Banjima Traditional Owners and BHP are investigating a rockfall incident at a cultural heritage site at one of BHP’s iron ore operations.

The incident occurred in January at the Mining Area C project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region and was recently discovered during a routine monitoring of the site.

It’s understood Banjima Traditional Owners and BHP are both unclear on the damage’s cause, launching a joint investigation into the incident.

BHP President Minerals Australia Edgar Basto said the discovery was made on January 29 but that the Banjima site is “not part of current mining operations”.

It’s understood BHP then notified Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (BNTAC) of the site disturbance, with Basto and BHP WA iron ore President Brandon Craig meeting with Banjima Elders of the Banjima South Flank Heritage Advisory Council to agree on the approach forward.

“Our relationship with the Banjima people is critically important to BHP,” Basto said.

“We have personally expressed our concern to Banjima Elders and commenced a joint investigation. We will continue to work with the Banjima in a spirit of respect and cooperation.

“We regard all Banjima heritage as important and we will learn from the outcomes of the investigation.”

Banjima Elder and BNTAC Chair Maitland Parker said the two organisations will work together to “ascertain the exact causes of the impact on the site”.

“Our Heritage Council was convened to ensure open lines of communication between BHP and Banjima on heritage issues and other matters — something that is now happening,” Mr Parker said.

BNTAC and BHP agreed to form the Banjima South Flank Heritage Advisory Council in 2020 after the destruction of Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto in May 2020.

The Advisory Council is made up of BHP representatives and Banjima Elders and is set to co-design BHP’s multi-billion dollar South Flank project, which is next to the Mining Area C operation.

The neighbouring South Flank project is still under construction and is set to produce its first iron ore from mid-2021.

By Hannah Cross