- by Richard Titelius
- The Guardian
- Issue #1985
After Rio Tinto infamously blew up the Juukan Gorge in 2020 in the Pilbara gained worldwide attention, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal activists in WA were activated to stop further destruction like this from happening again.
Hundreds of sites are at risk. Many intersect sacred waterways, cave systems, Songlines and Dreamtime locations with irreplaceable engravings, paintings and artefacts dating back tens of thousands of years. We must protect the world’s oldest living culture. We must respect the authority of Aboriginal people and their strong cultural responsibility to protect and care for their country and significant sites.
After the incident, the McGowan government was pushed into a review of the deficient State Aboriginal Heritage laws that allowed this tragedy to occur. However, now that the draft bill has been open to public scrutiny, it has angered and disappointed many Aboriginal people in the state. A coalition called Protect Aboriginal Heritage WA was formed of four Aboriginal groups, including Land Councils who represent Aboriginal groups on these issues. On Saturday, 23rd October, they held a rally in Victoria Gardens on the Swan River or Derbal Yirrigan in its Noongar name to protest and inform people of the issues which they have with the bill for the proposed reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
The most significant issues are there are no powers for significant and meaningful consultation with Aboriginal elders over mining on Aboriginal land, including the power of veto over sites important to Aboriginal ontology or being. There were a number of speakers from both the Noongar people of the southwest and Aboriginal groups in the Pilbara. They spoke of arriving at sacred sites that had been destroyed without their knowledge or approval. An Aboriginal spokeswoman from the Pilbara who had been given permission by her elders to speak on their behalf said they wanted to have heritage to give the next generations. Some elders and children who were also present at the meeting place after the march by the 400 people across the Matagarup Bridge to Optus Stadium – an imposing Western cultural sacred site on the other side of the Swan River.
The Communist Party of Australia supports the Aboriginal people of Western Australia in their push to ensure the current bill is not enacted until there has been meaningful consultation with Aboriginal groups representing Aboriginal people whose land could be affected by resource development, including the right of veto by Aboriginal elders over significant Aboriginal Heritage sites.