The campaign to save the rock art complex of the Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia has made excellent progress from mid-2006 to mid-2007. In June 2006 the film Sacred stones, illustrating the plight of the vast rock art concentration, was shown on Australian national television and reportedly seen by over two million Australians. This and numerous other media reports effected not only a sharp rise in public interest, it also precipitated the emergence of several new advocacy and support groups, such as the recently formed Friends of Australian Rock Art.
During 2006 I showed several key politicians the rock art I had re-discovered in the 1960s. In mid-2007, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources accepted my nomination of 22 March 2004 of the Dampier Archipelago to the National Heritage List. Though this will only protect most of the land area nominated (241 squ. km of the nominated 270 squ. km), the protected area does include West Intercourse Island, which houses the archipelago’s second largest corpus of rock art and which had been under threat of industrialisation.
Another effect of the Dampier Campaign has been that, since February 2002, it has succeeded in preventing the establishment of most of the major new industries the state government had planned for Dampier:
1. BHP Billiton, the world’s largest miner – natural gas from the Scarborough field – alternate location chosen at Onslow.
2. Apache Energy – natural gas from the Reindeer field – alternate location chosen at Forty Mile / Devil Creek.
3. Dampier Nitrogen Pty Ltd (formerly Plenty River Pty Ltd) – ammonia and urea – abandoned.
4. Japan DME – dimethyl ether project – abandoned.
5. Methanex Australia Pty Ltd, world’s largest methanol producer – methanol plant – withdrawn.
6. Australian Methanol Company Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of GTL Resources PLC) – methanol plant – withdrawn.
7. GTL Resources PLC – methanol plant – withdrawn.
8. Syntroleum Sweetwater Operations Ltd – synthetic hydrocarbons – withdrawn.
9. Plenty River Ammonia – ammonia and urea – withdrawn.
10. Sasol Chevron – synthetic hydrocarbons – withdrawn.
11. Shell – synthetic hydrocarbons GTL technology – withdrawn.
12. Woodside Aromatics project – ‘deferred’.
13. Chloralkali – dimethyl ether project – ‘deferred’.
14. Agrium Inc – ammonia and urea – still undecided.
15. Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals Corporation – ammonia and urea – still undecided.
16. LiquiGaz Pty Ltd (formerly GTL Resources and Australian Methanol Company) – methanol – still undecided.
17. Second plant of Oswal Industries – ammonia – alternate location chosen.
18. Dyno Nobel, world’s largest explosives producer – alternative location chosen.
The incompetent and vandalistic plans of the Department of Resources and Industry for Dampier have led to an abject disaster. The only plant built, Burrup Fertilisers, has been a technical and environmental failure, and the Pluto LNG plant, to be built shortly, has been plagued by planning delays and complications, its cost has blown out from $5 billion to $12 billion (and will increase further still), and it will be subjected to ongoing legal and environmentalist action because of its massive acidic emissions and other dangers. The Dampier polluters will certainly be made accountable for their needless destruction of Australia’s greatest cultural monument: all of these industries could easily be located elsewhere in a region that has one of the world’s lowest population densities.
In recent years I have made 61 official submissions to members of parliament and government agencies within Australia, totalling 329 pages. In addition, I have offered over 200 representations to other bodies and individuals, including national and international NGOs (e.g. World Monuments Fund, International Sacred Sites Trust), Unesco agencies, indigenous groups, heritage protection bodies, resource companies and other major corporate proponents, embassies, governments abroad, trade unions, environmentalist groups, public advocacy groups, academic bodies, indigenous protection agencies and various other relevant entities. Together with a series of publications (50 to 60) about this battle to save the largest cultural heritage asset of Australia, these endeavours have earned me the disapproval of a good number of people, particularly in the echelons of the state government and the resources companies (including one death threat), and among the consulting archaeologists engaged in the destructive work.
Other effects of the Dampier Campaign have been the exposure of the state government’s illegal approval of rock art destruction at Abydos/Woodstock, 250 km from Dampier. This was investigated by the Crime and Corruption Commission, and led to the resignation of the state minister who had opposed me in the film Sacred stones, John Bowler. A federal minister, Ian Campbell, who appeared in the same film and opposed the heritage listing of Dampier, was also sacked after exposures by the same commission, as were several other state ministers and senior bureaucrats. Perhaps more importantly, the Campaign has exposed that the state government has no idea who emits greenhouse gases in Western Australia, or the quantities involved. Nor had it ever mapped the extent of acid rain in the state. This was demonstrated after I arranged for questions to be asked in parliament on these subjects. It shows that the state government of Western Australia is not only permeated by endemic corruption, it is also incompetent and has no grasp of its environmental obligations, or of its international obligations in heritage management.
The state governments of Western Australia have presided over the worst case of cultural vandalism in recorded history, having destroyed or facilitated the destruction of thousands of stone arrangements and an estimated 95,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) since 1963. This destruction is still continuing today. The photographs on the left were taken in October 2007 at the Pluto site, near Holden Point, and they show rock art and stone arrangements being readied for removal or destruction. This present phase of cultural vandalism, conducted by archaeologists, commenced in February 2007 and is continuing. It is strenuously opposed by the Indigenous owners and by the supporters of the Dampier Campaign.
Robert G. Bednarik
Initiator and leader of the Dampier Campaign
NOTE: The photographs on this page were taken secretly by an employee who risked getting dismissed if he were caught. Please contemplate the risk s/he was taking to bring you this photographic evidence. The Dampier Campaign acknowledges his personal courage and commitment and thanks him most cordially.