Monday 30th November – John Black, our scientific member from Sydney, Stephen Bennetts, our anthropologist committee member, and Judith Hugo met with Jo McDonald and Joe Dortch fromUWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research + Management (CRAR+M), which is currently researching Burrup rock art through the ‘Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming’ project.
John voiced his concerns, backed up by the research of Dr Ian Macleod (Director of the Fremantle Maritime Museum) regarding potential damage to the patina of the rock art caused by microbiological activity due to increased nitrate concentrations in industrial emissions, especially in a traditionally nitrogen-poor region. Of particular concern is the imminent commissioning of Yara Pilbara’s ammonium nitrate plant which according to their proposal to the WA Government will be releasing 25.2 tonnes annually of particles less than 10 microns in diameter into the atmosphere. John believes it is important to start studies ASAP to show the change in the rock’s surface.
Jo and Joe from CRAR+M (who are also currently commissioned to document rock art within a 2km radius of YARA’s TAN plant, according to their EPBC conditions) were very interested to be involved in John’s proposal, possibly even seeing a Masters or PhD in it for a potential student. Discussions are now afoot…
Tuesday 1st December – John Black and Judith Hugo were flown up to Karratha by Yara Pilbara to view the existing fertiliser plant and the new TAN plant. We were treated most cordially by their environmental team, Brian Howarth and Susan Giles, and given a presentation on their company’s best practice safety precautions. We lunched with a roomful of engineers and their CEO Mark Loquan who, in spite of showing previous interest in being involved in an educational study, was now less keen to fund research additional to their EPBC requirements, unless some of the other industrial players, eg. Woodside, got involved.
Before leaving we visited one of the monitoring sites from where we looked down on the depressing sight of Yara Pilbara stretching right across the valley, almost to Hearson’s Cove, and with their prilling tower in a direct line with Deep Gorge…
John Black is still corresponding with Brian Howarth to procure baseline air quality measurements, and we’ll continue to play a watchdog role in this area.
Tuesday 1st December afternoon – a very different and positive meeting with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC). The new CEO Craig Bonney was most welcoming and invited us to fill him in on all the history he needed to know, especially FARA’s involvement with the Burrup since 2007, which we happily supplied.
John Black explained his scientific concerns and promised to forward his research proposal when fully developed.
Sean McNeair, the manager of the Ranger program, voiced the need for the Aboriginal elders to take back control of their cultural heritage after all the years of conflicting industrial and political interests – consequently the need to enforce strict cultural protocols on visitors, including our FARA tourers.
With regard to their feelings on WHL, they said that the elders were wary of yet another political manipulation of their land – but at the same time, invited us to come back, before the next tour, and sit down with them and explain why it is necessary.
John Black and Judith Hugo flew back to Perth feeling very cheered at this positive line of communication we have eventually set up with MAC, and hope to build on it in the near future.
Wednesday 2nd December – meeting of John Black, Stephen Bennetts & Judith Hugo with members of the Labor Shadow Cabinet – Chris Tallentire (Environment), Bill Johnston (State Development, Mining & Minerals) and David Templeman (Heritage & Local Government). Judith presented FARA’s history, previous political actions, NHL, tours, etc
John Black presented his scientific concerns, in which the Shadow Ministers seemed particularly interested. Shadow Environment Minister Chris Tallentire offered to follow up with the WA Government to ensure that companies operating in the area are complying with emissions guidelines under the EPBC Act.
Bill Johnston stated that there may be some possibility of negotiating with companies to persuade them to relinquish some of their leases on the Burrup, which may no longer be needed (Rio Tinto has already set a precedent by relinquishing one of its leases in the interests of protecting the cultural integrity of the Burrup.)
Shadow Minister Johnston  stated there was a possibility given recent shifts in the resource sector that there would be no  further industrial development on the Burrup, but that at the same time this could not be completely ruled out.
Stephen Bennetts addressed World Heritage Listing and particularly the attempt in 2003 by Federal Minister for the Environment, David Kemp to get the WA Government to investigate the possibility of WHL the Burrup/Dampier Archipelago (this initiative was later blocked at both Federal and State levels). FARA argued that the then Labor State Government and subsequent State Governments are in breach of part 12 of the 2003 BMIEA Agreement Additional Deed signed with native title parties, in which the WA Government agreed to establish a Burrup Heritage Committee within three months of the Federal Government seeking its opinion on WHL.
FARA also pointed out that the 2012 Australian Heritage Commission Emergency Investigation into the Dampier Archipelago established that the site already meets at least one, and possibly two of the relevant UNESCO WHL criteria, and UWA’s ‘Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming’ team is currently carrying out research which is likely to establish this second criterion.
All three seemed interested, but were not yet prepared to specifically commit the Opposition to supporting WHL if elected to Government.
We have subsequently written to the Shadow Ministers, submitting further legal material, and urging a clear commitment from the Opposition, if they are elected, to honour the BMIEA Agreement Additional Deed by establishing a Burrup Heritage Committee, and to prioritise WHL for the Burrup ahead of other less politically problematic WHL applications which are now in train such as the Kimberley or the Southwest. We’ll keep you posted…
My sincere thanks to John Black whose dedication to the Burrup cause since 2010 has been steadfast, including past deputations to Federal Parliament – and all at his own expense.
John, I really don’t know how we’d have come this far without you!
Also thanks to Stephen Bennetts who has worked tirelessly from the beginning of FARA on the legal and cultural aspects of pursuing World Heritage listing – hasta la victoria comrade!
And another belated thanks to June Moorhouse who did amazing things to focus our organisation and directed some fantastic recent tours to the Burrup – may you do equally great things for your next needy organisation!
Judith Hugo, Convenor
Friends of Australian Rock Art

PS. Forgot to mention that we also wrote to Malcolm Turnbull when he became PM, urging him to upgrade his commitment to the Burrup from National Heritage to World Heritage listing, and also requesting another meeting in Canberra. Watch this space for further developments…