Friends of Australian Rock Art Inc. (FARA)
Statement – 31.5.2020

Destruction of Aboriginal heritage site at Juukan Gorge, Pilbara

Like so many Australians, Friends of Australian Rock Art is appalled by Rio Tinto’s recent action in destroying an ancient and highly significant Aboriginal cultural heritage site at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara.

The fact that this occurred on National Sorry Day during Reconciliation Week must be especially hurtful for the site’s traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP), and suggests that Rio Tinto is not as committed to the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage as it states publicly.

While Rio had been granted a permit to impact the site in 2013, more recent archaeological investigation identified important and persuasive evidence about the site’s cultural and scientific significance, including occupation dates of 46,000 years.

We understand there had also been requests by PKKP Elders to reverse this decision, yet Rio Tinto went ahead anyway, rather than reconsidering the need to destroy the rockshelters.

This irreversible loss of cultural heritage highlights the urgent need for reform of WA’s ineffective and outdated 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act, particularly its notorious Section 18, which for years has favoured mining interests and disallowed Aboriginal custodians to appeal against industrial expansionist proposals.

It is vital that heritage approvals can be challenged if new evidence emerges to support the previously unacknowledged cultural significance of an Aboriginal site.

FARA’s work since 2006 advocating for the preservation of the globally significant rock art of the Burrup Peninsula/Murujuga in the Pilbara’s Dampier Archipelago region has shown us the necessity for legislative reform, to ensure that this and other significant Aboriginal cultural sites in Western Australia receive the protection they deserve.

We express our solidarity with members of the PKKP community for this sad loss of their cultural heritage.

We also endorse recent statements by the Australian Archaeological Association, Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists, Inc. and the Australian Anthropological Society calling for urgent action to ensure such an event can never happen again:

Australian Archaeological Association
Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists, Inc.
Australian Anthropological Society