UK based company METKA EGN have destroyed an estimated 200 stone manufacturing and hunting tools while undergoing earthworks on Wiradjuri Country.
An investigation by the New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment found the company had begun works on a solar farm development north of Wagga Wagga before getting an Aboriginal heritage impact permit in July 2020.
Wiradjuri man Mark Saddler, who was one of the local Wiradjuri people who provided evidence of the artefacts to the company, said what infuriated him and the Wiradjuri people is that the company had access to information through the community.
“They’ve pleaded ignorance, they’ve jumped the gun, and they’ve destroyed a Songline down here.”
“Behind the development site at Boman is an axe quarry that produces basalt, a stone for tool making, that site is a special place for the Wiradjuri people,” he said.
“Where the infrastructure is going to be built is to the east of this site and we’ve identified many artefacts running through an old creek line.”
METKA EGN have been fined $1,500 for damages, a consequence Saddler believes shows a complete disrespect for Wiradjuri people, land and artefacts.
“The fine and outcome is disgraceful,” he said.
“The local Wiradjuri community are outraged and deeply saddened by lack of respect and understanding, the fine does not represent the large-scale damage done to Wiradjuri Country, land, Songlines, items and our people.
“I want to see that any monetary fines be put back into the local community so that the Wiradjuri people can repair, make good and replenish that which has been taken from us.”
The Wagga Wagga Solar Farm is now in negotiations with the Wiradjuri community, who have made several “non-negotiable demands” following the destruction of the artefacts.
The demands include cultural awareness training for METKA EGN staff, a Wiradjuri employment strategy, better cultural induction for new work, and a sign placed outside the farm to recognise Traditional Owners.
Saddler said he and another Wiradjuri community members will be facilitating an immersive cultural awareness and Wiradjuri history program starting with the two directors of MEKTA EGN.
Independent Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr has raised the issue of damage to the Indigenous artefacts in State Parliament.
On Tuesday, Dr McGirr put forward a notice of motion, acknowledging the sorry of the Wiradjuri people after the site was damaged.
Dr McGirr also called on the NSW Government to increase the penalties for developers who breach cultural and community obligation in developments.
He also raised the issue directly with government ministers.
“I believe these penalties need to be harsher, so developers don’t just assume that if they just pay a fine, they can just get away with breaching any guidelines that are set down, whether that’s the environment, culture or community,” Dr McGirr said.
Saddler said he has contacted NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Don Harwin “multiple times”, asking the Minister to investigate the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment over their decision to fine METKA only $1,500. So far, he has received no response.
He said the Wiradjuri people are strong, and that local voices need to be heard for the benefit and education of all Australians.
“After all that has happened to our people, we still want to educate and share,” Saddler said.
NIT contacted METKA EGN for comment but received no response before time of publication.
By Darby Ingram