As part of A Way Forward: Final report into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge
from the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, we’d like to highlight the following comments (which can be found on page 51) from the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation on their own experience with the destruction and removal of cultural sites and objects.
Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation
The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) consists of traditional owner and custodian groups, the Ngarluma, the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi, and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo. Murujuga is the language name for the entirety of the area, encompassing the Burrup Peninsula and the offshore islands of the Dampier Archipelago.
MAC was established in 2006 to administer the Burrup and Maitland Industrial Estates in collaboration with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (WA) under an agreement that secured the development of the Burrup and Maitland strategic industrial areas in exchange for freehold title of Murujuga. Mr Peter Jeffries, Chief Executive Officer of MAC, explained that:
A condition of the agreement was the withdrawal of native title claims over the Burrup and that freehold title was to be transferred back to the state government and managed as a national park. Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation is in a unique position where the land and the culture are managed without any legal native title rights or interest but where the traditional custodians have legislated, administrative and traditional responsibilities for its protection.
AC is not a Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) for the purposes of the Native Title Act, and it does not receive any mining royalties. Instead MAC holds the freehold title to the Murujuga National Park which is comanaged with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
In MAC’s experience the AHA (WA) has not prevented the destruction or removal of sites and cultural objects For example, during the construction of Woodside’s North West Shelf facilities during the 1980s, 1828 pieces of rock art were removed from their cultural context and stored in a fenced compound for 30 years. These pieces were finally returned in 2014.
The MAC expressed fears that there might be financial repercussions following their statements in the hearing with the Committee. This is an important example of the unacceptable power imbalance between Aboriginal groups and proponents.