Land agreement between Wajarri community, government sets path for $3 billion SKA-Low telescope in Murchison

Jamie ThannooGeraldton Guardian
A traditional dance is performed at the signing event.
Camera IconA traditional dance is performed at the signing event. Credit: CSIRO

A $3 billion telescope project designed to investigate some of the universe’s biggest questions is one step further to being built in the Murchison after a milestone agreement was signed by the traditional owners of the region, the Wajarri Yamatji people, and the State and Federal governments.

About 150 Wajarri people met with WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti and representatives from the CSIRO and Department of Industry, Science and Resources for the signing of the agreement at the Murchison Settlement on Saturday.

Negotiations on the Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the traditional owners of the Murchison region were ongoing for seven years, and now that it has been signed, construction can begin on the telescope.

The SKA-Low telescope will be part of the SKA observatory, an international network made of the world’s largest radio telescopes in Australia and South Africa. The project to build the world’s largest radio telescope has been in the works for more than 20 years.

Des Mongoo, Wajarri Yamatji board member and Minangu Land Committee member, said the agreement would empower the Wajarri community.

“The greatest thing about this is we have a heritage management plan within that area, and that gives us the power as Wajarri people to ensure that these sites are protected,” he said.

“This is going to be a great relationship and we could tell from the beginning, once we took charge of the negotiations and we became the leaders of these negotiations, that we’re going to have a good relationship.

“There are not only the financial benefits for our people, but there’s also employment contract opportunities for Wajarri people”.

Federal Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic said the Government was proud to work with the Wajarri community to protect cultural heritage while providing the Wajarri people with jobs, education, training and commercial benefits.

“No one can deny the importance and value of working together to uphold and protect the heritage of the Wajarri Yamaji land,” he said.

“We are proud to be partnering with your community to ensure you receive sustainable and intergenerational benefits from the SKA project.”

The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, where the SKA-Low telescope will be based, was given a Wajarri name: Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, which translates to “sharing the sky and stars” and was suggested by young Wajarri member Shakira Whitehurst.

Construction is expected to begin later this year.

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