Roe 8 project ‘like Barnett Government throwing sand in the face of our ancestors’ says Beeliar Wetlands Aboriginal custodian

aboriginal-warrior-and-black-cockatoos

As bulldozers moved into position yesterday to resume clearing of bushland in the path of the controversial Roe 8 highway project through Perth’s Beeliar Wetlands, Beeliar Aboriginal custodian Corina Abraham said that by ‘desecrating this place, it’s like the Barnett Government is throwing sand in the face of our ancestors’.

In an echo of the recent Standing Rock US indigenous protest, Aboriginal people from other parts of Australia have taken up residence at the Beeliar Wetlands Protectors Camp on North Lake Road Coolbellup over the last month to support local Aboriginal custodians like Ms Abraham.[1]

One WA Government policy document has identified the Beeliar wetlands area to be impacted by Roe 8 as ‘the most significant [Aboriginal] historical site within the Perth metropolitan region south of the Swan River’.[2]

The project will impact a highly significant sacred site in the Bibra Lake (Lake Walliabup) and North Lake (Lake Coolbellup) area, while archaeological research suggests the area has been an important Aboriginal campsite and meeting place for thousands of years, partly because of abundant wildlife, including freshwater turtles, ducks, swans and gilgies which are still present to this day. Ms Abraham states that Aboriginal people from all over the State regularly camped in the area up until the 1970s: ‘my grandfather used to camp there, and one of my aunties was actually born there in the 1950s.’

In 2015, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier’s advisory group, the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC), reversed its earlier February 2013 recommendation against granting consent to the project under the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA), after deciding in controversial circumstances that a significant archaeological site in the Roe 8 pathway was no longer a site, on the basis of a cursory investigation by Department of Aboriginal Affairs archaeologists which involved digging a 20cm pit. [3] WA Greens MLC Lynn McLaren has since called for a proper archaeological excavation of the deregistered site.[4]

At the time of the ACMC decision, the committee had only two Aboriginal members (one of them a State Government employee).[5] Although s 28 (3) of the AHA prescribes that the ACMC must have a specialist anthropologist, the position has been vacant since 2013.

Unusually for a major project of this nature, Minister Collier’s Roe 8 Aboriginal heritage approval contains no requirements for an Aboriginal heritage management plan or Aboriginal monitoring of works.[6]

In 2016, Corina Abraham unsuccessfully challenged the flawed Roe 8 Aboriginal heritage approval process in the WA Supreme Court. Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is required to make a decision on her application under Federal Aboriginal heritage legislation after 11 January.

‘This place is as important for Noongar people as the South Perth Windmill or ANZAAC Cove is for non-Aboriginal people, ‘says Ms Abraham. ‘All our old fellas lived here, and they died here too. It’s like a big church to us, it’s a place of meaning, a place where we come when we’re feeling down and out: we come and connect when we’re feeling lost. Whether you go down the right path or the wrong path, you come back to this place, and you feel connected’.

‘Building a big highway through here is not going to bring strength, it’s going to bring devastation. It’s going to bring death. It’s going to bring sorrow to our community, and particularly our Aboriginal community, because it’s going through such a significant area, a cultural area that means a lot to us.’[7]

AHAA Media: Steve 0404 674 261

Aboriginal custodian of Beeliar Wetlands area: Corina Abraham 0415 099 819

WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs media: Damian Katich 6551 8172 or 040 988 1920.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg: 02 6277 7920

[1] https://www.facebook.com/BeeliarCamp/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED

[2] EPA Bulletin 1088 February 2003, 14f: http://epa.wa.gov.au/EPADocLib/1570_B1088.pdf

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/23/indigenous-site-older-than-pyramids-in-perth-freeways-path-taken-off-heritage-register; https://heraldonlinejournal.com/2015/09/18/hole-lot-of-nothing/

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/feb/04/greens-mp-calls-for-archeological-survey-of-aboriginal-site-in-perth-freeways-path

[5] https://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/stephen-bennetts/2015/17/2015/1424128413/wa-s-new-look-aboriginal-heritage-policy-and

[6] http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/send-in-scientists-not-police-roe-8-sparks-yet-more-questions-20161208-gt78qj.html

[7] For further testimony on the significance of the North Lake and Lake Coolbellup area to Noongar people, see statements at 2011 rally by Revd. Sealin Garlett and Corina Abraham at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sRk18MxVjQ.

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