Western Australia chemical plants threaten 40,000-year-old rock art

Anne Davies, Guardian Australia

Senate inquiry has heard conflicting evidence on the impact of gas, ammonium and fertiliser plants on the Burrup Peninsula

On a far flung peninsula halfway up the coast of Western Australia are strange piles of cubic boulders that look like rusty refrigerators and boxes. Decorating their flat faces are more than one million rock carvings, some believed to be as much as 40,000 years old.

The petroglyphs at the Burrup Peninsula, also known as Murujuga by the traditional custodians, are Australia’s largest and oldest collection of rock art.

They provide an extraordinary and unique continuous record of the stories and life of the Yaburarra people who lived there until the 1860s when they were wiped out in a massacre.

But a kilometre away are some of Australia’s largest and dirtiest chemical plants. The air that hangs over this remote peninsula is often fouled with a yellow haze from the chimneys of the Yara ammonium nitrate and fertiliser plants, Woodside’s LNG gas processing plant and the emissions from ships burning sulphur-rich bunker fuel as they visit the port to pick up Rio Tinto’s iron ore.