Ancient outdoor art gallery a step closer to World Heritage listing

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation's chief executive Peter Jeffries at Deep Gorge

Murujuga in Western Australia’s north — home to the world’s highest concentration of rock art engravings — could join the pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China on the World Heritage list after traditional owners formally supported the move.

The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), which represents the Ngarluma, Yinjibarndi, Yaburara, Mardudhunera and Wong-goo-tt-oo traditional owners, said it had officially asked the WA government to pursue World Heritage listing.

There are currently 1092 sites on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage list of places of special cultural or physical significance around the world.

They include natural and manmade wonders from the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, to Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Murujuga, 1544kms north of Perth, also known as the Burrup Peninsula, is estimated to contain more than one million rock art images, some more than 35,000 years old, according to MAC.

The Corporation’s chief executive officer Peter Jeffries said there was unanimous agreement among its circle of elders that MAC should pursue World Heritage listing.

The nomination process was officially launched at an event at Hearson’s Cove, between Karratha and Dampier on the Burrup Peninsula. A joint letter of support was signed with WA Premier Mark McGowan.

Mr Jeffries said it was important the unique outdoor art gallery was preserved for future generations.

“As the custodians of this land, we have a duty to preserve our rock art because it provides a vital link to our culture, land, songs and stories,” he said.

“Our people have been part of this land for tens of thousands of years, and this rock art tells the stories of our country, and our intrinsic link to it,” he said.

“It is a record of our history, but more importantly, it’s a record of our culture as it was given to us by our ancestors which allows us to continue to participate in our culture and defines who we are as Aboriginal people.”

Mr Jeffries said MAC also believed that World Heritage listing could help promote the Pilbara as an international tourism destination, providing jobs for local people.

He said they were pleased the WA Government would support the World Heritage move.

The joint letter of support would be sent to the federal government to begin the formal process of applying for World Heritage listing, the WA government said. The federal government would then apply to UNESCO.

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said a successful bid for World Heritage listing would need a collaborative approach between the MAC, traditional owners and the government.

“Through the nomination, we will work hard to reflect the unique cultural, spiritual and archaeological values of the area so the Burrup can be recognised globally,” Mr Wyatt said.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the Burrup Peninsula had spiritual significance.

“The Burrup Peninsula is of great spiritual significance, a vital part of Western Australia’s cultural heritage and the site of internationally significant petroglyphs (rock engravings),” he said.

“World Heritage listing represents a game changing opportunity for tourism in the Pilbara and Western Australia bringing international awareness of the Burrup, its incredible rock art and Aboriginal culture.

“We expect many new jobs would be created as a result.

“Industry, the environment and Indigenous culture already co-exist on the Burrup, and this will continue with the World Heritage listing.”

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson yesterday (Tuesday) announced the setting up of a Burrup Rock Art Stakeholder Reference Group to oversee finalisation and implementation of the Burrup Rock Art Strategy.

The strategy will provide a long-term framework to monitor, analyse and address any changes to the Aboriginal rock art from emissions, he said.

The WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation will be responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the strategy in partnership with the MAC.

It will meet for the first time on Monday (September 10) and be headed by former Federal MP Ron Edwards.

By Wendy Caccetta 

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