ARCHAEOLOGISTS say they’ve uncovered new evidence that undermines official reports used to justify the delisting of Aboriginal heritage sites along Roe 8 in the Beeliar wetlands.
Last weekend a team of archaeologists and the Aboriginal community conducted a pro bono dig on behalf of traditional owner Corina Abraham and found numerous artifacts on Cockburn council-controlled land alongside the route of the controversial highway extension.
Archaeologist Joe Dortch says they found quartz crystals, granite and chert that may have been used for grinding stones or cutting and flaking tools, although the small size of most of the fragments will make it difficult to establish exactly what they were used for. But they were definitely bought into the area by human activity, as none occur naturally.
Prof Dortch says what makes the find significant was that the ground was relatively undisturbed, making it possible to establish a chronology of Aboriginal occupation of the area. He says the picture they’ve built up suggests the route of Roe 8 along Hope Road in Bibra Lake would be in a similar condition.
But Department of Aboriginal Affairs reports used to recommend ministerial consent to disturb the sites and later delist them, claim the ground is too disturbed to contain anything useful.
Controversially, the DAA sent out two archaeologists in 2015 to follow up on those earlier reports, but they dug just one barren 20-centimetre hole before agreeing with the conclusion (“Hole lot of nothing,” Herald, September 19, 2015).
Aboriginal Affairs minister Peter Collier used the pair’s report to recommend the department’s Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee reconsider its previous opposition to the Roe 8 route. The committee, which had numerous new faces but was lacking a legislatively-required anthropologist, overturned its earlier decision and recommended the minister give Main Roads approval to disturb the site.
Ms Abraham said the archaeologists’ preliminary report and a request from her lawyers to have the sites re-registered were sent to the DAA on Sunday.
But she says advice she’s been given is that Mr Collier’s consent will stand and the findings won’t have any impact on bulldozers currently carving the highway’s route through the bushland.
“It’s just sad that we’ve got this new evidence which shows our cultural connection and the significance of this land, but we have no avenues to do anything,” Ms Abraham told the Herald.
Her appeal to federal Aboriginal minister Nigel Scullion to intervene has also been turned down, though he has yet to say why. Mr Scullion has 28 days to provide a response to Ms Abraham, after which she can appeal.
Ms Abraham says while she can’t stop the bushland being cleared for the moment, she’s hoping that Main Roads will at least consent to further archaeological digs along the route so any material can be recovered.
She says there was a precedent during the construction of Fiona Stanley Hospital, where enough artifacts were recovered from cleared bushland to create an interpretive display at the hospital.
“I am running as the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Willagee, which covers the Bibra Lake area,” Ms Abraham says.
“I’m standing to fight not just for country, but for all those that face discrimination whether they’re black, white or brindle; I’m standing on behalf of everyone.”
The DAA says it’s now waiting on the archaeologists’ final report, which will then be considered by the ACMC, but confirms Roe 8 works will proceed.
“Section 18 consent with conditions for this project has been granted. Aboriginal heritage monitors are overseeing the work onsite,” the department told the Herald in a release.
It reiterated previous reports dating back to 1973 which show all surface material had already been collected and stored at the WA museum.
“In 2004 an audit by an archaeologist was undertaken which confirmed that the site has been destroyed by landscaping and grassing for recreational purposes,” the department told the Herald.
by STEVE GRANT
Due full credit
OOPS, we forgot to credit the photographer who supplied the image of police horses charging protestors in our recent story about Roe 8 (“Mounted police charge freight link protestors,” Herald, January 21, 2017). The action-packed pic was taken by Renee Pettitt-Schipp, sister of Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt. Sorry about that Renee.
While we’re at it, Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett contacted us to say we got it wrong last week and he didn’t tell premier Colin Barnett he’d rather a bridge over Kwinana Freeway than a rail line to Thornlie when the pair met at Cockburn Arc (“Cockburn line ‘not a priority’,” Herald, January 28, 2017). Although the council later issued a release saying exactly that, Mr Howlett said the two of them only discussed the bridge and the Arc project when they met.