• A protest against the proposed Shenhua Watermark mine. (SBS Mandarin/Edgar Lu)Source: SBS Mandarin/Edgar Lu
While some Aboriginal cultural heritage sites threatened by the Shenhua Watermark mine site on the Liverpool Plains in Gomeroi Country will now be shielded by a motion recently passed in the NSW parliament, Traditional Owners still say more needs to be done by government to truly protect sites.
Keira Jenkins

24 Jun 2020 - 2:50 PM  UPDATED 24 Jun 2020 - 2:50 PM

Just weeks after the mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed ancient rock caves at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia's Pilbara region, the NSW Parliament has passed a motion to protect sacred sites on the proposed Shenhua Watermark mine site in Western NSW.

Gomeroi Traditional Owners, who sought protection of cultural heritage on the proposed mine site on the Liverpool Plains in 2015, have welcomed the support from the NSW Parliament but want more government action to stop mining corporations from destroying sacred sites.

Shenhua plans to build an open cut mine on a site, near Gunnedah, where it expects to extract about 10 million tonnes of coal.

Gomeroi woman Veronica 'Dolly' Talbott said there are grinding grooves on the site, which Shenhua plans to move to protect them from mining activities.

She told NITV News these plans were "ridiculous".

"It's not possible to move those grooves without destroying them," she said. "But still they get permission to go ahead."

Ms Talbott said while it was heartening to see a motion passed unopposed through the NSW upper house to protect sacred sites at the proposed Shenhua Watermark mine, there needs to be more commitment to protecting cultural heritage across the country.

"It's a step in the right direction but let's not forget that there are already five mines in that area destroying cultural heritage," she said.

"If the government is committed to protecting our sacred sites, they should not be approving Shenhua's mining license on June 30."

'Enough is Enough'

The motion, moved by Greens MP and Environment and Water Spokesperson Cate Faehrmann, noted the destruction of the ancient caves at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia, and called for the NSW Government to ensure a similar act will not occur at the proposed Shenhua Watermark coal mine.

Ms Faehrmann said support for the motion comes at a critical time.

"The world's eyes are upon us as we decide whether to allow yet more destruction of the spiritual and cultural heritage of our First Nations peoples and some of the world's most ancient cultural artefacts," she said.

"Shenhua Energy itself has acknowledges that its massive coal mine will destroy significant Aboriginal cultural heritage and sacred sites.

"After the devastating, yet lawful, actions of Rio Tinto a few weeks ago, which destroyed 46,000 year old rock shelters in Western Australia's Pilbara region, it's clear the sentiment in the NSW Parliament that enough is enough."

But Ms Talbott said the damage is already being allowed to occur on her Country.

"The reality is that these approvals are just a 'tick-a-box' with no real concern for the value - not monetary, but spiritual value - of these places, and the mines just get to go ahead."

Last year, the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley rejected the Gomeroi Traditional Owners' application for cultural heritage protection.

Ms Talbott took the Environment Minister to court over her refusal to grant heritage protection in May and she is currently awaiting the judge's decision on this matter.

Ms Talbott said the case could have implications for Traditional Owners across the country.

"It's funny that we have to meet the criteria of non-Aboriginal people to find out what's sacred to us, but we do,"she said.

"And then to be told you meet the criteria but the monetary value of the mine is more important, that's a slap in the face, not just to our people, but all Aboriginal people."

A spokesperson from Shenhua told NITV News they would not comment on the motion.

'Another Juukan Gorge situation': Ngambri man calling for stop to development at Mt Ainslie
A Ngambri man fears a repeat of the kind of destruction seen at Juukan Gorge, but this time in Canberra for a new housing development that threatens to level a significant cultural site.