The desecration of sacred sites is an ongoing catastrophe

Mining company accused of deliberately desecrating an Aboriginal sacred site

Natasha Robinson The Australian April 09, 2012

A mining company has been accused of deliberately desecrating an Aboriginal sacred site in central Australia by setting off an explosion that split the rocky outcrop containing the site in half.

In a case that, if proven, would represent the first time a mining company had been successfully prosecuted under Australian law for desecration, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) has laid two complaints against the minerals company OM Mining for alleged contraventions of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act.

The authority alleges that OM Mining was fully aware that a rocky outcrop containing a sacred site known as Two Women Sitting Down was unstable as a result of the company's mining activities at its Bootu Creek manganese mine on the Banka Banka cattle station, 170km north of Tennant Creek.

The AAPA alleges OM Mining had detected cracks in and around the sacred site in early July last year, but did not advise the authority, allowing the cracks to widen as it continued to mine manganese in the area.

The authority says that the mining company built a large safety embankment in anticipation of the pit wall collapsing.

The sacred site is located less than 10m from the edge of the pit.

Despite allegedly being aware of the site's imminent collapse, OM Mining set off an explosion on July 21 near the base of the site at a depth of 26m below ground level.

The authority alleges the blast directly led to the destruction of the rocky outcrop containing the site, which collapsed the following day, splitting the site in half.

During the site collapse, the equivalent of 400 loads of a two-trailer road train of ore, soil and vegetation or 17,000cu m fell away and tumbled into the pit.

The Two Women Sitting Down rock formation carries enormous spiritual and cultural meaning and significance for the Warramungu people of the area, who are devastated at the site's destruction. Traditional custodians of the land on which the sacred site is found say that the site signifies the story of two Dreamtime spirits Bilgara and Kaladaku.

According to the dreaming story, the two powerful spirits' bloody clashes caused the red appearance of the rocks located at the sacred site.

OM Manganese a subsidiary of OM Mining was issued a clearance that identified all sacred sites in the area of its Bootu Creek mine in 2004.

The AAPA alleges that in February last year, OM Mining increased the angle of mining at its Masai pit, immediately adjacent to the sacred site, from 36 degrees to 55 degrees, to maximise production.

The authority is alleging that the company took such action without reference to its own Aboriginal liaison committee. It says it also failed to conduct geotechnical assessments of possible damage to the site.

The company conducted an investigation report after the site collapse, which confirmed that staff of OM Mining were aware of the unstable nature of the site before it collapsed.

According to the AAPA, little remediation of the site has been undertaken by the mining company.

The AAPA has accused the mining company of desecration, as well as contravening a condition of its authority certificate.

The authority will allege OM Mining was warned of the danger of the sacred site after cracks appeared in the rocky outcrop in the initial months of the mining project early last year, but the company continued to work close to the site's edge.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of $270,000 for damaging a sacred site and $130,000 for breaching restrictions of protected sacred sites.

OM Mining was contacted for comment but did not return calls. It has previously described damage to the sacred site by its mining activities as minor.

The case will be heard in the Darwin Magistrates Court on April 19.

Miner rejects claims of NT site desecration

The destruction of worlds largest Indigenous rock art Museum

Wilfred Hicks, spokesperson for the Wong-goo-tt-oo people and for Tim Douglas, Senior Lawman for the West Pilbara, speaks about Murjuga's rock art

Guardian Weekly, Wednesday 4 June 2008

"The Burrup Peninsula is full of rocks with lots of carvings - kangaroos, emus, snakes, dogs, turtles, whales, people - there's everything carved on those rocks. It's also a deeply spiritual place.

You walk out there, especially around some gorges, and you can feel the spirits. European people and anthropologists or other scientists who have been there at night say that it's frightening, that they get goose pimples when they walk around.

The Burrup means everything to our people. All that we know, that we sing about, that has been taught to us through our elders, is based on what is carved on those rocks out there. Our ancestors created each and every one of those engravings for a reason - a spiritual reason.

But the mining companies are destroying what's there. They say that they don't break the rocks anymore, that they just shift them. But the moment you move a rock with a carving of a person, a snake or whatever on it, you've broken its spirit. It's the same as moving someone from their grave. The spirit mourns, it cries for the place it was forced to leave.

The National Heritage listing of the Burrup was, of course, a great thing. But it hasn't lessened the threat to the land: Woodside will have to shift a lot of rocks to make room for its new processing plant. And it's not going to stop there. Woodside is not talking to us and hasn't been informing us of its plans for a while now, but I believe the company intends to dramatically increase its business in the future. This can only mean more development in the area.

We can't work out why the government leased Woodside that 1% [of the Dampier archipelago islands] - it's the very area that was in danger and that we wanted to protect. The whole Burrup should be seen as one, rather than bits and pieces. The rocks link to each other and should be left where they belong.

Mind, my people and the other two local Aboriginal custodian groups do have an agreement with the state government about industrial development on the Burrup. But I can't talk too much about that. All I can tell you is that it's not worth the paper it's written on.

I can say that they must want the development - the dollars. But the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo [one of the land's traditional custodian groups, of which Wilfred Hicks is an elder] are not trying to stop development. What's there already, we can't do anything about. After all, we can't expect the companies to pack up and move. And the economics is good - for them, the state, the country - even for our people: we get jobs out of it.

But rather than adding to the demise of our heritage by creating a new facility, why can't Woodside take its new buildings, trucks and pipeline further out? There's plenty of empty land for them to go to. Apache Energy moved 40km down and they're not having any problems. It wouldn't effect the business side of it, and people would still get to keep their jobs - they'd just be working in a different area. Woodside reckons it's too expensive to move elsewhere. But what: they'd rather see our heritage get broken, our bible torn apart?

At the moment we're working hard to get the Burrup on the World Heritage list so that it gets the respect it deserves. After all, the Burrup is there for everybody - like Stonehenge in England, which by the way is thousands of years younger than this rock art. We've been pushing for the listing for the past three to four years. The International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO) has been helping us with making applications to the minister, that sort of thing. But we've got nowhere so far. We can't get the state government to back it.

They say that it's state government land, that the Burrup isn't within the boundary areas handed down as part of the native title around these parts. The courts rejected our claim. They reckoned that native title no longer exists over the Burrup because the original group was wiped out in a massacre and is no longer a distinct group. But that's not right. My people, being the closest group to them, had close ties with them, and some of us are the descendants of those who escaped.

But it's not just the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo who cry over the destruction and desecration of our land. All the other Aboriginal groups around here are also upset. I have to say, it didn't help matters that at first the other groups didn't want the World Heritage listing. I don't know if it was because they valued the money over their heritage, or because the powers that be encouraged us to fight so that we would be divided, which would leave them to do as they liked. But seeing the damage now, the others are coming in and saying that what has been done to our country should never have happened.

We now all want World Heritage protection for the Burrup. Without it the damage will only get worse, and eventually there'll be nothing left."

• Wilfred Hicks was speaking to Carmela Ferraro.

Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA) raises awareness about the Burrup Peninsula, Australia's largest cultural monument, an Aboriginal sacred site. FARA asks people around the world to literally stand up at places of cultural significance in their country, wearing T-shirts spelling out the slogan "Stand Up For The Burrup".

Western Australia's Burrup Peninsula is the world's largest outdoor rock engraving site, containing rock art of world importance possibly dating back to 30,000 years ago, including possibly the first ever representation of the human face in history. The Western Australian Government is still planning to turn part of this site into a natural gas production and processing facility against the wishes of some of the site`s Aboriginal custodians and the scientific community.

In the foothills of the Himalayas, in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, Lumbini