa community representative Gina Smith said: “It will always remain a sacred site to us, but it has been ruined and we don’t know what to do because this has never happened to the old people. “It has been there for thousands of years as part of our culture and our story.” Indigenous Australians believe the land is the mother of creation, and is a living, breathing mass full of secrets and wisdom…
 
Full feature here.
 
 
 
An example of Quinkan (an Australian Aboriginal mythological being) rock art
Source Wikimedia. Image credit Michael Gardner
 
Some of the world’s most extensive and ancient rock painting galleries surround the little town of Laura, Queensland,  North-East Australia. “Aboriginal people have made their home in the Laura River valley for at least 50,000 years. In the wet season, they would camp under rock shelters on the high ground. This is where their rock art can be found, some of which are available for public viewing. (Wikipedia).
 
The Australian however quotes IP Shanks as saying that –
 
GINA Rinehart wants to explore for minerals near Laura (“Rock art now: writing on the wall if Gina digs”, 2-3/3). Forget it Gina, those art galleries are 40,000 years old, compared to Stonehenge, which is only 5000 years old.
 
Can anyone imagine the British allowing mining exploration anywhere near Stonehenge? The Laura art work is the oldest in the world and belongs to all. The giant horse cave is truly awe-inspiring and probably the first indigenous representation of a horse in Australia. What Australia urgently needs is legislation to control its rapacious miners.
 
More here.
 
 

Sacred Aboriginal sites at Walmadany in Western Australia. Image credit SBS

WORLD NEWS AUSTRALIA reports yesterday that –

The West Australian government has sparked immediate protests after granting resources giant Woodside the right to disturb Aboriginal sacred sites as part of the proposed $40 billion James Price Point gas hub near Broome.
 
Locals, environmentalists and Australian Greens leader Christine Milne have all condemned the granting of Woodside’s application under the state’s Aboriginal Heritage Act, which allows work in sand dunes at Walmadany. As far back as 1989, the state’s Department of Aboriginal Sites identified the site as an area of “major” heritage significance, dense with archaeological material, including hearths and bone remains. The area was controversially described as an “unremarkable beach” by Premier Colin Barnett in 2010.
 
Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier confirmed on Tuesday that Woodside could work in the area, after an application hearing in late December. “The minister has agreed with a recommendation from the Department of Indigenous Affair’s Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC) that section 18 approval be granted for site investigation activities associated with the development of the Browse LNG precinct,” a spokesperson for Mr Collier said.
 
It is understood the application has been granted on the condition local elders be present to monitor the work. Senator Milne immediately called on Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to intervene.”I’m shocked that the West Australian government is allowing such destructive acts to happen,” she said.” Tony Burke has to step in immediately to protect this priceless heritage.”
 
Locals from the No Gas campaign said the sand dunes and monsoon vine thickets at James Price Point had been recommended for protection by the WA Environmental Protection Authority twice in the past 20 years, but were now deemed suitable for Woodside works. “The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee accepted it then. It has been ignored by the minister now. They are trying to rewrite history,” said Phillip Roe, law boss of the Goolarabooloo people.
 
Full article here.
 
 

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