The Federal Environment Minister has denied an application to protect the site of thousands of Aboriginal artefacts as he is "not satisfied that the area specified in the application is a significant Aboriginal area".
In early April an urgent stop work application on the multi-billion dollar Sydney light rail project was sent by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, a group of Indigenous traditional owners, and Aboriginal heritage consultants to the Federal Environment Minister.
While over 21,000 thousand artefacts had already been excavated at the site and safely stored, heritage reports show that thousands more were at risk of being disturbed if construction were to continue.
The discoveries made so far include spear tips, knife blades, scrapers, cutters and about 12 marriage stones, given to a man when he comes of age and gets married.
The artefacts, are believed to show evidence of early conflict at the time of invasion, however a complete assessment of the significance of the site has not been concluded.
Director of Tocomwall Cultural Heritage Consultants Scott Franks was hired to consult on the cultural importance of the site, and he says this decision by the federal minister is astounding.
“Based on the complexity of the amount of objects and artefacts that are contained in such a small area this is one of the most significant sites I've seen in 30 years,” he says.
Furthermore, he says that the key Aboriginal representative bodies and cultural heritage experts had no say in the Environment minister’s decision.
The Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act 1984 defines a significant Aboriginal area as an: “Area of particular significance to Aboriginals in accordance with Aboriginal tradition”.
The Environment Minister failed properly address specific questions from NITV about which, if any, relevant Indigenous groups were consulted.
The construction work has so far been undertaken in consultation with GML Heritage Consulting, Tocomwall, La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council and Darug Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Consultants (DACHA).
CEO of La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council Chris Ingrey says he was also not consulted by the Environment Minister.
However, another application under Section 10 of the Heritage Act, is still pending consideration by the minister.
This would require the minister to commission a special report regarding the site.
Debate over site causing rift in the community
However traditional owners say that the La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council has failed to adequately protect the site so far.
La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council was not involved with the emergency stop work order or protests against the development.
Bidjigal traditional owner Assen Timbery says that despite being one of the oldest families in the area, they’ve not been informed about the artefact discovery by the land council.
“If it wasn’t for [Tocomwall CEO] Scott Franks, I would not have found out about the artefacts, I would not have found out about the light rail,” he says.
“This land council has turned around and told me that they had a consultation with the members of the land council and they have not, they haven’t had a consultation with the traditional owners.”
However, the land council says they have been keeping members informed at their meetings and at other events.
“Three weeks ago we took a busload of elderly men from our community to go and have a look at the artefacts that have been excavated to date,” says CEO Mr Ingrey.
“They were able to provide the land council and the project team with some cultural significance information.”
'More scientific than cultural significance': Land Council
Mr Ingrey does not agree with the level of significance assigned to the site by Tocomwall cultural heritage consultants.
“When we deal with burials, when we deal with middens that have burials in them, and also ceremonial sites- they are the significant sites that we protect,” he says.
“This site is also significant, but we’ve got to weigh that up regarding the cultural significance of the different site types in this area.”
Mr Ingrey says this site is a deposit site, mostly containing small stone offcuts produced in the process of making weapons and therefore is of more scientific than cultural significance.
He says he is happy that the artefacts found are “being stored appropriately until the Aboriginal community here in La Perouse determines whats the best way forward from here.”