• A young protester at tiralina (Eaglehawk Neck). (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council chairman Michael Mansell says cultural heritage protection in Tasmania is an "absolute mess" following protests to stop a roadworks 'test-dig' at tiralina (Eaglehawk Neck).
Keira Jenkins

1 Dec 2020 - 8:53 PM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2020 - 8:53 PM

The chairperson of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council has said the issues threatening a traditional burial place at tiralina, a site 75 kilometres from Hobart on the state's east coast, have highlighted the inadequacies in the legislation meant to protect cultural heritage.

Michael Mansell described the processes involved in cultural heritage protection in Tasmania as "an absolute mess" after Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania and the Aboriginal Heritage Council granted permission to the state government's Department of State Growth to conduct 'test-digging' as part of a highway upgrade proposal.

"We've been telling them for years, Aboriginal heritage belongs to Aboriginal people," he told NITV News on Tuesday.

"White people want to manage our heritage on behalf of Aboriginal people so they set up these systems, but they're all based on white people's perspective.

"Until we get past that core fact that white people were the invaders and they took from us our land, and have given us bits and pieces back, that won't change. Our cultural heritage belongs to us. It's time to give back our heritage."

Mr Mansell said not only does the legislation need reform, but Aboriginal people need to be in control of what happens to cultural heritage.

"The legislation that is meant to protect our heritage here was made in 1976 so it's almost 50 years out of date," he said.


On Monday, about 40 Aboriginal community members gathered at the site, protesting the state government's plans to widen the Arthur Highway.

Community members said they would do anything to protect from destruction, including setting up a permanent protest camp.

The works have now halted, which Mr Mansell said is a relief, as the government had planned to widen the road to just metres away from a burial site.

"It's a very narrow strip. It's probably about 300 metres wide, and about 270 metres of that is a burial ground," said Mr Mansell.

"We know the extreme significance of the burial ground, but the government wanted to send in the archaeologists to dig half-a-metre test pits to see what's there - they didn't tell us about this or consult us about it.

"Everyone knows what is there. We don't need white people - archaeologists or not - digging around our burial site."

Mr Mansell said the state government has now agreed to talk with representatives from the Aboriginal Land Council and Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

He said he does not want to see any work on the road at tiralina.

"There is an existing, sealed road there. That footprint is already there and we can't do anything about that," Mr Mansell said.

"But we've said there should be no widening of the road there. The government wants to widen the road but they will have to accept they will have to live with our Aboriginal burial ground there.

"If they need to slow the traffic down there for safety, by all means, slow down the traffic. But there should be no work done on widening that road."

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre's Adam Thompson told NITV News any work done that would impact on the burial site would be unacceptable.

"We're not going to accept any invasive work," he said.

"Anything that impacts that area at tiralina, including archaeological investigations, we are opposed to.

"We are open to the opportunity to develop in association with the government, a management plan for tiralina."

The Tasmanian Department of State Growth said it had kept Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania and the Aboriginal Heritage Council informed about the plans for tiralina.

Mr Thompson said the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the Aboriginal Land Council should also have been consulted.

"The government has it's own processes, which are inadequate," he said.

"They have a hand picked Aboriginal advisory committee that they consult, but the Aboriginal community aren't involved in that process.

"What has happened here highlights the inadequacy in the state government processes."

While Mr Thompson said this issue is not unique to tiralina - there are significant sites all over Tasmania, and the mainland, that are under threat of destruction.

"This is just one area in Tasmania," he said.

"There are many important, culturally significant places under threat. I'd like for the state government to reconsider it's current attitude towards Aboriginal heritage.

"I'd like for them to give ownership and control over our heritage back to us, because there needs to be a lot of change and a commitment from government to make that change."

Protest over road works testing that threatens to disturb tiralina burial site
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the state's Aboriginal Land Council lead a protest against plans to disturb a burial site as part of a road widing proposal for the Arthur Highway.