Aboriginal Heritage Recommendations

On the 23 June 2011 a successful motion and order for papers by Greens MP David Shoebridge passed in the NSW Upper House. The Coal River Working Party were invited to view those papers on the 17 July 2011, and a delegation consisting of ten members traveled to the NSW Parliament to view them and suggest recommendations. Please see our briefing to the NSW Parliament on our thoughts on what we think needs to change.

University of Newcastle Coal River Working Party – 19/7/11

KFC Development – Aboriginal Heritage Review


Respect for Culture. There needs to be a greater respect for Aboriginal heritage and culture within Australia, through ongoing education and public information. At present, even though there are laws to protect Aboriginal heritage, there is scant regard for them and they can be circumvented within the development approval process, as was clearly demonstrated in the KFC development.

Evidence. It is impossible to write history without documentary records, and equally important that it is verified and corroborated by surviving physical evidence. Without documentary and physical evidence you don’t have a case in a court of law, and neither do you have a case for a culture, without evidence all you have are unsubstantiated stories. So, it is crucial that:

1. archaeological reports are made and completed,
2. are of the highest scientific standards,
3. are open to public scrutiny, and
4. are publically accessible for ongoing research.

The Law. Aboriginal heritage continues to be managed through the National Parks and Wildlife Act, which predominantly focuses on flora and fauna legislation. It is essential that a separate Act that primarily deals with Aboriginal heritage be developed, which many other States already have in place.

Terminology. It may be helpful to avoid the separation of histories as ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Colonial’, and referring to both as ‘Australian History’. This would avoid the 200 year myopic view of Australian history as a ‘young’ country only 200 years old, and begin to absorb a more comprehensive history dating back millions of years, including geological, pre-historic, indigenous and colonial.

Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The process of gaining an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit (AHIP) to legally damage and destroy Aboriginal artifacts needs to be urgently reviewed. Currently, almost 100% of AHIP applications are approved by the NSW government, many of which have been issued to other State Government departments, such as the previously known DECCW (1) . Legislation should focus on what the developer should do with the important heritage site, such as interpretation, visual displays, avoiding or at the very least minimising impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage and should not focus on the methods used to destroy heritage.

Heritage Reports. The creation of archaeological heritage reports needs to be a more transparent and independent process.  At present, archaeologists are in the direct employment of the developers and are therefore placed in a difficult position, especially with the pressures from their employer to complete the job with minimal cost, rather than to thoroughly document the tangible evidence of past history on the site. In order to ensure the validity of results, archaeological reports should be created by an archaeologist(s) that are independent of the developer, and working under the aegis of the Government, such as the Department of the NSW Minister for Heritage.

All archaeological heritage reports, relating to Australian history (encompassing both European heritage and Aboriginal heritage), should be made available to the public via the public and University libraries. As it stands, completed reports are only available to the public at the decision of the developer. As such, most reports are not made accessible to the public and their validity cannot be publically scrutinised. What this means, in effect, is that our local history has been privatised, and we do not have access to our heritage.

For significant sites, such as this one, the resultant report from an archaeological heritage assessment must be made available before any development can commence. As evidenced with the KFC development, the Aboriginal archaeological report was released approximately 1-year after the KFC was built. At least 6,800 year old highly significant Aboriginal artifacts had already been destroyed by the time the report was released. It is imperative that it is a legislative requirement for all archaeological reports to be completed and released for viewing prior to the commencement of development. It is also imperative that archaeological investigations take place during the inactive period of a development site. An example is the current former Empire site, across the road from the KFC site which is currently lying fallow, with no development pressures – this is the time to conduct a thorough investigation.

Predictive Aboriginal Sites Map. It is vital that there is an early identification of Aboriginal heritage issues in the development planning process. There is currently no legislative requirement to identify Aboriginal heritage issues at the early stages of a development and therefore they are typically not mentioned by developers. It is important that funding be made available for local Council to prepare a predictive aboriginal sites map, to ensure that potentially important sites are identified and proper measures taken.

Indigenous Consultation. It is the view of the Awabakal Traditional Owners that, in this instance, they have been included within the consultation process with the Archaeologist Alan Williams, however they have not had much communication with the KFC site manager and/or the proponent regarding the proposed Aboriginal interpretation for the site.  With this in mind, at the time of the excavation they did feel that their efforts to bring their concerns regarding the importance of the Aboriginal and Colonial Cultural Heritage contained within the site fell on deaf ears.

1. See Answers by the relevant Ministers representing the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, to Question on Notice Number 0127 (31 July 2007), Number 2091 (28 October 2008), Number 3009 (7 May 2009) and Number 3120 (17 June 2009), Legislative Council, asked by Ian Cohen MLC, as available to download at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au.

(The University’s Coal River Working Party wishes to thank Melanie Patfield and Jane Ison who distilled the views of the participants and prepared the original drafts of this document. We also thank the ten participants that generously gave up their day to work on this matter.)

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