The History Council understands that through identification of and access to appropriately registered heritage sites, Western Australians connect with the State's history in a tangible way. The Council advocates that
- Any new Heritage legislation or strategy, at state or national level, should take a holistic approach to heritage. This includes Aboriginal, built, industrial, archaeological and environmental, tangible and intangible relating to customs, objects, places, rituals, ceremonies, languages and stories.
- That the principles of the Burra Charter, developed in Australia and adopted in 1979, remain as the basis for the protection, interpretation and development of heritage sites. Download the current version The Burra Charter 2013 (Adopted 31.10.2013) (2.1MB)
- These principles are further enhanced by the adoption, at all levels, of the charters endorsed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and other international bodies.
- Australians should have equal opportunities to access and engage with history and heritage at a local, state and national level, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age or location. In support of that goal, a national policy should provide for resourcing and support for groups and individuals that may be disadvantaged, in comparison with other groups, due to factors such as their socio-economic environment and distance. This resourcing and support may be via educational links and opportunities, through the curriculum framework; infrastructure development, including regional centres, broadband and other digital initiatives; direct funding or grants; and the development of support resources.
The History Council of Western Australia recognises the long heritage of Aboriginal peoples in Western Australia. We also note the fact that colonisation and dispossession have contributed to social and economic disadvantage of Aboriginal people in Western Australia.
We support all opportunities for the Aboriginal peoples of Western Australia to share their stories and for visitors to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of Western Australia’s Aboriginal peoples, their heritage and culture. We support programs and research that focus on Aboriginal cultures, languages, and identity, and the unique place of Aboriginal societies within Western Australia.
The History Council recognises that:
- Aboriginal heritage is a living heritage that must be recognised and protected.
- There is a need to give certainty to Aboriginal peoples in the ownership and protection of their heritage.
- Connection to country is a fundamental aspect of Aboriginal heritage and culture.
- In establishing any spiritual or actual connection relating to land use and relationship to the land, due weight shall be given to oral tradition and other histories.
- Recognition must be given to customary cultural activities by Aboriginal people in order to allow them to directly participate in the management of land. Aboriginal people must be supported to manage their own heritage.
- The following heritage issues are of particular concern to the Council:
The History Council has made a Submission in support of the Eastern Guruma People’s application under section 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Commonwealth) for the protection of Ngajanha Marnta (or Spear Hill), Western Australia.
In March 2018, the State Government, under s.18 of the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, gave approval to Fortescue Mining Group (FMG) to build a railway line in close proximity to the hill, Ngajanha Marnta. The hill is protected under the state act, but the valley where the railway would be constructed is not protected, although it hosts sites that are religiously connected to Ngajanha Marnta.
We are concerned that 23,000-year-old sites will be desecrated and destroyed with permission from the Western Australian Government. As members of Australia’s first peoples, the Eastern Guruma’s belief systems date back thousands of years. The archaeological records of these beliefs and practices are part of Western Australia’s history and must be protected.
We have expressed concern that, according to the Eastern Guruma, FMG has not consulted properly with the people and their report outlining the need to protect Ngajanha Marnta has been ignored.
As concerned historians we have requested that the Eastern Guruma people and their neighbours’ 37,000-year-old history be recognised. Their histories, which are revealed by oral, documentary, and material culture evidence, are important to Western Australia and the nation’s ongoing history.
Dampier Rock Art Precinct (also known as Burrup or Murujuga)
This area of the Pilbara has one of the largest collections of engraved rock art in the world. The rock art (petroglyphs) are of immense cultural and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people, and of national and international heritage value.
A number of State and Commonwealth mechanisms are in place to protect the unique ecological and archaeological features of the Burrup (Murujuga) Peninsula and the Archipelago. The Murujuga National Park created in January 2013 also recognises the cultural heritage value of the rock art and its environment.
In March 2018, the traditional owners agreed to pursue world heritage protection and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation has started working with the State Government to secure World Heritage Listing through UNESCO for the Burrup Peninsula and the Archipelago.
In 2017 the Department of Water Environmental Regulation released a Draft Burrup Rock Art Strategy and called for submissions. The History Council was heartened by this Strategy, which makes the following points:
‘The Burrup Peninsula and surrounds is host to industry that contributes to the local, state, and national economy and provides employment in the area. In response to concerns that industrial emissions may be impacting the rock art, a range of scientific studies have been conducted over the past 15 years. These studies have included measurements of air quality, microclimate, dust deposition, colour change, mineral spectrometry, microbiological analyses, accelerated weathering studies, and air dispersion modelling. The conclusions of some of these studies have been contested, and recent independent reviews commissioned by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) have identified a range of improvements that could be made to provide robust, reliable results about emissions and their impact on the rock art in which stakeholders and the public can have confidence.
This strategy aims to build on the previous work on the Burrup Peninsula to deliver a scientifically rigorous approach to monitoring and management that will provide an appropriate level of protection to the rock art. It provides the monitoring and analysis required to determine whether accelerated change is occurring to the rock art; outlines other studies required to determine the causes and conditions that may result in deterioration of the rock art; and describes a risk-based approach for the management of impacts to the rock art that is consistent with the Government’s responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act 1986. Principles and governance arrangements detailed in the strategy will ensure that scientific studies are undertaken with rigour and that review mechanisms are in place to provide assurance that the best scientific information is available to guide management actions.
The development and implementation of this strategy will be consultative and collaborative with stakeholders, including Traditional Owners, community groups and industry.’
However, the State Government is planning two new industrial projects on the Burrup Peninsula, which potentially will cause irrevocable harm to the ancient petroglyphs. There is an alternative location, the Maitland Industrial site south of Karratha, purpose-built in 2003 in order to keep industry away from the ancient rock art.
The Friends of Rock Art have appealed to the WA Minister for the Environment, Stephen Dawson, the Minister for Heritage, David Templeman, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to overrule the proposal of the Premier and the Department of State Development.
The History Council advocates that:
- The whole of Rottnest Island should be listed on the State Heritage List.
- The appointment of a member with history/heritage expertise to the Rottnest Island Authority Board and a permanent senior management staff position with academic qualifications in history/heritage
- The delivery of interpretive and educational experiences to visitors on the island by both staff and volunteers should be consistent, accurate and engaging
- Full advantage should be taken by partnering with the History Council, History Teachers Association or similar organisations to achieve this end; and
- The principles presented in the History Council Advocacy position on Aboriginal Heritage should be applied to Aboriginal heritage issues relevant to Wadjemup.