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Article

28 May 2020

Author:
Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian

Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine

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26 May 2020

A sacred site in Western Australia that showed 46,000 years of continual occupation and provided a 4,000-year-old genetic link to present-day traditional owners has been destroyed in the expansion of an iron ore mine.

The cave in Juukan Gorge in the Hammersley Ranges, about 60km from Mt Tom Price, is one of the oldest in the western Pilbara region and the only inland site in Australia to show signs of continual human occupation through the last Ice Age. It was blasted along with another sacred site....

Mining company Rio Tinto received ministerial consent to destroy or damage the site in 2013 under WA’s outdated Aboriginal heritage laws, which were drafted in 1972 to favour mining proponents.

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...[D]espite regular meetings with Rio Tinto, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation was unable to stop the blast from going ahead....

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The Aboriginal Heritage Act has been up for review....

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In its submission to the legislative review, Rio Tinto said it was broadly supportive of the proposed reform but that consent orders granted under the current system should be carried over, and that rights of appeal should be fixed, not broad or subject to extensions, lest it “prolong approvals or appeals processes at a critical point in the project.”

A spokesman from Rio Tinto said the company had a relationship with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people dating back three decades, “and we have been working together in relation to the Juukan area over the past 17 years”.

“Rio Tinto has worked constructively together with the PKKP People on a range of heritage matters and has, where practicable, modified its operations to avoid heritage impacts and to protect places of cultural significance to the group,” the company said.

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Part of the following stories

Australia: Rio Tinto mining blast destroys ancient Aboriginal sacred site

Australia: Extractive companies’ projects threaten to destroy Aboriginal heritage sites