A cultural evaluation report for traditional owners has found the Eastern Guruma people of Western Australia’s Pilbara used and occupied an area called the Ngajanha Marnta – or Spear Hill – for at least 23,000 years, as they fight to protect its valley from a rail line planned by Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group.
In an initial report for the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation, a cultural evaluation team said a further proper investigation of the dozens of sites in the valley would probably uncover more information about the area’s cultural history, use and meaning.
“The small amount of analysis able to be undertaken already challenges what is thought to be understood by archaeologists of the behaviour and movements of Aboriginal people before and during the Ice Age,” the report stated.
The Wintawari report also delivers broadsides at FMG, claiming the miner did not represent the full significance of 50 sites in the area to the WA Labor Government and WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt.
As first reported by NIT earlier this month, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has stepped in and appointed an investigator to look into the matter. A Melbourne barrister is expected to report back with findings by May.
Area is a ‘spiritual centre’: report
The report for Wintawari lists rock shelters, old camping places and storage places for sacred items as important sites in the valley.
Some of the shelters were found to be rich in artefacts, such as stone flakes used for woodworking and spear-making.
The report, prepared with input from Eastern Guruma elders and traditional owners and cultural resource consultant Gavin Jackson, said the whole area was a spiritual centre that is still used today.
FMG wants to build the rail line through the Ngajanha Marnta Valley as part of its $1.5 billion Eliwana mine plans.
Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation chairman Glen Camille said the results would be disastrous for the Eastern Guruma people.
“Without intervention, we could be just months away from the destruction of rock shelters that house artefacts that prove consistent use for at least 23,000 years,” Mr Camille said.
“We could be just months away from the destruction of wall niches that have been used as burial places for 23,000 years.
“And we could be months away from a railway being constructed less than 100m from a site with 500 rock art panels that are at least 5000 years old.”
‘Petulant and offensive’: Wyatt
Meanwhile, Mr Camille is locked in a war of words with Mr Wyatt — also Australia’s first Aboriginal Treasurer — after the WA minister reportedly described some of Mr Camille’s claims as “petulant and offensive” and wrong.
“The comments made by Mr Camille are wrong in many respects, including the number of assessed sites he alleges,” Mr Wyatt said.
“These decisions are always difficult. I understand the passions and emotions attached to them and therefore take these matters very seriously and I am disappointed by the petulance of Mr Camille.”
Mr Camille has called for a public apology, but Mr Wyatt’s office said it had not had any request for an apology from Mr Camille.
FMG said earlier this month it had sought to work with Aboriginal people to ensure heritage was appropriately managed.
The company said it was open and ready to contribute to the Federal Government review.