One of Western Australia’s leading heritage experts says the government must toughen up its heritage laws in the wake of allegations that mining giant Rio Tinto allowed the dumping of priceless Aboriginal cultural materials and did not inform the traditional owners for 25 years.
Peter Veth, a senior archaeologist and heritage commentator who was involved in surveying of the artefacts, said new laws must ensure such a “traumatic” mistake cannot happen again.
“The state has to show leadership. It’s a really tough portfolio. It’s big money. And if they can’t get the compliance right in an area worth tens of billions of dollars – and of the Pilbara, which is one of the great heritage estates in the world – then we’re not a modern state. We’re locked in the 50s,” said Veth, a professor at the University of Western Australia.
Rio Tinto has been accused of allowing hundreds of irreplaceable Aboriginal cultural artefacts salvaged from its Marandoo iron ore mine in the Pilbara to be thrown away at a rubbish dump in the 1990s, and failing to disclose the disposal to Aboriginal traditional owners.
Eastern Guruma elders say they learned of the dumping after uncovering documents which show Rio Tinto and the WA government knew artefacts salvaged from their important and sacred sites in the 1990s had been thrown away, but failed to tell them.