The discovery of more than 22,000 Indigenous artefacts believed to be 3000 years old on a construction site for Sydney’s Light Rail line is just the tip of the iceberg, say Indigenous heritage experts and a Darug elder.
Discovered among the artefacts were spear tips, knife blades, scrapers, cutters and about 12 marriage stones, given to a man when he comes of age and gets married.
It’s prompted calls to stop work at the Randwick stabling yard site, which Transport for NSW is developing in a public-private partnership with ALTRAC Light Rail.
Uncle Des Dyer says there is a realistic need for better transport, but the huge find has “stirred up a hornet’s nest” and now “needs to be preserved, no matter what”.
He says when a site such as this is found, there is usually more in the vicinity.
“The first time we found such a large quantity was a few years ago in Windsor,” he says.
“The more we dug, the more we found so in the end we stopped excavating and ended up building a museum - the Hawkesbury Regional Museum, on top of it.”
He says it was sad to see what damage had already been done to the site, but continuing any work would show a lack of value for the Indigenous heritage when “we’ve lost so much already”.
“If the young ones say, ‘Uncle Des, we want to learn…’ Where do I take them? There’s nowhere to show them where and what a tool site is because it’s been destroyed. That’s the saddest part about it,” he says.
“It’s destroying our culture totally.”
Registered Aboriginal Parties such as Tocomwall represent Aboriginal communities, and have been consulted on all archaeological work on the project.
Its part-director and cultural heritage manager, Danny Franks says certain materials tracing back to the Woonoruah region in the Hunter Valley were found at the site.
He says it indicates a trading route between one or more mobs for a specific circumstance, leading him to believe it was surrounded by ceremonial practices between the Woonoruah (PCWP) and Darug people, who still keep strong kinship bonds to this day.
“But it goes deeper than that ... if I was to estimate it’d probably be between 1000-3000 years old - it’s incredible.”
He says sites such as these will be destroyed, and they’re taking a stand despite “100 per cent of all development approvals for the light rail project were granted last year, along with heritage impact permits”.
“The more that get destroyed, the more important our cultural footprint is and it’s fast diminishing,” he says.
“It’s not a resource going to be around forever, and we need to preserve it for our future generations.”
He said sites with less than 25 per cent of the density size of this site have been recognised and they are fighting to have this area preserved.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson said archaeological work done in late 2015 and in January found a high density of Aboriginal artefacts at the location.
“The social value of the site to the local Aboriginal community is very high, and we are continuing to work with the RAPs to identify the artefacts and how they came to be found in Randwick,” the spokesperson said.
“Transport for NSW and ALTRAC Light Rail (which includes Acciona) are investigating, in conjunction with the Aboriginal representatives, opportunities to recognise the items found on site, for example in displays or education programs.”
Both groups have engaged with Aboriginal representatives, providing an opportunity to understand the significance of the site to each Aboriginal group and how they want the find to be recorded and recognised.