Box 9.17 Burrup Peninsula National Heritage Place
The Dampier Archipelago was formed 6000–8000 years ago when rising sea levels flooded what were once coastal plains. The underlying rocks are among the oldest on Earth, and the archipelago is a sacred place, home to Indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years. Ngarda-Ngarlie people say ancestral beings created the land during the Dreamtime, and the spirits of Ngkurr, Bardi and Gardi continue to live in the area. The Indigenous people of this area have left their mark in one of the most exciting collections of rock art in Australia. The richness and diversity of this art are remarkable, with sites ranging from small scatters to valleys with literally thousands of engravings.64
In early December 2008, a mining company undertook a range of clearing, blasting and quarrying activities outside the identified mining tenement, within the Dampier Archipelago (including Burrup Peninsula) National Heritage Place (NHP). The affected area is approximately 50 metres x 200 metres, adjacent to the edge of a quarry pit and extending well into the defined NHP.
The clearing, blasting and quarrying are likely to have destroyed a number of archaeological sites in an area with generally high site density. Calculations based on the number of sites found in the immediate vicinity indicate that as many as three sites may have been in the cleared and bulldozed areas, although the exact nature and contents of these can now never be known.
An audit, systematic survey and recording of the impact area identified six new sites in the NHP.65 Archaeological sites were located around the margins of the disturbed areas, where intact landscapes were still visible. Sites found in the immediate vicinity of the disturbed areas included petroglyphs, a standing stone, an artefact cache and a quarry complex.66-67 The clearing, blasting and quarrying were assessed as having affected a contiguous high-density but relatively low-intensity archaeological landscape.
In attempting to prosecute this action within the NHP, the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts was constrained by the fact that the exact nature of the affected sites was not known, as they had not been archaeologically documented.65
In 2008, the Western Australian Government commissioned a heritage inventory methodology report, which recommended that 20% of the representative landscapes within the NHP be recorded systematically and intensively, and that a plan of management be written for petroglyph and stone structure sites (and the broader archaeological record) within the NHP. The absence of a general inventory of sites within the NHP (with the exception of a single 2 kilometre x 200 metre transect in Deep Gorge) creates a significant impediment to the implementation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 because the nature of the resource within the NHP has not been thoroughly documented, and therefore the occurrence or extent of any damage cannot be assessed.