A year after the destruction of Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara by Rio Tinto, The Point spoke to Traditional Owners and the mining giant about the catastrophe.
“It was a sad day for us,” said Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinkara Aboriginal Corporation director Burchell Hayes.
“Finding out a couple of days later that it was actually destroyed, you felt the emptiness that something was taken away from you, something that was so significant to you and your community.”
A federal parliamentary inquiry has been investigating the destruction of the gorge and how to protect other sacred sites. One key focus is on WA heritage protection laws, including a section of the legislation that gives developers a blank cheque to destroy any site obstructing their plans.
WA Labor Senator Patrick Dodson, who is on the committee, told The Point of his sadness at seeing the suffering of the Traditional Owners.
“The DNA testing has linked those people to the early ancestors. So that tragic loss of human evidence of First Nations peoples in these lands, it was so sad, it was more than sad,” Senator Dodson said.
“Then to see the initial responses of the company, obfuscating about all of this, pretending they didn't know and that there was some kind of communication gap between the operators out in the field and the main executives was so typical of the passing the buck system within a Western white fellow system.”
In its interim report, Never Again, the committee found Rio Tinto knew the value of what it was destroying but went ahead anyway. The committee recommended a permanent moratorium on mining in the gorge and that compensation be paid to the Traditional Owners.
“No amount of money will ever replace that,” said Burchell Hayes.
PKKP member Sandra Hayes said of Rio Tinto: “They say they didn't know about all of this. They knew. They knew.”
"But we have got a long way, we have got to do a lot of work on remedy right now."
The Point also conducted an interview with Rio Tinto chief executive Kelly Parker and asked if the company could rebuild its shattered relationship with the Traditional Owners.
“We damaged our relationship so badly with the PKKP that it was important afterwards that we took steps to make sure that we could recover,” Ms Parker said.
“We are... on a very slow journey with the PKKP and they had a period of grieving but they'll hold pain all the time, as we will. That will motivate us to try to improve. But we have got a long way, we have got to do a lot of work on remedy right now.
"One of the things that we would really like to do is truly learn from this where we actual actually set a new benchmark or best practice around cultural heritage and mining. We want to set an industry standard.”
Ms Parker said the company was open to the PKKP idea of co-management.
“I think this will be part of the new evolution of what can we learn from such a disaster that was that we can actually change things for the good, not only for the PKKP but for Traditional Owners about how we operate on their land.”
This would include an Indigenous advisory group of five to eight people. The company would also “do the right thing” when it came to financial compensation.
RETHINKING BEN BOYD
Ben Boyd was a Scottish businessman who who forced South Pacific islanders to come to Australia to work for him in the 1840s, yet he has a number of places - including a town and a national park - named after him on the NSW South Coast.
The Point explored the push to give those places Indigenous names.
In Boydtown, near Eden, Elder B.J. Cruise of the local land council said: “When something's named after history, somebody that was so disrespectful to Aboriginal people, it's like a slap in the face for Aboriginal people. We want to get rid of the name and replace it with a more appropriate name.”
Mr Cruise has met with the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service, which has said it is working with an historian on the issue and will get a report by mid-year on whether the name should be removed.
Mr Cruise said: “Ben Boyd, in historical European documents, categorised Aboriginal people as vermin.
"To have such a thing as a national park named after him is completely wrong because National Parks is a body that amongst other things is responsible for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage.”
Historian John Blay, who has been working with the Land Council, said Boyd failed in his duty of care for the people he brought over to work for him.
“He wanted people to work with him for nothing and when the government wouldn't let him have convicts for free, he wanted the Aboriginal people to work for free … they wouldn't, of course. And they didn't. In the end, he set off to get Aboriginal peoples as virtual slaves from the new Hebrides and Vanuatu and all those places.”
But historian Peter Ayling said claims Boyd was a slave trader were not supported by evidence.
“Whatever happens you can't write him out of history. If they change the name we'll still be portraying Ben Boyd with every piece of historical evidence we can get.”
Boydtown resident Stephen Holmes said he had once admired Boyd as a child, but then he became familiar with the true history.
“A lot of my ancestors were chained … they were chained in pig pens, in rain, cold weather, nothing. That hurts.”
The Point highlighted the new National Museum of Australia exhibition Unsettled, which features more than 100 contributions from Aboriginal people and aims to retell history through Indigenous voices and vision.
“Some people might be unsettled by the content but that's because Australia's history is unsettling,” said Laura McBride, the museum’s first Indigenous director.
The exhibition traces First Nations history, from first contact with European settlers, details of invasions, frontier wars and massacres. First-hand stories are told of surviving genocide and the stolen generations.
“We get people to critique what they might read here or see about Aboriginal people,” Ms McBride said.
“We explain the importance of self-determination and the very last space you exit through is about deep listening, it's a space where people can reflect and they'll hear a story about rebirthing a new Australia.”
KIDS IN CARE
After the release of figures this week showing one in 18 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is in out-of-home care, The Point spoke in the studio to Catherine Little, the CEO of SNAIIC, the peak body for Indigenous children.
Ms Little said the figures - which equate to more than 18,000 children in care, 11 times the rate of non-Indigenous children - were “alarming and devastating”.
“I think it's worse than the numbers,” Ms Little said.
“What we are actually seeing is an acceleration in the numbers. So we are not getting better, we are not staying steady. Every year it gets worse. What we know is that, if something dramatic doesn't happen soon, if rubber doesn't hit the road soon, the numbers will be unimaginable within 10 years’ time.”
She said one of the targets within the Closing The Gap framework was to reduce the numbers by 45 per cent by 2031. Among the priority reforms: investing in community-led services and community-led solutions .
"The people with the expertise do understand what families need on the ground in their own environments, they already exist. We are just not resourcing that sector effectively,” she said.
“The truth of it is, the kids can't keep waiting for the changes, we need to mobilise and now.”
“The primary thing we advocate for is community-led decision making… One of the things we are looking at is, do each of the States and territories have their own Children's Commissioner for example? That is something that is desperately needed.”
The Point focused on a Victorian program aimed at providing a fresh chance and fresh voice for Indigenous men and women in prisons.
The works of more than 320 artists - 377 works in all - are on displayed at the Confined 12 exhibition at the Glen Eira City Council gallery in Melbourne.
“The first year I ran this exhibition, there were 49 artists and 62 art works,” said Kent Morris, CEO of The Torch program.
‘We could barely fill the walls. Here we are floor-to-ceiling in a big gallery and we are at a position where we are able to sell the art works.
“The men and women are seeing the changes it's making, it's inspiring others. So we almost can't keep up with the demand for the program … it's all down to the courage of the men and women connecting to the program and to the Elders who've built all of the information and knowledge for us to build this program.”
The key aim of the program was to stop the cycle of re-offending, and the numbers are hopeful: the overall re-offending rate is 55 per cent but just 11 per cent for those within the program.
The Point met with Hamilton star and Pilbara man Shaka Cook, who makes his musical debut in the smash musical.
Cook was interviewed by his brother, Brandon Cook.
“It was over a year of auditioning for this and during COVID, you know, you were helping me do all the measurements and filming myself and listening to me practice,” Shaka told his brother.
“That is when you first heard the music. So it's been a long process and a musical which I never thought I would be doing. Good challenge. But worth it.
“The first step was getting fit … saving money so I can move back to Sydney and then just learning the song. I looked at the Disney Plus version once, one-and-a-half times but I didn't want to get stuck in my head what happened in the original. So it was like what can I bring to it make it my own interpretation of these characters.”