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10 Jun 2020

Lorena Allam & Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian

Australia: BHP mine expansion threatens to destroy up to 86 sites of historical and cultural significance to Aboriginal community

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“BHP to destroy at least 40 Aboriginal sites, up to 15,000 years old, to expand Pilbara mine”, 10 June 2020

…BHP Billiton is poised to destroy … as many as 86 significant Aboriginal sites in … Western Australia (WA) to expand its … iron-ore mining operation … [despite opposition from] traditional owners…

… [A] BHP archaeological survey identified … evidence in the broader area [that] showed “occupation of the surrounding landscape has been ongoing for approximately 40,000 years”.

BHP’s report … identified 22 sites … and 40 “built structures … believed to be potential archaeological sites”.

Under section 18 of the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act, the traditional owners … are unable to lodge objections or to prevent their sacred sites from being damaged.

They are also unable to raise concerns publicly about the expansion, having signed comprehensive agreements with BHP as part of a native title settlement…

[In a letter to the WA government] the native title holders said: “The significance of the sites … is such that Banjima people cannot and do not support the destruction of those sites…” They would “suffer spiritual and physical harm if they are destroyed”.

BHP’s 2019 report … but decided it was “not reasonably practicable for BHP to avoid the eighty-six … sites”…

… [O]nly 40 [sites] were considered [by WA’s Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee] … to be protected heritage site[s], despite the Banjima saying all 86 should be protected.