Scarred protection

• The condition of this rare scar tree in Cockburn being examined by Cr Chontelle Sands is indicative of the threats they face; it’s been burnt, lopped for power lines and in the past faced the chainsaw because it was too close to a driveway. Photo by Steve Grant

PERTH’S little-known and rapidly disappearing “scar trees” could be offered better protection in Cockburn.

Created by Aboriginal people who used bark for practical purposed such as creating shields and temporary shelters, or carving to mark spiritually significant places such as initiation or burial sites, scar trees are a rare physical reminder of pre-colonial history around the Swan River.

When Cockburn councillor Chontelle Sands came across a reference to a scar tree in a recent development application and didn’t know what it referred to, she dug a little deeper and was concerned to find how vulnerable they are.

“I’ve heard of councils – not Cockburn – where they haven’t even been discussed and they’ve just been cut down,” Cr Sands said.

She’s asked for staff to present a report to a future council meeting identifying local and state planning measures to protect Aboriginal sites, with scar trees singled out for attention.

Clearing

Cr Sands says it’s somewhat easier to protect scar trees on public land, but wants the council to have the power to make sure they don’t fall victim to private developments.

Scar trees are protected under state and Commonwealth law, but are still in danger of being cut down for firewood, or during land clearing. They are also vulnerable to bush fires in some areas, and can be subject to vandalism.

Often they’re not easy to find, as fires, pruning, accidents or vandalism can make the scars difficult to identify, while some locations are kept secret to protect the trees.

Under WA’s Aboriginal heritage act, objects which are important or significant to Aboriginal culture are given automatic protection. Scar trees aren’t specifically mentioned, but the legislation is under review and there have been calls for this to be remedied.

Commonwealth legislation does rope in “culturally significant trees”.

Cr Sands said the council would liaise with the local Noongar community to get insight into significant trees, but would also talk to other groups who may have travelled through the area historically.

by MIREILLE CHRISTIE

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