35 Aboriginal heritage sites wrongly removed are yet to be afforded protection by the state

Thirty five Aboriginal heritage sites that were wrongly removed from the protection of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 since 2011, are still yet to be reinstated to the heritage register by the WA government. This is despite it being more than a year after the Perth Supreme Court in December 2014 found the WA government’s removal of these sites from the register was invalid. In the meantime, these sites that have been wrongly removed from the state register are receiving NO LEGAL PROTECTION from the legislation.

2016-02-26 QWON DAA Review of 35 Heritage Places

2016-02-26 QWON DAA Review of 35 Heritage Places

The Vanishing Tribe of the West Kimberley

The Yawijibaya people, reported to be ‘giants of the north’ stood up to 7ft tall and were of superior physical makeup. They lived on the High Cliffy Islands near Montgomery Reef in the West Kimberley, subsisting off the rich marine ecosystem of the area. Soon after this footage was captured in 1929 the tribe of 300 people disappeared without a trace. Another facet of Western Australia’s fascinating history.

NOTE: This footage is shared from ‘Sovereign Union’ Facebook page, original text is posted below. 

One of the tribes that disappeared without trace.

Off the north-west coast of Western Australia is the High Cliffy Islands, home to the Yawijibaya people. Archaeological evidence suggests they have occupied these islands for 7000 years. Anthropologists described them as giants up to 7 ft tall and of superior physical makeup.

Soon after this footage was captured in 1929 the entire tribe consisting of some 300 individuals disappeared. Without a trace.

Research links:
Aboriginal adaptation in Northwest Australia / by Valda J. Blundell.

The stone house structures of high Cliffy Island, North West Kimberley, WA – Sue O’Connor –

Public Submission responses to the Aboriginal Heritage Act Amendment Bill 2014 go mostly ignored

AHAA has reviewed the 172 public submissions made on the Aboriginal Heritage Act Amendment Bill 2014, to assess the number of respondents who were generally for or against the Governments proposals. Of the 172 submissions, eight respondents were in favour of the proposals, four were somewhat against, and 158 were against the changes (not including the one submission which also had an additional 28 signatures). The breakdown of these submissions can be found below. Despite the overwhelmingly negative response to the Bill and the multitude of issues, recommendations and experience presented in these submissions, only three changes were incorporated into the final Amendment Bill 2014 that was tabled in Parliament on 27 November 2014. These were to:

1. Remove the financial penalty inserted into section 15 during the drafting of the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014 in order to mitigate any unintended consequences,

2. To redraft section 18 and related provisions to require that a decision-maker ‘must’ rather than ‘may’ do something with an application,

3. And to remove references to ‘honorary wardens’ in sections 51 & 52.

Submission Received By: (Generally) For or Against AHAB?
The Hon Robin Chapple MLC Against
Ben Wyatt MLA Against
Katanning LCDC For
Adele Millard Consultancy Services Against
Mr Paddy Cullen Against
Stevens Heritage Services Against
Mr Paul Watson Against
Dr Thor Kerr; Dr Shaphan Cox; Dr Robert Briggs from Curtin University Against
Mr Nicholas Herriman Against
Kulyamba Aboriginal Corporation Against
SJC Heritage Consultants Against
The Law Society of Western Australia Against
The City of Swan
Ms Sandra Kelly Against
Mr Iva Hayward-Jackson Against
Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation Against
Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission Against
Mr Justin Larsen Against
Kimberley Land Council Against
Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation Against
Goldfields Land and Sea Council Against
Polygon Archaelogy Heritage Services Against
Ms Elizabeth Vaughan Against
Rhoads Bird Associates Against
Swan River People (Mr Albert Corunna; Kathy Penny; Richard Wilkes; Greg Garlett; Bella Bropho) Against
Ms Talila Milroy Against
Friends of Australian Rock Art Against
Horizon Power For
Central Desert Native Title Services Against
Ms Roberta Circosta Against
Kuruma Marthudunera Aboriginal Corporation Against
Karlka Nyiyaparli Aboriginal Corporation Against
National Native Title Council Against
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia For
Iron Ore Holdings Ltd For
Gavin Jackson Cultural Resource Management Against
Mr Stephen Walker Against
APA Group Against-ish
National Trust of Australia (WA) Against
Yawuru Native Title Holders Aboriginal Corporation Against
Australian Archaeological Association Inc. Against
Mr Iain Davidson Against-ish
Ms Sharon Davies Against
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Against
Swan Valley Nyungah Community Aboriginal Corporation Against
The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies For
The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre Against
Pilbara Ports Authority For-ish- offers advice
Amergin Consulting (Australia) Pty Ltd Against
The Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation Against
Chalk & Fitzgerald Lawyers & Consultants Against
Terra Rosa Cultural Resource Management Against-ish
Goolarabooloo Millibinyarri Indigenous Corporation Against
The Marra Worra Worra Aboriginal Corporation Against
The Mullewa Wadjari People Against
AMPLA Neutral- offers technical legal advice
Earth Creations – Environmental Art Research and Training Against
KRED Enterprises Pty Ltd Against
The Yaburara and Coastal Mardudhunera Aboriginal Corporation Against
Rio Tinto For
Dortch and Cuthbert Against
The Anthropological Society of Western Australia Against
Australia ICOMOS Against
Ms Betty Logan JP and other signees Against* (+ an additional 28 signatures)
Archaeological & Heritage Management Solutions Against-ish
South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council Against
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority Against
Anthropos Australis
Shire of Broome For
Australian Association of Consulting Archeologists Inc. Against
Ms Dianne Stevens Against
*Ms Melinda Wilson Against
*Submissions have been lodged in the same or closely similar terms by Laura Thomas, Kree Eyre, Christin Kohler, Shanice Smyth, Danny Carter, Candice Veitch, Skye Wilson, Amy Rorke, Kathryn Black, Joanne Walshaw, Caroline Seawright, Todd Beaton, Clare Presser, Caycia Byars, Margaret Hope, Mengar Thomas, Richard Erickson, Alex Herewane, Helen Russo, Angela Weekes, Glen Risk, Brydie Naismith, Brecon Walsh, Georgiana Ologeanu, Geoffrey Hill, Kristen Day, Janette Rhodes, Ayla Erken, Elizabeth Owen, Hollice Rundle, Susan Chalcroft, Debra Williams, Catherine Menzies, Tara Blackman, Beverley Slater, Lisa Owen, Phylis Read, S.K. Riley, Stephen Franzini, Ailsa Turrell, Laurel Alexander, Megan Porter, Catherine Harburn, Richard Lanyon, Dani Rosendorff, Cheryl Bell, Jesse Holly, Tracey Ashmore, Doreen Anderson, Kim Seater, Kylie Farmer, Lee West, Patrick Greechan, Simon Golley, Ines Portugal, David Joseph, Mia Madsen, Ann Kennedy, Breony Carbines, Heidi Mippy, Jessica Fairbairn, Rita Gyorffy, Clare Kennedy, Tyson Mowarin, Jayne Alexander, Craig Heading, Jan Rock, Vickey Hill, Mark Ditcham, Lorene Stewart, Walter McGuire, Irene Gale, Dan Musil, Liz Mackie, Therese Quinland, Andrea Hilton, John Terry, Simone Watson, Darren Irwin, Spider Redgold, Cindylee Smallman, George Theodoridis, Patrick Hudson, Chris Osborn, Julie Dowling, Marjan Kiewiet, Lisa Kitney, Bronwyn Evans, Sandra Hill, Genevieve Murphy, Marcella Maloney, Peter Zuvela, Alie Arjaans, Anne-Marie Smith and Brenda Hill. Against* (an additional 95 individuals)
 TOTAL 8 For
4 Somewhat against

1 Somewhat for

158 Against




letterhead AHAA



WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance (AHAA) is marking today’s Yule River bush meeting of Aboriginal custodians[1] with a call to the State’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier for the reinstatement of 36 Aboriginal sacred sites which were unlawfully deregistered by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs’ Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC).

The sites were all deregistered following applications by developers to ‘disturb’ them under s 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA). Minister Collier later granted s 18 ministerial consents for 37 sacred sites to be ‘disturbed’. The WA Supreme Court’s Justice Chaney ruled in a landmark Port Hedland test case on April 1 that the narrow definition of ‘sacred site’ used by the ACMC to deregister one of the 37 sites was invalid, and referred the site back to the ACMC for reassessment.[2]

Minister Collier later tabled in State Parliament the names of 36 sacred sites which had been unlawfully deregistered using the same flawed and narrow State Solicitor’s Office interpretation of ‘sacred site’ under s 5b of the AHA which was overturned by Justice Chaney.[3] 34 out of 36 of these sites were said to be the subject of actual or proposed development.[4] He also stated on 15 September that 11 previously registered sites had been removed from the DAA site register since the Chaney ruling on 1 April this year.

Given these circumstances, and DAA’s lack of response to Chaney’s Robinson v ACMC since April, AHAA today announced it was ‘doing what DAA should have done five months ago, and is writing to Aboriginal custodians of all the deregistered sites’, urging them to demand the immediate reinstatement of all 36 sacred sites to the DAA site register.

Yamatji man and AHAA spokesperson Clayton Lewis, a senior custodian of one of the 37 deregistered sacred sites, said today: ‘It’s ironic that Justice Chaney delivered his decision on April Fool’s Day, because DAA’s response since then has been a bit like a bad April Fool’s Day joke’.

‘Nearly six months on, I haven’t received any correspondence from DAA admitting they unlawfully deregistered the important Monger’s Lake Waterway sacred site in our country in the Mid-west, or telling us what they propose to do about it. We’re not aware DAA has contacted a single custodian for any of the other 36 sacred sites, or published a revised version of the DAA Guidelines which Justice Chaney said were legally invalid’.

‘We also don’t know whether Peter Collier has withdrawn any of the legally invalid s 18 ministerial consents he issued to developers, or whether the companies have already gone ahead and destroyed the sites’.

AHAA is currently seeking legal advice as to whether Aboriginal custodians of these sites could sue the Minister, the ACMC or the State Government if any of the sites have been damaged. The Aboriginal heritage advocacy group is today also releasing the attached map showing the location of the deregistered sacred sites, as well as a further 83 ceremonial and/or mythological sites deregistered under the Barnett Government since 2008 which have been identified by University of Western Australia Archaeology Department researchers Dr Joe Dortch and Dr Tom Sapienza.[5] The Minister has also stated in Parliament that a further 16 (so far unidentified) sacred sites failed DAA registration solely on the basis of the SSO’s flawed s 5b sacred site definition.[6]

‘Given these sacred sites were wrongly deregistered by DAA in the first place, why hasn’t it just put them back on the register?’ asks Lewis. ‘The Minister and his DAA Executives recently made a big song and dance in Parliament saying that all 37 sites now need to go through a complicated reassessment process which might take DAA months and months.[7] This seems pretty strange, given that under its current Chair, the ACMC has been able to assess dozens of sites literally before lunch time, many of them unfavourably.[8] As far as we know, DAA still hasn’t reassessed a single one of the 37 deregistered sacred sites. We also can’t understand why the Minister thinks Justice Chaney’s decision needs to be referred back to the State Solicitor’s Office for further advice, when it was the SSO which caused the problem in the first place by providing its ridiculous definition of a sacred site’.

Clayton Lewis’s 3 August letter to the Minister requesting immediate reinstatement of the Monger’s Lake Waterway sacred site, of which he is a senior custodian, has received no response to date. See: https://www.facebook.com/aboriginalheritagewa/photos/pcb.1494900327487865/1494900090821222/?type=1&theater.

Deregistration of DAA s5b sacred sites under the Barnett Government (2008-2015)

The location of the deregistered sacred sites, as well as a further 83 ceremonial and/or mythological sites deregistered under the Barnett Government since 2008 which have been identified by University of Western Australia Archaeology Department researchers Dr Joe Dortch and Dr Tom Sapienza.


For expert commentary on the DAA site deregistration issue:

Dr Stephen Bennetts: 0404674261

Greg McIntyre SC: 0408097046

Dr Joe Dortch: 0428601008

[1] http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Flyer-A-Claimant-invite-to-Yule-River-meeting.pdf; for Aboriginal opposition to the WA Government’s Aboriginal heritage policy at last year’s meeting, see: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2014/09/30/speaking-with-one-voice-was-changes-to-aboriginal-heritage-law-rejected-at-bush-meetings/

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/apr/02/landmark-wa-judgement-on-aboriginal-sacred-sites-prompts-call-for-review; http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/wa/WASC/2015/108.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=title(robinson%20and%20fielding%20)

[3] http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2015-04-21%20QWON%20C401%20The%2022%20Heritage%20Sites.pdf; http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2015-06-16%20QWON%20New%20sites%20deregistered.pdf

[4] http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2015-05-05%20QWON%20part%202%2023%20sites.pdf; http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard%5Chansard.nsf/0/7558ec201e519bb248257e500011e612/$FILE/C39%20S1%2020150521%20p4143d-4145a.pdf

[5] https://aboriginalheritagewa.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/site-watch-290615.pdf

[6] https://aboriginalheritagewa.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/2015-05-05-qwon-c468-1307-aboriginal-heritage-sites.pdf

[7] https://www.facebook.com/ChappleMLC/videos/10153421820712486/

[8] http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2012-06-12%20QON%20ACMC%20meetings.pdf; Sitewatch report.

[7] https://www.facebook.com/ChappleMLC/videos/10153421820712486/

[8] http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2012-06-12%20QON%20ACMC%20meetings.pdf; Sitewatch report.

More de-registered sites since the Supreme Court decision on invalid interpretation of Section 5b (sacred, ritual, ceremonial sites)

The latest parliamentary questions from the Hon. Robin Chapple and the Hon. Lynn McLaren from the WA Greens highlight more Aboriginal sites that have been removed from the Aboriginal sites register since the Port Hedland Port Supreme Court test case. In April 2015 the Supreme Court found the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee’s interpretation of Section 5b of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (which defines sacred, ritual and ceremonial sites) was invalid. AHAA question the governments de-registration of these sites in light of the Supreme Court decision, and asks on what basis they are continuing to de-register Aboriginal sites. See the following link for the recent parliamentary questions asked Wed 16 September 2015. 2015-09-16 QWON 11 more sites removed ACMC

The following parliamentary questions relates to Roe 8 and registered site ‘Bibra Lake’.

2015-09-16 QWON Sites on Bibra Lake

World heritage hopes pinned on archaeological dig in Burrup Peninsula industrial heartland

Ancient secrets of Burrup revealed

Archaeologists are working to provide firm dates for Aboriginal presence on Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula). Murujuga was one of the sites affected by the large-scale state sanctioned de-registrations of Aboriginal heritage sites in WA  (here and here). Murujuga ranger Geoffrey Togo hopes the archaeological finds “will make the Government listen and agree with what we as Aboriginal people are saying, that these sites need to be protected”.

The full article is available on ABC News.


A study released today by two senior Western Australian archaeologists has revealed disturbing shifts in the assessment of Aboriginal sites by the State’s Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA). Since the Barnett Government came to office in 2008, 3,207 sites in Western Australia have been deregistered.

Rock art on the Burrup Peninsular

The Burrup Peninsular in its entirety has been deregistered, although some discrete sites are still listed. Overall the Burrup Peninsular remains threatened.

In their ‘Site Watch’ report (attached), Dr Joe Dortch and Tom Sapienza show that in 2008-2015, the status of 3,207 sites previously assessed by DAA as registered sites were downgraded, including 69 mythological sites and 14 ceremonial sites (see attached).[1]

The report also shows that DAA’s site assessment body, the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee (ACMC) is now rejecting the vast majority of new sites submitted for assessment as registered sites. Five years ago, the regulator accepted all but 10% of such site submissions, and now it is rejecting 86% of these submissions.

‘The Site Watch data demonstrate unprecedented changes in the DAA Site Register: in 2008-15, 14,419 decisions over existing site statuses occurred in the Register – 93% of these decisions occurred in 2010-14 and 34% in 2014 alone. Many decisions would have been assessed by the ACMC in its monthly meetings,’ but as ACMC meetings have been radically shortened under its new Chair[2] and the committee’s membership has shrunk, ‘it is hard to conceive that many decisions were given much consideration.’[3]

About 1700 decisions were surprising: for example, some de-registered sites were re-registered, some sites had no status, and some sites were not just de-registered but removed from the register altogether. The DAA website data provides no explanations of any changes. ‘Uncertainty for miners and developers has increased because of the frequency, illogicality and unpredictability of many of these changes, which will not assure business and heritage stakeholders that their interests are being protected’. It is uncertain whether Aboriginal custodians have been consulted about the deregistration of most of these sites.

AHAA spokesperson and Native Title claimant Clayton Lewis learned late last year that DAA had deregistered an important sacred site in his country in the Midwest using flawed legal advice from the State Solicitor’s Office which was overturned by the WA Supreme Court in April this year.[4]

‘So far, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier has fessed up to DAA deregistering 35 sacred sites using the ridiculous SSO advice DAA was running with, but the Site Watch report shows that this is only the tip of a much larger iceberg’ says Mr Lewis. ‘These figures are staggering, and show the Barnett Government’s clear agenda of abandoning its statutory responsibilities to protect Aboriginal sites in WA, and instead making it easier to destroy them’.

‘To assess the Government’s potential damage to the State’s Aboriginal cultural heritage, AHAA will be circulating a list of the 69 mythological and 14 ceremonial sites deregistered by DAA to Aboriginal custodians, anthropologists and Land Councils throughout the State and asking for comment’, stated Mr Lewis.

To read the full Site Watch report, click here.


Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance

Email Address: aboriginalheritageaction@gmail.com

Media Contact: Clayton Lewis, 0498 002812

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aboriginalheritagewa

Website: https://www.aboriginalheritagewa.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsJu3fENLpKW7kOnZndIbRQ

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AHAAlliance

Let’s preserve heritage for Western Australians, preserve heritage for all!

*AHAA acknowledges all Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples, their culture and their country!

Commentary on ‘Site Watch’ report: Dr Joe Dortch, Archaeology, UWA: 0428 601008

[1] Seventeen of the mythological sites are also ceremonial sites.

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

[3] In May 2012 the ACMC determined 14 highly complex s 18 applications comprising over 4000 pages of documentation in just 77 minutes: http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2012-06-12%20QON%20ACMC%20meetings.pdf

[4] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-01/aboriginal-heritage-test-case-port-hedland/6366250

1262 heritage places determined ‘non-sites’ by Government since faulty advice

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has confirmed the governments advisory body on heritage, the ACMC, will be reassessing the 16 mythological or otherwise sacred sites that were determined to be ‘non-sites’ based on flawed legal advice provided to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) by the State Solicitors Office (SSO) in 2011. AHAA wants to highlight that 1262 sites have been considered as ‘non sites’ since the SSO advice was given, and asks the government how many archaeological sites out of these 1262 may also have been falsely determined ‘non-sites’, considering the Port Hedland Case found the ACMC had fallen into jurisdictional error in it’s interpretation of Section 5 in its entirety.

2015-05-05 QWON C468 1307 Aboriginal Heritage Sites

Late Night Live: Threats to Aboriginal heritage

On Radio National Late Night Live,  Phillip Adams chats with AHAA founding member and spokesperson Clayton Lewis, and University of Western Australia Professor Peter Veth on the threats to Western Australia’s Aboriginal heritage.

This segment highlighted the precedence of mining development over Aboriginal heritage, and the need for a fairer and sustainable approach to heritage management and industrial development in Western Australia.

For those who missed it, follow this link through and click ‘listen now’.