Stand Up for the Burrup: Saving the Largest Aboriginal Rock Art Precinct in Australia

Jenny Gregory

Abstract

The Dampier Rock Art Precinct contains the largest and most ancient collection of Aboriginal rock art in Australia. The cultural landscape created by generations of Aboriginal people includes images of long-extinct fauna and demonstrates the response of peoples to a changing climate over thousands of years as well as the continuity of lived experience.

Despite Australian national heritage listing in 2007, 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.

This article describes the rock art of the Dampier Archipelago and the troubled history of European-Aboriginal contact history, before examining the impact of industry on the region and its environment. The destruction of Aboriginal rock art to meet the needs of industry is an example of continuing indifference to Aboriginal culture. While the complex struggle to protect the cultural landscape of the Burrup, in particular, involving Indigenous people, archaeologists, historians, state and federal politicians, government bureaucrats and multi-national companies, eventually led to national heritage listing, it is not clear that the battle to save the Burrup has been won.

Keywords

Cultural Landscape, heritage, Aboriginal rock art, protest, industrial development

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