Australian & Indigenous Heritage

World Heritage listing for Purnululu
Murujuga Forum established
WA Indigenous Heritage Under Threat
Condolence Motion in NT Parliament for Big Bill Neidjie OAM
Rock art reports raise the stakes on the Burrup
Wattleridge Becomes New South Wales’ First Indigenous Protected Area

World Heritage listing for Purnululu

The spectacular Purnululu National Park, in Western Australia’s isolated East Kimberley region, has been declared a World Heritage listed area by the World Heritage Committee, which met in Paris on 3 July.

“This superlative natural phenomenon joins 14 other internationally outstanding Australian places that have qualified for this rare honour, which includes the Uluru Kata Tjuta and Kakadu national parks,” Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said today.

Purnululu – famous for its fascinating banded beehive structures, sandstone cliffs and towers of the Bungle Bungle Range, and its rich Aboriginal cultural heritage – has been World Heritage-listed for its unrivalled natural values.

“Its domes, gorges and wet season waterfalls were virtually unknown except to pastoralists, scientists and the local Aboriginal community until 1982, when aerial pictures were first released and widely circulated. It is now seen as one of the scenic jewels of outback Australia,” Dr Kemp said.

Dr Kemp said World Heritage listing is so prestigious in Australia and overseas that it attracts widespread interest from tourists and provides a financial boost to the region.

“The World Heritage listing process is detailed, demanding and exhaustive. It ensures that only the very best examples of the world’s heritage make it onto the world’s premier heritage list,” he said.

“Since Australia submitted a comprehensive nomination document to the World Heritage Centre early last year, assessors from two international heritage bodies – the International Committee on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) – have visited Purnululu to carry out a comprehensive assessment of its World Heritage credentials.

“Purnululu has also been nominated for its rich Aboriginal cultural heritage spanning over some 20,000 years. The Park provides exceptional testimony to this hunter-gatherer cultural tradition which has survived to present day despite the impact of colonisation. Australia will continue to pursue the cultural element of the nomination.

“Officers from my department, Environment Australia, provided support to the assessors and in preparing ancillary information to meet their requirements.”

The World Heritage Committee – which comprises 21 countries who are States Parties to the World Heritage Convention – considered the nomination and reports at its meeting in Paris and agreed to inscribe Purnululu National Park on the World Heritage List.

Under the categories of natural heritage set out in Article 2 of the World Heritage Convention, Purnululu National Park is a site representing ‘natural features consisting of physical and biological formations, or groups of such formations, that are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view’; and ‘natural sites, or precisely delineated natural areas, of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty’.

According to the natural criteria, Purnululu is ‘an outstanding example representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features’ and ‘contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.’

The Western Australian Government also strongly supports the World Heritage listing which joins Shark Bay as Western Australia’s second World Heritage property.

A fact sheet on Purnululu, the nomination document, video footage and photographs are available at To access the World Heritage list, go to

Murujuga Forum established

On 7 April 2003 the National Trust of Australia (W.A.) chaired a most successful forum at the Alexander Library in Perth which, for the first time, brought together representatives of most of the key organisations collaborating to preserve the spectacular rock art of the Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia. The “Murujuga Group” had been a loosely composed coalition of interest groups focused principally on the petroglyphs of Murujuga, known also as the Burrup Peninsula. Spearheaded principally by the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO) and Green parliamentarian Robin Chapple MLC, this group includes a number of bodies concerned with environmental and cultural heritage issues, including relevant Traditional Custodians, ICOMOS Australia, the Australian Rock Art Research Association, the National Trust, the Conservation Council of Western Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Association of Anthropologists and Archaeologists.

These bodies had been communicating about the Murujuga rock art for up to a year, so the level of consensus among them came as no great surprise. But what was surprising was the strength of support that now emerged from some unexpected quarters. Most particularly, the unashamedly pro-development Leader of the Opposition of Western Australia, The Hon. Colin Barnett MLC, presented a well-researched expose of why he vehemently opposes the siting of more industry at Murujuga. He also explained his economic reasons for advocating the urgent establishment of the Maitland Heavy Industry Estate, an alternative site for the proposed new industries. He accepted unequivocally that the Dampier rock art precinct represents the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the world, that it is the greatest cultural heritage property in Australia and that the state has an ironclad obligation to preserve it for all future. Moreover, at the request of IFRAO, the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage, The Hon. Dr David Kemp MP, has recently written to his Western Australian counterpart to ask for the state government’s co-operation in the nomination of the Dampier rock art to the World Heritage List. This places the ball well and truly in the court of the present state government. If it were to fail in supporting IFRAO’s motion for such listing, it would find itself opposed by just about every other relevant party-and no doubt in opposition after the next state election in early 2005.

For the moment, the state government is very much on the defensive over its handling of the protection of the Murujuga (Burrup) rock art. It still advocates the destruction of more of the irreplaceable rock art, having sanctioned the destruction of between 20 and 25 per cent of it already. Yet several of the companies it has attempted to lure to the Dampier Archipelago have already pulled out of the respective projects, partly because they don’t wish to be labelled rock art vandals, partly because the costs of establishing structures on Murujuga are greater than at alternative locations. Moreover, some of the sites allocated to them by the government have been found to be subject to inundation by surge tides-an incredible admission when one considers the almost unlimited supply of eminently suitable land available nearby on the mainland. Finally, it emerged at the Murujuga Forum that the committee the government has appointed to establish whether the industrial emissions are causing deterioration of the rock art is likely to be ineffective in influencing the course of industrial development in the region. To make matters worse, one of the main polluters in the area, Woodside Energy Ltd, has just admitted to having made a very significant error in calculating the rate of their nitrogen oxide emissions. This has exposed yet another festering problem, the inability of the Department of Environmental Protection to effectively monitor the level of emissions by major polluters. It is apparent from this admission that the values reported in the National Pollutant Inventory, maintained by Environment Australia, may reflect quite meaningless random figures that are effectively not checked by anyone. This follows the result of a series of internal reviews of the W.A. Department of Environmental Protection that led to the finding that this “organisation is incapable of fulfilling its functions”. Such scandalous disclosures about the ineptness of government departments will continue until Australia develops a culture of fostering the influence of NGOs in public life, as it exists in more mature democracies of former British colonies such as India.

Robert G. Bednarik
President, IFRAO

WA Indigenous Heritage Under Threat

The Greens (WA) Member for Mining and Pastoral, Robin Chapple MLC has condemned Friday’s announcement that the WA Premier has committed a further $22 million to Burrup Fertilisers for an ammonia plant on the Burrup Peninsula. This is presumed to be in excess of the $136 million already pledged for shared infrastructure in the region.

“The Burrup is an area of global significance, which by rights should be listed on the World Heritage Register. How can Dr. Gallop consider spending another $22 million of taxpayers money on a project which will erode the ancient rock art of the Peninsula?” Mr Chapple demanded. “If an industry can’t stand on its own two feet in this supposed age of international competitiveness, we shouldn’t be propping it up with public money anyway. But paying them to trash our heritage I find pretty obnoxious. All of this for 60 full time jobs and profits for an overseas chemical company.”

Research conducted by the WA Museum has shown that increasing nutrient concentrations in arid soils can accelerate rock weathering by increasing soil microflora activity. Nitrogen in particular is a key limiting nutrient in most soils. Creating a massive source of environmental nitrogen – for example, a Fertiliser Plant – in the middle of the Burrup rock art province may permanently erase the enigmatic engravings that set this area apart as the largest outdoor rock art gallery in the world.

“The WA Government has an obligation to the Traditional custodians of this area and also the people of the world to preserve this rock art for future generations.” Mr Chapple said. “Some of it has been there since the last ice age. We are not opposed to industry, but we have to stop and look at whose interests these developments are serving.”

Mr Chapple advanced a number of key suggestions in relation to the Burrup:

1. No further industrial development can be allowed on the Burrup. Industry should be located at the proposed Maitland industrial estate south-west of Karratha.

2. WA risks being branded climate criminals if current projections for increased greenhouse emissions are accurate. Projects in the Burrup region could add upward of 30-40% to State emissions of CO2. No projects should go ahead unless they can commit to no net increase in State greenhouse emissions.

3. The Burrup should be listed as a national park, to be jointly managed by the Indigenous peoples of the area, rock art conservators and CALM

4. The State Government must start taking Indigenous aspirations for the region seriously. Forcing them to name a price for the destruction of their country is an unacceptable starting point for negotiations.

5. The State Government should allow the Shire of Roebourne to rate all future industry at the improved value of the land, providing a robust funding source to the Shire.

Condolence Motion in NT Parliament for Big Bill Neidjie OAM

At the 18 June sitting of the NT Legislative Assembly a Condolence Motion for Big Bill Neidjie OAM was passed and a minute’s silence was observed. Big Bill died on 23 May 2002. He was a leader of the Gagadju people from the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory and the Assembly recorded its appreciation of his contribution to the advancement of Aboriginal people and to the development of Kakadu National Park which bears the name of his people.

Rock art reports raise the stakes on the Burrup

Two papers in early June by the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO) have graphically upped the stakes for the WA State Government’s attempts to establish an industrial estate in the middle of the largest concentration of Aboriginal rock art in the world.

The two reports, “The Survival of the Murujuga (Burrup) Petroglyphs” by Robert G. Bednarik, and “Petroglyphs of the Dampier Archipelago: Background to Development and Descriptive Analysis” by Patricia Vinnicombe, may provide the evidence the Government needs to reverse its stance on forcing industry into the most unpopular industrial estate in the country.

“The consequences of cramming more industry onto the Burrup are significantly worse than I had imagined,” Greens (WA) MLC Robin Chapple said today. “We face the prospect not only of bulldozing, blasting and other defacement of the rock art, but we now have evidence that acid emissions from industry will rapidly erase the greater part of the rock art province. We were inspired to save this area before seeing these reports; now we’re downright determined.”

Mr Chapple said that in the interests of all parties, the Government needs only to announce that it will instead fund the nearby Maitland Industrial Estate, situated on flat station country to the south west of Karratha, and preserve the Burrup. “Every day they delay this simple action is another day of unnecessary frustration. It is time the Premier stepped in to defuse the crisis.”

“We believe that industries are facing site costs of up to 15-20% of the total project costs, just to establish level areas on which to build their plants amid the steep, rocky terrain of the Burrup. We will be asking whether a move to Maitland might represent a substantial saving to proponents as well as the obvious savings to the State,”

“In the last two weeks a whole range of stakeholders have come out and demanded that the Burrup not be sacrificed. The Greens (WA) will stay at the forefront of this campaign until we have seen it through.”, Mr Chapple said.

Wattleridge Becomes New South Wales’ First Indigenous Protected Area

Unique bushland of significant botanical and cultural value in the New England region is to be conserved with the declaration of New South Wales’ first Indigenous Protected Area (IPA).

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Sharman Stone, congratulated the Banbai people on their decision to manage and conserve the “Wattleridge” property for the protection and conservation of its natural and cultural values.

“The Wattleridge IPA comprises 480 hectares of unique bushland on outcropping granite. It is the last remaining remnant not so far protected in the New England region,” Dr Stone said at a ceremony at Wattleridge to mark the declaration.

“The Wattleridge IPA contains the only recorded axe grinding groove sites and fully recorded art sites in the local area. The area is of tremendous importance to the Banbai community,” Dr Stone said. The Wattleridge property was purchased in 1998 for the Banbai Land Enterprises by the Indigenous Land Corporation in recognition of its cultural significance for the local Aboriginal community and its potential for development of small-scale businesses, particularly ecotourism.

The Banbai community hopes to make the Wattleridge property self-sufficient. As part of the IPA program small business enterprises will be developed to help provide employment and extra funds for environmental management. Plant propagation and the promotion of Wattleridge as a tourist destination are proposed.

The Indigenous Protected Areas program is part of the National Reserve System Program that aims to establish a network of protected areas that includes a representative sample of all types of ecosystems across the country. There is now at least one in every State and the Northern Territory. The program supports Indigenous landowners to manage their lands for the protection of natural and cultural features for the benefit of all Australians according to internationally recognised standards and guidelines.