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Why we are seeking World Heritage Listing for the Murujuga Cultural Landscape

Peter Jeffries -

Last Friday the Ngarda-Ngarli – the Traditional Owners and Custodians for Murujuga in Western Australia's Pilbara region – celebrated the milestone of our nomination for the Murujuga Cultural Landscape being submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Preparing the dossier took more than four years of knowledge-sharing and decision-making by the Murujuga Circle of Elders and Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC).

We are now waiting to hear whether the World Heritage Committee will evaluate the nomination in 2023. If it does, a decision on the nomination could be made as early as mid-2024.

This is only the second World Heritage nomination to be submitted by Australia that is driven by the Elders and Traditional Owners and Custodians for the property being nominated.

The first was for Budj Bim, in western Victoria, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2019.

People have asked why it has taken until now for Murujuga to be nominated, especially as this place is so rich in culture and knowledge spanning more than 50,000 years, not to mention up to two million diverse specimens of rock art.

It is worth noting that the World Heritage nomination for Budj Bim was first proposed in 1989 and it took the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and members of the Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation 15 years working together to deliver it.

Similarly, the Ngarda-Ngarli, including the Ngarluma, Mardudhunera, Yaburara, Yindjibarndi and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo peoples, have wanted World Heritage listing for Murujuga for more than 20 years.

Photo by A. Stevens. Supplied by Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation.

From the early 2000s, the State and Commonwealth governments had indicated that they were willing to support a World Heritage nomination for Murujuga if the Traditional Owners and Custodians wanted it.

When MAC decided, in 2018, to pursue World Heritage for Murujuga, we visited Budj Bim and used its example to plan how we would develop a nomination for Murujuga that reflected the Ngarda-Ngarli's responsibility to preserve, protect and manage our land, heritage and culture.

If the nomination succeeds as we intend it to, around 100,000ha of Murujuga, including the Dampier Archipelago, Burrup Peninsula and surrounding sea country, will be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

And, because the nomination for Murujuga Cultural Landscape emphasises that the Outstanding Universal Value of Murujuga depends on its continued management by the Traditional Owners and Custodians, Ngarda-Ngarli decision-making will become a core component of what is protected under the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

In other words, there will be a legal mechanism to ensure that Ngarda-Ngarli are at the heart of decision-making for Murujuga and acknowledged for their ongoing custodianship of the landscape for more than 50,000 years.

World Heritage Listing will also help build awareness around Australia and the world that Murujuga is an extraordinary example of creative genius and management of Country for more than 50,000 years.

In this way, World Heritage Listing will mean that we have support from the rest of the world to protect Murujuga for the next thousand generations.

Peter Jeffries

Chief Executive Officer, Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation

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