The Burrup Desecration

ISIL and Colin Barnett

YES, there IS a connection.

Earlier this year we were horrified to learn that ISIL, in its barbarous rampage across parts of the Middle East had destroyed the ancient cities of Ninevah and Nimrud. They burnt the library at Mosul which contained 8,000 irreplaceable ancient manuscripts. The UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called the destructions in Mosul a violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199, and the destruction of Nimrud a war crime.

Now Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, has decided that the Burrup Peninsula Rock Art should no longer be afforded the protection of being a Sacred Site. “Burrup Peninsula ‘deregistered’ as sacred site“. The first step in degrading and destroying this irreplaceable site of world-wide importance. All in the name of Industrial Development.  Once the thin edge of the wedge is allowed in, there will be gradual encroachment onto wider areas, destructive vandalism and many “Mia Culpas” from those who should be caring for this site. Yet a million mia culpas will not restore damaged art works to their pristine condition!

Colin Barnett is Australia’s ISIL!

What is “the Burrup”?

The “Burrup” is an ancient site, possibly six or eight times the age of Ninevah. A place where indigenous people recorded the world around them. It is still unknown whether this work was done as a religious duty, a record for future generations or simply for the joy of creating something as simple as ancient graffiti.

MurujugaKnown by the local indigenous peoples as “Murujuga” it is a petroglyph or rock engraving art gallery which dates back to before the last Ice Age. To a time when the living was relatively easy because there was time to spare from survival which was spent creating these labour-intensive works. To a time which included a period when the coastline was many kilometres to the West.

To comprehend how long ago that was, the Noongar peoples of South-West Australia have important oral tales of the Nyitting Times which means ‘cold,’ ‘cold time’ or ‘ancestral times.’ Noongar people know it as the Creation time. Tales dating back to the last Ice Age which ended some 13,000 years ago when there was good hunting on the land between the current coast and Rottnest Island.

The Australian Geographic reported in 2013, “One group of petroglyphs showing land-based animals, is thought to date from a time during the last ice age, when sepetroglyphsa levels were lower and the area was far inland. “

By measuring levels of Berylllium 10, a radioactive isotope that accumulates in the surfaces of rocks because of radiation from space and indicates how long they have been exposed to the elements, (results) support the idea that some of the rock art predates the last ice age, which occurred around 22,000 years ago, says Dr Ken Mulvaney, an archaeologist with Rio Tinto who produced the most recent age estimates based on the style of the art and weathering patterns.

The erosion “is such a slow process that the petroglyphs could remain visible for 60,000 years,” says Ken, who adds that neither he nor Brad (Professor Brad Pillans) think the rock art actually is that old.  Based on current evidence people only arrived in this part of Australia sometime between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago”, he says.

SAVING THE BURRUP

There have been a number of efforts to preserve the Burrup for posterity.

  •  2002; The National Trust of Australia (WA) and the Hon. Robin Chapple MLC nominated the Burrup Peninsula to the National Trust Endangered Places List
  •  2003; the World Monuments Fund added it to its list of Most Endangered Places-the first time an Australian place had been included.
  • 2004; the National Trust, the Native Title Claimants and Robert Bednarik, President of the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations, nominated the Dampier Archipelago to the National Heritage list, under the new Commonwealth heritage legislation.
  • 2007; Australian National Heritage listing. (in 2009, Jenny Gregory wrote
  • 2009 ;  This cultural landscape continues to be threatened by industrial development. Rock art on the eastern side of the archipelago, on the Burrup Peninsula, was relocated following the discovery of adjacent off-shore gas reserves so that a major gas plant could be constructed. Work has now begun on the construction of a second major gas plant nearby.) So much for National Heritage!
  • 2012; the 2012 Report by the Australian Heritage Council, reported that the The Dampier Peninsula meets UNESCO Outstanding Universal Values criteria for World Heritage listing.

 

This Burrup petroglyph may be one of the oldest carved faces in the world. (Credit: Ken Mulvaney)

This Burrup petroglyph may be one of the oldest carved faces in the world. (Credit: Ken Mulvaney)

 

TRUST GOVERNMENT PROTECTION?  

SURE CAN’T!

Claims have been made that since 1963, 24.4 percent of the rock art on Murujuga has been destroyed to make way for industrial development. (Robert G. Bednarik, Dampier Fact Sheet, October 2006)   The Western Australian government, responding to a question in parliament, has argued for a much lower figure, suggesting that approximately 4 percent of sites, representing approximately 7.2 percent of petroglyphs, have been destroyed since 1972. . Hon. John Ford, answer to question on notice, Western Australia Legislative Council Hansard, 16 August 2005.
A classic apples and oranges response.

Still, as the Western Australian government has noted, there is no complete inventory of rock art in the region,(WA Department of Industry and Resources, Burrup Peninsula, Frequently Asked Questions,) making assessments of current and future impacts on the site a challenging task.  (How convenient)   Even more interesting is the fact that none of the online references used in the above quote from Wikipedia is still online. Cue deserved conspiracy theory!

BURRUP’S FUTURE

Western Australia has a culture of tearing down its history. Whenever a city building is old enough, it is torn down and replaced with a modern concrete and glass monstrosity and pristine bushlands are cleared for industrial sites.

This does not bode well for a site which is in the way of short-term industrialisation.

There is no financial benefit to having those petroglyphs. Certainly not in a time of the dumbing down of Australia. Some may well be placed in museums around the country. the rest will be moved, rearranged, graffitied and any excess will be dumped,destroyed or reused as building fill!

On the East Coast we are seeing the ISIL-like destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

On the West Coast we will see the ISIL-like destruction of the Great Burrup Art Gallery.

 

 

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