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8 March 2011
Heritage status for ancient ochre mine in Australia

A 30,000-year-old ochre mine in outback Western Australia has been granted national heritage status by the federal government, a move that will help protect the historic site from encroaching iron ore developments.
     The Wilgie Mia ochre mine in the Weld Range is where Aborigines extracted red, yellow and green ochre, which was then traded across Australia, as far away as north Queensland. Its bright red ochre is still used for Aboriginal art, law and healing activities. There is a considerable amount of rock art in the vicinity, as well as the archeological remains of an ancient tool factory. The site has also been a centre of traditional ceremonies.
     The listing means the Wilgie Mia mine is now an area protected by Australia's national heritage regime. This will not prevent development, but Heritage Minister Tony Burke says it means any activity likely to have a significant impact on the site's value would need to be referred to the environment minister.
     The government estimates that as much as 19,600 cubic metres of ochre and rock, weighing about 40,000 tonnes, was removed from the mine using techniques such as tunnelling and scaffolding. Traditional owner Colin Hamlett says the listing will provide some protection, but points out it will cover only 2000ha around the mine. Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, which assists indigenous groups with native title negotiations, worked with the Wajarri Yamatji native title group to research the significance of the area and to ensure that relevant cultural information was included in the final heritage listing report that went to the federal minister.

Edited from The Australian (8 March 2011)

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