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22 December 2006
Australian Government rejects listing for ancient site

Australian Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell has turned down an application for emergency heritage listing of the Burrup Peninsula rock art site, which is under threat from a major gas installation. Senator Campbell said that while he regarded the site extremely significant, he did not believe the threat was sufficient to warrant emergency listing. The application was made by Australian Greens senator Rachel Siewert, Labor MP Carmen Lawrence and independent MP Peter Andren.
     The Burrup site contains hundreds of thousands of rock carvings, said to date back thousands of years. Woodside Energy Pty Ltd wants to build an onshore facility for its Pluto liquified natural gas project. The National Trust of Australia says the Burrup site, in north-west Australia, contains one of the world's largest and most important collections of petroglyphs. It says the collection of standing stones may be the largest in the world. "On the basis of evidence presented to me, which includes advice from the Australian Heritage Council, I do not consider that the perceived threat to national heritage values of the area warrants an emergency heritage listing," Senator Campbell said in a statement.
     Senator Campbell said he had been advised there was one standing stone within the disturbance footprint which might have national heritage values, but that Aboriginal groups in consultation with the WA government agreed the stone could be removed. "I am further advised that the values that such stones represent are found in a number of sites on the Burrup and some islands in the Archipelago," he said. "Following advice from representatives of each of the five traditional owner groups, the disturbance footprint was designed by Woodside to ensure that no engravings of high archaeological significance would be impacted by development activities." Senator Campbell said there were believed to be up to one million pieces of rock art in the Dampier Archipelago, including in the Burrup area. "Other motifs and archaeological material within the footprint will be relocated by Woodside in accordance with a cultural heritage management plan," he said.
     He described the whole area as a significant place, but said the perceived threat to national heritage values of the Dampier Archipelago did not warrant an emergency listing. Consequently, he had given approval to Woodside for initial preparation works at Site A, including engineering works and fencing.
     Professor John Mulvaney from the University of Melbourne said it was crazy the government was considering giving up the ancient carvings for the sake of development. Prof Mulvaney said the carvings were very important historically. "Some date from around the time sea level got back to where it is at, six or seven thousand years ago," he said. At least 20 of the carvings, he said, are of the Tasmanian Tiger which has been extinct on the mainland for at least 3,000 years. Others were even older and extremely striking, he said. "They include human faces, very strange looking human faces, some of them look almost like medieval knights in armour."

Source: TheAge.com.au (21 December 2006), The West Australian (22 December 2006)

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