Murujuga: industrial and cultural connections
Murujuga has one of the largest collections of engraved rock art anywhere in the world. The art is of cultural and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people, is on Australia’s National Heritage List and has recognised international heritage values. The Murujuga National Park (MNP) created in January 2013, recognises the cultural heritage value of the rock art and its environment and is owned by Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation who lease this back to the State who co-manage it. UWA aims to deliver a scientifically rigorous approach to research, monitoring and management that will provide an appropriate level of protection to the rock art. This research underpins significant impacts in the environment, society and industry and culture of Murujuga and the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Impact Case Study
The Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) is known for its cultural and archaeological significance, as it is one of the densest known concentrations of rock engravings in the world with an estimated one million images.
On 2 March 2011, the Australian Heritage Council (AHC) undertook an assessment of the outstanding universal values of the Dampier Archipelago and any threats to the site. The resulting assessment was based upon studies by Jo mcdonald and Peter Veth, and stated that the Dampier Archipelago rock art collection ‘represents the longest continual production of rock art in the world’.
Land tenure and uses around MNP are diverse, with the most significant industries being the iron ore rail head and shipping, solar salt, liquefied natural gas (LNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and ammonia production. In order to assess whether industrial emissions were accelerating the natural weathering of petroglyphs, a rock art monitoring program was established in 2000 and completed its work in 2009. In 2009, following the completion of these studies, the Burrup Rock Art Monitoring Management Committee (BRAMMC) recommended that the study of air quality and rock microbiology be suspended and only recommenced if warranted by a major increase in emissions, or if new evidence makes further monitoring warranted.
Professors Black and Hallam (CSIRO/UWA) conducted an analysis and review of the monitoring program. As a result of this analysis, a number of recommendations have been made to government and industry about pollution monitoring. The Burrup Peninsula Aboriginal Petroglyphs: Colour Change & Spectral Mineralogy report 2004–2016 was released by the WA Government. Black argued that the report includes an ‘important admission to substantial errors in analysis and interpretation of all previous reports’. Of particular concern was that: ‘…these reports have been used…to place the ammonium nitrate production facility in the midst of the rock art and to justify its high levels of emissions.’
A Senate inquiry was called in November 2016 to investigate if State and Commonwealth regulators and companies operating in the area were adequately protecting this nationally significant site. The inquiry also investigated the impact of industrial pollution on the National Heritage-listed Aboriginal rock art of the Burrup Peninsula. The inquiry called upon academics, industry, and concerned public citizens to make submissions.
Social and policy
MNP Management Strategy (2013) together with the new Murujuga Cultural Management Plan (2015) are the result of the compulsory acquisition of native title by the WA State Government and the Traditional Custodians of the coastal Pilbara. This allows for industrial development to progress across the Burrup as well as for the provision of conservation estates and management of the important Aboriginal heritage and biodiversity values. The establishment of a jointly managed national park marks a significant development in the management of protected areas in WA. The recognition of ongoing Aboriginal interests and responsibilities for managing country is at the core of this innovative and inclusive approach. The plan describes how the National Heritage listed values will be protected, how research can be conducted, and how access and facilities for visitors, tourism opportunities, education and interpretation of the magnificent cultural values can be provided.
Cultural and industry
Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) is the representative body for five Aboriginal language groups. MAC has developed a cultural management plan and training initiatives with the help of researchers from UWA. Cultural protocols have been developed to ensure that knowledge of traditional law remains at the foundation of all human interactions across this environment. In 2015, the MAC Research Protocol guideline was approved by MAC as part of the Cultural Management Plan. These cultural protocols call for any research to initially be discussed and approved by Elders or the traditional landowners and custodians of MAC first, prior to any field work being conducted on Country. This was a vital step in managing research projects being undertaken on Murujuga country.
In 2013, Rio Tinto was part of the application team for the ‘Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming’, ARC Linkage Project focused on understanding the deep time aspect of the rock art and the contemporary social values of the Dampier Archipelago. The collaborative Linkage Project granted in 2014 involves seven UWA researchers, MAC (as collaborating partner (with MLSU Rangers, traditional owners in the Circle of Elders) and Rio Tinto’s Heritage team. The Rangers work on country in the National Park and patrol 42 islands of the archipelago conducting sea patrols, collecting data using advanced GIS tools and apps and living their law and culture on sacred sites. Rio Tinto has partnered with MAC and UWA to undertake collaborative projects into the nationally significant rock art and other culture values of the Dampier Archipelago. UWA has developed a series of research protocols with MAC’s Circle of Elders which has allowed the excavation of various archaeological sites across the Archipelago as well as the sending of soil samples for OSL dating at Oxford University and radiocarbon dating at Waikato University. Developing a new level of trust and cooperation between MAC and researchers has been a significant output of the project and it is hoped that this will achieve ongoing research co-operation between tertiary institutions and others wishing to conduct work on country working with community. This collaborative project, managed by UWA, has resulted in a far better appreciation of the local and regional cultural and scientific heritage values. With the re-engagement of the traditional owners, more appropriate mechanisms can be established to ensure the long term preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage.
Researchers at UWA during the assessment period have long-term connections with archaeological studies of the Burrup peninsula: they have been engaged in heritage management projects since the original Woodside development in 1982. The UWA Centre for Rock Art Research and Management has existed since 2010. This Centre has transformed our critical understandings of the emergence of human creativity and cognition and demonstrated the significance of rock art in communication networks at the regional, national and international levels. By exploring the central role of art and symbolic behaviour in human communication, we generate new insights and solutions as the world enters the next era of globalisation and global citizenry. Research has been done on the Burrup Rock Art itself, on its importance to the traditional owners of the land, on the co-management of the area, on the intersection of industry and culture, and on the impact of industry on the rock art itself. The team comprised UWA Professors McDonald, Paterson and Veth and researchers Bourke, Hampson and Whitley.