A culturally significant site in the Pilbara which includes ancient footprints was allegedly recently drilled without the proper consent.

Pat Mason, who identified the site at Pretty Pool in 2010, told the National Indigenous Times she approached the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and had it registered.

“In the meantime, it was sent to the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee,” she said.

“For any works in the area, you have to do the due diligence as to who is the person who identified the site, the holder of the knowledge of the area. Other families didn’t know that site existed. There is a lot of heritage in the area.”

The Town of Port Hedland approved a footbridge and boardwalk project for the area.

One hole was drilled — 15m in depth and 12.5cm wide — about 4m away from the footprints identified by Ms Mason.

“If anybody wants to build or do anything, you have to consult with the knowledgeholder . . . the one who registers the site. They never did that,” Ms Mason said.

“The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage directed (the Town of PortHedland) back to Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation.

“Why didn’t they investigate in regards to who was the knowledge holder?

“If you are going to drill or explore the site, you have to apply for a Section 18, and that didn’t happen.”

Ms Mason said she would not have provided consent.

“I would have rejected it and they would have had to apply for ministerial intervention,” she said.

“No one asked me, and at the end of the day that’s a breach of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.”

The National Indigenous Times confirmed that Pretty Pool Creek, Place ID 28249, has been formally lodged with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage for consideration by the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee.

A spokesperson for the department said ministerial approval was required underSection 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 to undertake any activities as a result of which impact on an Aboriginal cultural heritage site is likely.

Consent is required from the minister for Aboriginal affairs, following a recommendation from the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee.

“The department . . . is aware of exploratory works conducted at Pretty Pool and is currently investigating,” the spokesperson said. All parties involved will be consulted as part of the investigation.

“There is no set time frame to conclude the investigation; however, it is being treated as a priority.”

They noted that “the works have ceased at the site”.

Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation advised the National Indigenous Times it had no comment at this time.

A spokesperson for the Town of Port Hedland said the Town had been directed by the heritage department to consult with Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation “only”, and not Ms Mason, as it was the prescribed body corporate which held Native Title intrust for the Kariyarra Native Title holders.

“Prior to initiating the Pretty Pool bridge and boardwalk project, Town officers undertook Aboriginal Heritage due diligence and a risk assessment,” they said.

“KAC then directed the Town to consult with Marapikurrinya Elders Diana Brown and Kerry Robinson regarding any works on the site.”

In December 2020, the Town received a heritage assessment survey and report commissioned by Marapikurrinya Heritage Services which said “no new archaeological or ethnographic sites were identified within the proposed footprint . . . (and) that any disturbance outside of the immediate worksite is kept to a minimum”.

It also noted Marapikurrinya family were concerned for the environment, especially the dune vegetation and the mangroves around the sites.

Ms Mason said the heritage department “should have notified the Town of Port Hedland in regards to the knowledgeholder”.

“They desecrated a site without a Section 18,” she said.

By Giovanni Torre