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Feds urged to intervene as derided WA heritage law places Seven Sisters songline 'at risk'

Giovanni Torre -

Federal intervention has been sought to protect two culturally significant areas linked to the fabled Seven Sisters songline in Western Australia from proposed mining projects.

One of the projects, proposed by Mineral Resources for Mt Richardson, has already been granted approval at state level under Western Australia's controversial 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act.

The WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage confirmed a Section 18 Notice was submitted for Mt Richardson by MRL in October 2020 and given conditional approval by former WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt on February 2 last year.

The Section 18 consent will be current for the life of the project, unless the land owner decides not to proceed, despite widespread criticism of the Act's failure to protect Aboriginal heritage and the passage of the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act in December last year.

Anthropologist and Ngalia leader Kado Muir said the areas of Mt Richardson and adjacent Mt Forrest, which is the proposed site of a potential Vinar Consultancy project, were significant cultural and environmental sites.

Mr Muir said mining would not allow the area to recover from past grazing activities

"There are Dreaming storylines associated with Mt Richardson and Mt Forrest; the Seven Sisters storylines," he said.

"It is sad that the WA government, the former minister for Aboriginal Affairs and others prefer mining development to cultural heritage protection."

"This is after Juukan Gorge and it is a very culturally sensitive and important area.

"We did make representations to the company to protects the sites, they have clearly proceeded with a Section 18 application."

Mr Muir said he has pursued Federal intervention under the Commonwealth's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act as a last resort to protect 15 significant sites at Mt Richardson.

A Mineral Resources spokesperson said the company has been carrying out exploration and preliminary study works at Mt Richardson.

"We are proactively and positively engaged with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders in the Mt Richardson area and are following clearly laid-out approvals processes," the spokesperson said.

"Central to our approach is that we behave respectfully in the communities in which we operate, conserve biological diversity and ecological integrity and protect heritage sites.

"As MinRes moves through the approvals processes, we will continue to work closely with the Traditional Owners of the Mt Richardson area to ensure their voice is heard and heritage sites are protected."

A DPLH spokesperson said while a Section 18 Notice was submitted for Mt Forrest it had not been presented to the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee due to a lack of information, including heritage survey reports, in the application.

"The Department has requested a copy of the heritage surveys," they said.

Anthropologist Naomi Howells said Mt Forrest (Wutukumpu) was registered as a sacred site complex under Aboriginal Heritage Act in June 2010.

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