Mere weeks after Rio Tinto destroyed a 46,000-year old Indigenous site in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, the Western Australian government has given BHP the go ahead to destroy a further 40 Indigenous sites.
The destruction of caves in the Juukan Gorge horrified the Australian public in May when mining giant Rio Tinto blasted the site as part of their $15 billion Pilbara mine expansion.
Rio Tinto was made aware of the archaeological and cultural significance of the site at least six years prior to the destruction of the caves, which contained archaeological evidence of continuous human occupation stretching back over 46,000 years. Despite a seven-year legal battle with the traditional owners of the land, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, Rio Tinto went ahead with their expansion on 15 May 2020.
It has now been revealed that just days after the Juukan Gorge blast, BHP was given clearance to destroy at least 40 – and potentially up to 86 – significant Indigenous sites in the Pilbara.
The Guardian reports that BHP is aware of the importance of the sites, which include culturally modified trees, rock shelters with painted rock art, stone arrangements and 40 “built structures… believed to be potential archaeological sites”.
The traditional land owners, the Banjima people, are deeply opposed to the destruction of their cultural sites. BHP’s own reports, obtained by The Guardian, show that the mining giant is aware of opposition to their $4.5 iron ore mining expansion.
Section 18 of the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act prevents the traditional owners from lodging objections or preventing their sacred sites from being damaged. Despite having no legal recourse to prevent destruction of their cultural sites, The Banjima native title holders told the state government in April that the “impending harm” to the area “is a further significant cumulative loss to the cultural values of the Banjima people”.
Despite both BHP and the Western Australian government being fully aware of the cultural and archaeological significance of the sites, the South Flank iron ore mining expansion is set to go ahead.
There is no report yet on when exactly the Pilbara site will be destroyed.