First Nations leaders on the South Coast are fighting Boral’s plans to expand its Dunmore sand mine saying the area is near the site of a massacre.
The local Indigenous community says the land around the picturesque Minnamurra River holds the memories and scars of many important stories, including the massacre of at least six Aboriginal people by white people in October 1818.
Last December, mining company Boral won approval from the New South Wales Independent Planning Commission to expand its Dunmore sand mine near the river.
With large scale development forecast in Western Sydney over the next 10 years, Boral plans to use the project to supply the raw material for concrete and asphalt.
Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Paul Knight says the group opposed the project from the outset.
“We know in this area that a massacre occurred in this vicinity. We also know that in terms of landform and its proximity to Minnamurra River it was a gathering area,” he said.
“They have started an extraction from the site under Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit, which allows them to harm Aboriginal objects. I would use the word the destroy more than harm to assess the significance of this area.
“They are assessing this site based on what it will contribute to the knowledge of Aboriginal people and the use of this land.
“From my perspective, it is an old way of looking at it. Australia has come a long way, we recognise that Aboriginal people have lived on this land for tens of thousands of years.
“Yet they are still saying let’s add to that scientific understanding, rather than saying how do we protect this.”
Mr Knight said he understood recent works had unearthed a significant amount of artefacts.
He says Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) are taking part in the work and he is concerned for their welfare.
“The workers that are on site in my view are working under duress and the fact that they believe that the site is too significant to be continuing the work.”
The land council’s chairman Jade Kennedy said Aboriginal people should not be asked to work near the site of the massacre.
“Those places hold ungrounded and destabilised spirits, and it is not good,” he said.
“When these things occur, you are supposed to just leave it and let it regenerate, not dig it up, not expose it and especially not expose our own people to that harm when we didn’t cause it.”
Request for urgent federal intervention
The land council is seeking an urgent intervention from the federal government to stop work on the site.
It has lodged an application under Section 9 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection (ATSHIP) Act requesting a cessation of work at the site to allow appropriate consideration of the impact to Aboriginal cultural heritage objects and potential skeletal remains on this site.
It argued in its submission that the excavation of Aboriginal objects was occurring as part of a “salvage process” to allow the sand mine to go ahead.
“The high density of the artefacts was considered a highly likely possibility by the Aboriginal community prior to works commencing and approvals given. The Aboriginal community believes that the works cannot continue to proceed due to the density of objects being recovered and the very high possibility human remains will also be uncovered during the process,” the statement read.
“It is sick, it is torturous if not disgusting that you have got Aboriginal people being asked to identify their own heritage for no other reason or cause than to desecrate their own connection to country,” Mr Kennedy said.
“There is no denying the fact that when we have to go through these processes we are being forced to engage in a space where we are being racially abused, culturally abused, not for the benefit of our people.
“It continues to deny and if not perpetuate genocide of our country and our relationships to our place,” he said.
Company rejects site connected to massacre
Boral says there is no evidence connecting the project to the massacre site.
In a statement, the company said it placed “great importance and value on Aboriginal heritage”.
“The cultural heritage assessment process for the Dunmore Stage 5 project took over three years, including substantial consultation with Aboriginal stakeholders in accordance with NSW Government Aboriginal consultation guidelines,” it stated.
“The current salvage activities being undertaken at Dunmore are in accordance with the planning consent issued by the NSW Department of Planning in November 2020, as well as a methodology that was agreed with all registered Aboriginal parties (RAPs). This has resulted in an Aboriginal cultural heritage process that has gone beyond the basic Government-mandated requirements.
“Boral is committed to ensuring all sites are fully compliant with local, state and commonwealth government requirements. Boral undertook all consultation with Aboriginal stakeholders and Heritage NSW in a consistent and transparent manner and in accordance with Aboriginal cultural heritage consultation requirements.
“Boral has voluntarily stopped work on site and we are working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, registered Aboriginal parties and the Illawarra LALC while the Department and Minister consider the application.”
A Department of Planning, Industry and Environment spokesperson said the planning system had “strict criteria” to ensure potential Aboriginal cultural heritage impacts were considered before any approval.
“The Dunmore Lakes Sand Project has operated since 2000 and been modified three times following a rigorous assessment process, which has included the examination of Aboriginal heritage impacts,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Under strict conditions of consent, the applicant Boral must ensure all activities are managed in line with its approved Heritage Management Plan, which must be prepared in consultation with registered Aboriginal parties.”
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