Australia’s Roe Highway in Perth under fire for undermining historic aboriginal sites: Critics decry expert panel’s reversal of previous objections

By @diplomatist10 on
Police patrol the roads amid the devastation in the suburb of Hobsonville after a tornado
Police patrol the roads amid the devastation in the suburb of Hobsonville after a tornado went through the western suburb in Auckland December 6, 2012. Three people were killed and several injured after an unusual storm, described by witnesses as a "mini tornado", hit New Zealand's largest city of Auckland on Thursday, toppling trees and ripping debris from a construction site. Reuters/Nigel Marple

A political storm is brewing in Australia over the extension link of Roe Highway in Perth that allegedly cuts through the historically significant aboriginal lands in the area. The project has been in limbo for many years following environmental objections. Recently, the Western Australian government advisory committee de-registered the aboriginal heritage site and gave the go ahead for it. 

The controversial site on the northern banks of Bibra lake is some 20-minute drive south of the Perth CBD and considered sacred by the Noongar people, who rever it as the birthplace of a giant serpent called Waugyl, which supposedly created rivers in the Perth area.

The green signal for the project has come from Australian authorities, bypassing the objections. The project seeks to link the highway on the banks of North and Bibra lakes to the south of Perth. The construction work on the Roe Highway will begin in 2016 and will be the first leg of the Perth Freight Link with an estimated cost of AU$1.6 million, the Guardian reported.

Twist in environmental clearance

The action of Western Australian government advisory committee in de-registering the Aboriginal heritage site has annoyed critics, who hold the site “older than the pyramids.”

Raising concerns over the project, Lynn MacLaren, WA Greens MP, said the area is of “particular cultural significance” given the presence of rare “chert" in the area as a vestige of the last ice age as a “clear indication that the site has been in use at least 5,000 years.”

Govt version

The government archaeologists have defended their findings that overturned the earlier objections, saying their survey in 2014 revealed that the area was “subjected to high amounts of disturbance” and “no aboriginal cultural material was identified within the site boundaries.”

However, their report has a rider: “An in-depth archaeological excavation program may establish the presence of an intact subsurface deposit below the level of disturbance which was beyond the scope of the inspection visit.”

Former premier flays

Meanwhile, former Western Australian Labor premier Carmen Lawrence attacked the proposed Perth freight link and called the state government "pig-headed" and described the Environmental Protection Authority as "weak.”

Dr Lawrence teaches psychology at the University of Western Australia. She said the stage one Roe 8 component of the Perth freight link was an "absolutely ridiculous idea" as it has been shelved by several previous governments for good reason, ABC News reported. However, there was no official reaction from the state government on the matter.

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