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‘Cultural genocide’: Traditional owners blast Warragamba dam wall plan

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“As a result, Niche will be in contact with your group shortly to discuss the scope of the works,” Ms Regal wrote.

It is understood part of the extra work involves hiring a cultural historian to detail how the identified archeological sites fit into the broader culture of the Gundungurra and Darug traditional owners.

“I don’t know why the government is persisting in using Niche,” Aunty Sharyn Halls, an elder with the Gundungurra Aboriginal Heritage Association, said. “We have absolutely no faith in them.”

The 291-page heritage assessment report, attached below, said researchers had identified 334 cultural heritage sites.

Most were of high scientific or cultural significance, or both. These include rock shelters containing art and abundant stone tools, scar trees and water holes of importance for ceremonies and stories.

Despite these findings and its partial reach, the report deemed potential impacts on Indigenous culture of inundating some 5280 hectares during floods to be “relatively minor” as the area had been affected in the past, including from the creation of the original Warragamba Dam in the 1950s.

“[T]here is no significant detrimental effect to the quality or benefit that the Aboriginal history and archaeology of the Subject Area may provide to future generations due to the infrequency of the rain events that cause harm to Aboriginal objects,” the report concludes.

The report notes Registered Aboriginal Parties oppose the project.

Gundungurra traditional owners Kazan Brown (left) and her daughter Taylor Clarke visit a rock shelter that will be inundated if the Warragamba dam wall is raised and the larger lake fills. The rock shelter has many signs of Indigenous habitation from stone tools to rock grooves used to sharpen them.

Gundungurra traditional owners Kazan Brown (left) and her daughter Taylor Clarke visit a rock shelter that will be inundated if the Warragamba dam wall is raised and the larger lake fills. The rock shelter has many signs of Indigenous habitation from stone tools to rock grooves used to sharpen them.Credit:Wolter Peeters

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“We would like to record our objection to this development proceeding due to the significant cultural and environmental damage that would occur,” it cites one respondent as saying.

“I am sure the wider community generally does not believe that the destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage on such a significant level is in keeping with the expectations and values we hold as a society.”

Lake Burragorang from above. The lake sits behind Warragamba Dam, and would potentially fill as much as 17 metres higher if the government proceeds with plans to raise the dam's wall height. A survey found 334 Indigenous sites in the new flood zone during a study that examined only 27 per cent of the at-risk area.

Lake Burragorang from above. The lake sits behind Warragamba Dam, and would potentially fill as much as 17 metres higher if the government proceeds with plans to raise the dam’s wall height. A survey found 334 Indigenous sites in the new flood zone during a study that examined only 27 per cent of the at-risk area.Credit:James Brickwood

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Stuart Ayres, the minister of Western Sydney overseeing the Warragamba project, declined to comment specifically on the Indigenous heritage issues.

“The upstream areas will not be permanently inundated,” he said. “Any impacts of the increase in infrequent and temporary inundation are being fully assessed in the Environmental Impact Study.”

Kazan Brown, another of the traditional owners opposed to the project, said at the very least the survey of the cultural artefacts in the expected flood zone should be completed before it gets approval.

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“If you’re going to destroy something, at least survey what’s going to go,” Ms Brown said, adding that her uncle describes the process under way as “cultural genocide”.

Among the report’s recommendations irking elders is that there should be increased cultural awareness training.

Ms Brown said the current information centre at Warragamba had “just one paragraph” about how traditional owners were forced out, and they could start educating the wider community now.

Aunty Sharyn said the proposal that workers employed to raise the wall be given cultural briefings was particularly galling.

“They’ll say, ‘thanks very much for the training, now we’ll destroy it,'” she said.

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