First Yamatji On Country meeting in Carnarvon to discuss controversial Aboriginal heritage bill

Edward ScownGeraldton Guardian
Bardi traditional owner Frank Moochoo prepares to perform a traditional dance at Parliament House
Camera IconBardi traditional owner Frank Moochoo prepares to perform a traditional dance at Parliament House Credit: Nic Ellis/The West Australian, Nic Ellis

The inaugural Yamatji On Country meeting next week will bring together Indigenous people from the Mid West to discuss issues affecting the communities.

In focus will be the controversial Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, which is yet to be presented to Parliament, and has been in a consultation phase since September last year.

Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation co-chair Peter Windie said the event would be an opportunity for the community to learn more about how the Bill would affect them.

“We want Yamatji On Country to offer everyone the opportunity to gain a clear understanding of what is happening with the new Heritage Bill, and what it means for protecting cultural heritage in the Yamatji region,” Mr Windie said.

The Bill would replace the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 and is intended to give Indigenous people the tools to take responsibility for the cultural heritage of their communities.

However, Aboriginal groups from the Mid West, South West and Goldfields are concerned the Bill is not strong enough to help protect their heritage.

The State Government has committed $10 million to establish Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services, which will act as representatives in negotiations over land use. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson said they “will be the primary decision makers and will have significant influence in the management of cultural heritage within their appointed area.”

Final word in any disagreements between land users and traditional owners would fall to the Minister, which Mr Windie said was no improvement on existing legislation.

“If the Minister decides destruction of heritage can occur, it will,” he said. “The Bill requires a giant leap of faith that people who want to carry out activities will be prepared to reach agreements with traditional owners to avoid damaging our cultural heritage.”

The two-day event in Carnarvon starts next Wednesday. The first day will be exclusive to traditional owners, but Thursday will be open to visitors and government representatives.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails