Aboriginal community members are demanding the Tasmanian state government stop its plans to dig near a traditional Aboriginal burial site on the state's east coast as part of a highway upgrade proposal.
During a protest held at a site at Eaglehawk Neck on Monday, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council said it would set-up a permanent protest camp to protect the site if a prelimanary test-dig for a road-widening proposal isn’t called off.
The state government is planning to widen the Arthur Highway at Eaglehawk Neck, also known by its Aboriginal name tiralina, about 75 kilometres from Hobart.
Chairman of the Aboriginal Land Council, Michael Mansell, said the government planned to dig half-a-metre test pits on an old Aboriginal burial site that covered the area.
“We already know it's a burial site, we want them to stop the works. (We hope) that they develop a management plan in consultation with Aboriginal people that protects the Aboriginal burial site forever,” he told NITV News.
The state's Aboriginal Heritage Council granted the Tasmanian Department of State Growth a permit to conduct the testing.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Tasmanian Department of State Growth said the current design plan for the road-widening does not affect any existing identified Aboriginal heritage in the area.
It wants to test previously un-investigated areas before beginning the roadworks.
“While the current design for the project does not affect any existing identified Aboriginal heritage area, the Department of State Growth became aware of areas of Potential Archaeological Sensitivity (PAS) through the Archaeological consultancy it commissioned,” it said in a statement.
“The Department’s next step would be to undertake investigations as required by the regulator.
“Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania and the Aboriginal Heritage Council have been kept informed throughout the development of the project. The members of the Aboriginal Heritage Council are from the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and have extensive knowledge and experience in Aboriginal heritage management.”
Mr Mansell said the Department of State Growth needed to consult with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the Aboriginal Land Council, not just Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania and the Aboriginal Heritage Council.
“That’s just part of the government’s processes,” he said.
“The government should be telling their departments to go and talk to the Aboriginal community. Instead the government has said ‘don’t worry about them, just get on with it'. So, the government is the problem, not the public servants that are doing the government’s directions.”
Twenty-one-year-old Maggie Blanden attended the protest on Monday and said she is prepared be a part of a permanent camp to protect the site from roadworks and dig-testing.
“We’ve been dealing with this for generations and generations. It’s time for this to stop and we need to take action. We’re not going to leave until this ends,” she said.
Community member Adam Thompson said Aboriginal people from all over Tasmania gathered to protest the plans on Monday.
“We’re willing to stand-up and say we’re not going to have this, and we’re willing to have a permanent camp to stop it,” he said.
The spokesperson from the Department of State Growth said further consultation will be done.
“There will be no works undertaken at the site pending the outcome of these discussions,” they said.