Government poised to shatter ancient heritage in Beeliar Wetlands

The Government will obliterate artefacts that are older than the entirety of western civilization, allowing no record to be made if it proceeds as it currently planned with Roe 8, the WA Greens have warned.

"The Barnett Government has spent the past three years ignoring and arbitrarily de-registering known ancient heritage sites in the Beeliar Wetlands in order to get approval for Roe 8 under the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Now it is poised to destroy them forever without even bothering to at least check, salvage or record what is there," Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren said.

"There is a formerly registered site on the northern banks of Bibra Lake known as DAA 4107 which once contained thousands of artefacts scattered across it including chert stone tools known to be at least 5,000 years old, as well as quartz and glass artefacts. 

"This confirms  that the Wetlands having been in continuous use by Nyungars for thousands of years, through to the contemporary period.

"Roe 8 is planned through the centre of DAA 4107 despite the fact that even the Department of Aboriginal Affairs states that the former site is likely to have more artefacts just below the surface of the ground.

"Traditional Owners have in good faith repeatedly responded to Government consultations for their views on Roe 8 and every time the majority has strongly opposed it and yet they are still not being listened to.

"The Minister has even ignored their request that if the road was approved, qualified Aboriginal site monitors would monitor all ground-disturbing activities so that if artefacts were discovered they could be salvaged and recorded.

"For the Minister to not even allow this, on top of the appalling processes he endorsed in order to manipulate Aboriginal heritage approval for Roe 8, demonstrates the height of Philistinism and contempt for Aboriginal heritage from the person charged with protecting it.

“The Greens call on anyone opposed to this wanton destruction of our State's oldest heritage to call their MP, call the Premier or come down to the Wetlands and peacefully protest to protect our State’s rich natural and cultural heritage.”

 

Fact file:

  • Bibra and North lakes (AKA lakes Walliabup and Coolbellup) have been in continuous use by Nyungar people for thousands of years for hunting, camping and fishing.  There are several DAA -acknowledged heritage sites at the lakes, including former and current registered archaeological heritage sites and a large ethnographic (spiritual) site encompassing both lakes.

 

  • A 2014 DAA internal site investigation report (available on request) notes the potential for subsurface artefacts in recently de-registered archaeological site DAA 4107, which lies directly in the path of Roe 8. The same report reveals that the DAA's investigation of DAA 4107 consisted of walking over it, noting that its surface was highly disturbed and digging a single 20 cm hole. Following this cursory investigation the site was de-registered.

 

  • 54 Traditional Owners  were surveyed by consultants for Main Roads during 2010 to 2012 for their views on Roe 8 (reports available on request). The majority of these Traditional Owners  opposed Roe 8 however a minority agreed, while insisting on a condition that qualified representatives from each Traditional Owner group would be employed to monitor all ground-disturbing works for Roe 8 in case artefacts were found up during those activities. This request was accepted by the DAA-administered Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee, which advises the Aboriginal Affairs Minister on Section 18 applications to disturb heritage sites. However,  it was not agreed to by the Aboriginal Affairs Minister. The only conditions in the Minister's section 18 approval for Roe 8 (which is available on request) applies to to the potential discovery of skeletal remains, not artefacts.  

 

  • The ACMC originally recommended in February 2013 that the Roe 8 Section 18 application to disturb heritage sites should be rejected – a decision that was based on the opposition to Roe 8 from Traditional Owners and the ethnographic (spiritual) significance of the lakes. This recommendation was subsequently overturned in June 2015 when the DAA required the ACMC to re-consider the same section 18 application. These and other matters were subjected to an unsuccessful  legal challenge by Traditional Owner Corina Abraham in the WA Supreme Court in mid-2016.