For the East Guruma people in north-west Western Australia, the potential for their sacred land being demolished to make way for an mining rail line is heartbreaking.
East Guruma elder, July Hicks says the whole situation is ‘hurting’ her.
“We’ve got nothing to show for our next lot of generations. What’s gonna happen to them?” she said.
“They’re gonna have nothing left to talk about, nothing here to say this is where you’re descendants lived, this is where your elders came from because of mining companies destroying the land.”
The proposed Fortescue Metal Group Eliwana rail will run for 120 kilometres linking the existing Solomon Mine to the planned Eliwana Iron Ore Mine, located 90 km west-northwest of Tom Price. The Eliwana mine has the potential to make $1.5 billion (USD).
Located 50 kilometres south of Marble Bar, Spear Valley holds the history of East Guruma Dreamtime stories and songs. The area is also important for men’s business and is located near lore grounds.
It’s believed Aboriginal people have been occupying the area since the Ice Age with evidence dating back more than 23,000 years.
According to the Traditional Owners, Ngajanha Marnta and the surrounding areas contain rock art, wall niches and rock shelters.
“Just around the corner you have camping grounds, and stuff like here (points to rock shelter) where they (Aboriginal people) hid stuff away, for people not to see. And then you got the river down there with the water and stuff and then you got Spear hill there. So the whole area is connected,” East Guruma elder Terry Hughes explained.
Wintawari Aboriginal Corporation is the Native Title group representing the East Guruma people.
They’re asking for FMG to change their route for the planned rail line and go around Spear Valley in order to preserve their long history.
Fortescue Metals Group made an application under Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 to gain access to use the East Guruma people’s land for the rail line construction.
Section 18 states: “where land users conclude that impact to a Site is unavoidable, the consent of the Minister may be sought under section 18 of the Act to impact the Site by giving notice to the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC) accompanied by the information as to the intended use of the land and Sites on the land.”
Late last year Wintawari sought approval recognising the importance of the site in order to try and preserve it and win their case for the rail to moved.
Wintawari Aboriginal Corporation made an application to the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee to provide missing information on the cultural significance which would then be given to FMG, the committee and the WA government before considering FMG’s rail line.
The Aboriginal Corporation was granted approval last year, to find evidence and submit it by March 1 2018.
However, the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee gave recommendations for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt to approve FMG’s application back in November last year; on the same day as they granted Wintawari permission for their material.
At the time, Wintawari chairman Glen Camille slammed the WA State government.
“The facts are clear. On the same day, that the ACMC and the Department for Planning, Lands and Heritage provided us with the required permits to allow work to determine and document the significance of the area, to help inform the minister’s decision on the FMG application, the ACMC and the department also discussed and then recommended to the minister that FMG should be granted consent to destroy these sites," he said.
“At best, this reflects administrative chaos within the ACMC and the department,” Mr Camille said.
Mr Camille also alleges 50 sites will be destroyed by the rail line, a claim the State Government denies.
The WA Government previously stated the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee determined 12, not 50 sites met the criteria under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
The Government also said the decision in November related to the Solomon mine and its infrastructure, and the Eliwana Rail Project is still with the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.
Fortescue CEO, Elizabeth Gaines said in a statement to NITV News the mining company worked closely with the Eastern Guruma people and the nominated Traditional Owners who helped identify important Aboriginal heritage sites.
“We remain optimistic that through ongoing engagement important cultural heritage can be managed appropriately,” Ms Gaines said.
The mining company said an agreed upon boundary around Spear Hill was designed and the Fortescue railway will stay outside of the boundary.