Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation has published a damning submission to the Juukan Gorge inquiry outlining how Rio Tinto was able to mine freely under legislation which exempted the miner from any heritage restrictions.

The Aboriginal Heritage (Marandoo) Act 1992 was passed under a Labor Government led by Dr Carmen Lawrence and ensured the uninhibited use of 193 square kilometres of Eastern Guruma Country by Rio Tinto (then Hamersley Iron).

Although Rio Tinto holds a Section 18 consent over Marandoo under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA), the Lawrence Government rushed through the Marandoo Act just days after the miner was granted consent to impact heritage sites.

The Marandoo Act was passed the day after it was introduced to Parliament, ensuring no future legal challenges from Traditional Owners or other parties against Rio Tinto.

“This was the only time that such a heavy-handed measure has been taken to remove all protections for Aboriginal heritage within an area of land in Western Australia,” WGAC said in their submission.

“WGAC does not know of anywhere else in Australia where a government has removed heritage protection from an area of land and permits unregulated destruction of cultural heritage.”

Rio Tinto continues to operate Marandoo under the protection of the Marandoo Act almost 30 years later.

The only conditions the miner was required to follow were the four conditions outlined in its Section 18 consent – avoid the rock art complex, retain the integrity of the Thoongari burial complex, avoid and do not impact Mt Bruce/Punurunha, and complete a salvage and management program.

WGAC believes Rio Tinto never fulfilled the requirements of its last condition, and alleges Rio Tinto allowed its contractor to throw out bags of salvaged heritage material at the local rubbish tip.

“So little was the respect for either the State’s [Section 18] conditions, or for the cultural heritage that was destroyed on a massive scale, hundreds of Eastern Guruma cultural artefacts ended up in the bin,” WGAC said.

Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners expressed their views in a series of comments in the submission.

“The Elders were excluded from the decision making, left out and their concerns ignored. It was just like the native welfare days, where the decisions happened around them and about them,” said one Traditional Owner.

“It’s too upsetting to think about. It was taken away from us. Rio used the Elders at the time, used them and gave promises that they never kept.”

WGAC says members and Elders were unaware of the extent of what was lost and have been devastated by the discovery that their cultural heritage was thrown out at the Darwin rubbish dump.

“It is WGAC’s view that the accidental, and then deliberate, discarding and destruction of Eastern Guruma cultural material was never disclosed to the Eastern Guruma people. It is a secret that has been kept by HI and Government for some 25 years.”

Read the full submission below:

By Hannah Cross