• One of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge. (PKKP Aboriginal Corporation.)Source: PKKP Aboriginal Corporation.
Pilbara Native Title groups have spoken to the inquiry into the destruction of ancient rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, saying they are concerned about their own sacred sites.
Keira Jenkins

3 Nov 2020 - 2:04 PM  UPDATED 3 Nov 2020 - 2:04 PM

The senate inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia has travelled to Karratha to meet with the PKKP Traditional Owners and to visit the site of the blast.

The committee arrived in WA on Mondayand held a private meeting on Monday morning with PKKP Traditional Owners, followed by a public hearing where they heard from Robe River Kuruma Aboriginal Corporation and Murujuga Aboriginal Corportation as well as the owner of a pastoral lease near Juukan Gorge.

Robe River Kuruma Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Sarah Slattery, told the inquiry that her people are concerned about the collective impact of mining.

“Not only Rio, we have everybody else out on Country,” she said.

“We are worried about what will be left for our children and grandchildren. There will be nothing left for them.”

Ms Slattery said RRKAC had only recently started to feel like they were being listened to when it came to negotiating with mining companies.

"I understand that corporate Australia and the investors all wanted some kind of outcome. But where were all of these people before?" she said.

"Why weren't they listening to Aboriginal people back then? It seems to me everybody's jumping up and down now. Where were these people six months ago?"

Evan Pensini, the owner of the Cheela Plains Pastoral lease, which borders Rio Tinto's Brockman 4 mine, said he had known the significance of the Juukan rock shelters and was surprised they had been destroyed.

"I knew the shelters were in the vicinity [of the planned pit expansion], I just presumed there was no way they’d mine over the top of them,” he said.

Inquiry chairman Warren Entsch asked: “So you’d really have to be from another planet not to know there was something there?”

Mr Pensini agreed.

Mr Pensini also raised concerns about opportunities to refuse mining companies access to his pastoral lease area.

“We physically cannot stop anything unless it is destroying part of our infrastructure," he said.

"Apart from that we don’t have any control.”

Inquiry into Juukan Gorge destruction to visit site
The committee examining the destruction of cultural heritage at Juukan Gorge will travel to Western Australia next week to speak with Traditional Owners on Country and visit the site of the blast.