Burrup peninsula rock art: Western Australia to seek world heritage listing
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A Senate report warning of damage to the 50,000-year-old treasures has persuaded the state government to act

Calla Wahlquist

The Guardian Australia, 27 Aug 2018

‘The Western Australian government has formally committed to pursuing world heritage status for the Burrup peninsula, one of the oldest and richest examples of rock art in the world.

‘It comes five months after a Senate inquiry report into managing the site warned that the cumulative emissions from heavy industry on the peninsula, centred around the north-west shelf gas project, could be damaging the surface of the rock art and causing it to degrade.

‘The step towards nomination has been welcomed by rock art experts, who say it is one of the most significant archeological sites in the southern hemisphere.

‘“The thing that is unique about this is that it covers almost the entire origin of the north-west coast of Australia, and it is hunter-gatherers from the bottom to the top,” director of the University of Western Australia’s centre for rock art research and management, Jo McDonald, said. “Nowhere else has it covered 50,000 years of hunter-gatherer human history.”

‘There are more than 1m catalogued petroglyphs on the Burrup peninsula and surrounding islands of the Dampier archipelago, dating back 50,000 years. The newest petroglyphs were carved in the 1800s, before the Yaburara People, the artists, were killed or driven off the land in a period of sustained killings in 1868 known as the Flying Foam massacre.

‘The site is now in the custodianship of the Ngarluma, Mardudhunera, Yindjibarndi, Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo peoples, as well as the surviving Yaburara people. Those groups are represented by the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), which jointly manages the Murujuga national park and the national heritage listing for the rock art. MAC said it was important for the cultural and archeological significance of the site to receive international recognition.

‘Robin Chapple, a state Greens MP who has been involved in the campaign to preserve the Burrup rock art since the 1970s, said the world heritage nomination should be accompanied by a promise by the state government to relocate any further proposed developments on the Burrup to the Maitland industrial estate, on the other side of Karratha.

‘“We need to get them off the rocks,” he said.’

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