SA Mines and Energy Journal : April-May 2010
APRIL/MAY 2010 SA MINES & ENERGY JOURNAL 34 INDIGENOUS As a professional cultural heritage manager, I have worked in four states of Australia, advising developers how to comply with relevant heritage legislation. I have also consulted with Aboriginal communities regarding how they want their sites managed in the development process. One of the most important mechanisms for protecting Aboriginal sites and places has been legislation that provides "blanket" protection to all sites, whether registered or previously unrecorded. While blanket protection may sound excessive, in reality sites are disturbed or destroyed every day across the country by development and the mundane activities of a modern industrial society. For example, it has been estimated that few stretches of intact shell midden are left on the east coast of New South Wales, due to the pressures of coastal development -- and this is despite legislation providing blanket protection. In the current era of climate change, such sites could have much to reveal about past adaptations to rising sea levels. Yet this example shows that in practice, blanket protection does not preserve all sites: it simply increases the chance that some will survive for future generations. A critical point often occurs when a cultural heritage survey or monitoring team finds a previously unrecorded site in the path of development activity. In my experience, the most powerful tool in preventing the needless destruction of Aboriginal heritage is the ability to say: "If you proceed with this action, you will be in breach of the legislation. " This forms a persuasive argument for those on the ground working with earth-moving machinery and contractors who may have little knowledge of, and even less interest in, Aboriginal heritage. Invoking the provisions of blanket protection in the law is highly effective in gaining support to reconsider the location of drill holes, access tracks, etc, to avoid impact on sites of significance. Not every site needs to be protected, and this is where the concept of significance is so important. The current South Australian legislation includes definitions of significance which are flexible, and can be used in conjunction with the Burra Charter, the primary guidelines for cultural heritage management in Australia. The Burra Charter identifies social, historic, aesthetic and scientific significance; if a site or place has little demonstrable significance in any of these categories, an argument can be made that the development activity can proceed despite its impact on any material remains. The idea of a "duty of care" to which all parties should adhere has been raised as part of the review of South Australia's Aboriginal heritage legislation. While upper-level managers may be committed to a fair process of heritage management, they are not usually the ones operating a drill rig or dozer, and in the end it is these people who are responsible for how a site is treated during exploration/construction/ operation. Cultural awareness training for contractors and other staff who are on the ground during activities such as drilling or vegetation clearance would make a huge difference in resolving conflict during the process. Ethics is a vital part of archaeological education, which starts from the first encounter Saving sites of significance Indigenous heritage management in South Australia can be a thorny issue. Dr Alice Gorman offers an archaeologist's perspective. Sites are disturbed or destroyed every day Pin flags mark the location of stone tools used by Aborigines.