Save Dampier rock art

  • Author:
    n/a
  • Send To:
    Government of Western Australia
  • Sponsored By:
    AURA
  • More Info at:
To the Premier and government of Western Australia and the President and Members of the Legislative Council of the Parliament of Western Australia

The Dampier Archipelago in the Pilbara region of north-western Australia features the largest concentration of petroglyphs (pre-historic rock engravings or carvings) in the world. It also possesses a major corpus of standing stones, similar to megalithic monuments in Europe, the largest such occurrence in Australia. This outstanding body of Aboriginal rock art is considered to be the greatest non-European cultural heritage property in Australia, and is thus one of the major heritage sites in the world.

During the 1960s major industrial facilities were established at Dampier. Current plans by the Western Australian government of further extensions to this industrial complex designate 38\% of Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), the archipelago's major land area, to be occupied by petrochemical and other plants, increasing state emissions of air pollution by around 30\%.

Between 20\% and 25\% of the rock art has been destroyed since the 1960s, and there has been marked and quantifiable deterioration of the rest since the late 1980s. It is attributable to increased acidity of the rainwater, which gradually dissolves the natural dark-brown coating of the rock surfaces into which the petroglyphs were hammered. At present levels of atmospheric pollution, most of the Burrup petroglyphs will disappear during the second half of the 21st century. However, if local emissions are trebled, as proposed by the W.A. government, this process will be accelerated greatly, and the scientific data predict that the rock art will begin to disappear by about 2030.

The expansion of the industrial complex by adding a multi-billion dollar petrochemical industry is opposed by the owners of the rock art, Aboriginal people of the region, and by scientists, conservators, conservationists, the local Shire Council of Roebourne, the local population, the state opposition parties, and even by at least one of the companies involved. All of these parties request that the development be located at Maitland on the mainland, an industrial estate set aside for this very purpose.

The government's plan is even economically flawed. The Maitland Estate will have to be developed in any event, but by persisting with the Burrup plans the total cost of the required infrastructure will be $521 million, whereas it will be $300 million if only one area, Maitland, is developed. In addition to permitting the destruction of the magnificent and irreplaceable Dampier rock art galleries, the W.A. government is determined to waste $221 million of public money.

This is definitely not a confrontation between those who are for or against development. None of these parties opposes the development as such, but all of them want it relocated at Maitland. In addition, the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO) demands that the State Government exercises its responsibility of protecting the rock art, and that it implements a management plan for the Dampier Archipelago after proper consultation of the stakeholders.

The undersigned support these simple demands and request that the government of Western Australia reviews its policy concerning Australia's greatest cultural assets, and that it implements a comprehensive management plan that will protect the Dampier rock art galleries in perpetuity.