• Regina McKenzie wants to save her traditional lands from becoming the site of Australia's first nuclear waste dump. (Laura Murphy-Oates)Source: Laura Murphy-Oates
EXCLUSIVE | A bone believed to be part of an ancient Aboriginal skull is sitting alongside thousands of Indigenous artefacts on the site of the proposed national nuclear waste facility in South Australia.
Laura Murphy-Oates

The Point
10 May 2016 - 4:01 PM  UPDATED 1 Jun 2016 - 4:11 PM

Adnyamathanha traditional owner Regina Mckenzie picks her way carefully across the red dirt clearing on Wallerberdina station in the Flinders Ranges.

On the ground are thousands of white flecks which Regina explains are ancient spear tips and grind stones used by the Adnyamathanha throughout the ages.

WATCH: Traditional owners reveal ancient Aboriginal skull bone on proposed nuclear waste site.

“All this country that you see around here…it's like a layered cake,” she says.

“When its eroded this is what you got, this is how much archaeology I'm talking about,” she says.

In the centre is an upraised dirt mound where she picks up a small triangle-shaped rock.

“That looks like a rock, doesn’t it?” she says.

“That’s actually an Aboriginal person’s skull bone.”

She turns the rock over in her hand, revealing the curved white bone of an ancient skull, riddled with a network of cracks.

A 2011 report from the South Australian Forensic Science unit confirms that, 'it is likely that the bone originated from an ancient Australian Aboriginal’, however it has not been tested for sex, age or date as yet.

This bone fragment may be a game changer for the Adnymathanha people, amidst rising tensions in the Flinders Ranges region over the proposed location of the national nuclear waste facility on Wallerberdina station.

The site was picked late last month by the Federal Government out of six properties voluntarily nominated around Australia for the long term storage of low level nuclear waste and temporary storage of intermediate level waste.

The facility will take up 100 hectares of the 6000-plus hectare property, but an exact location is yet to be determined.

While native title does not apply to the land -  which is crown land on a perpetual lease to former Liberal Senator Grant Chapman- state heritage protections still apply.

Regina Mckenzie lives on the property next door at Yappala station- one of just 72 sites nation-wide listed as an Indigenous protected area, due to its cultural and environmental significance.

She says that doesn't stop at the fence line, with a 70 kilometre songline running right through the Wallerberdina property all the way down to Lake Torrens, with many sites yet to be recorded.

“We've got cave paintings in around the corner, and we've got archaeology and we've got rock carvings up there on that hill, we've got graves, we've got ancient graves,” says Regina.

“This is what I want to protect, our ancient people's burials… and I don't want nobody touching these people, it's too important.”

A South Australian Department of State Development spokesperson confirmed that there are three Aboriginal sites that fall within the Barndioota nomination area- two cultural and one archaeological.

Town meeting highlights rising community tension

In early May more than a hundred Hawker residents- about a third of the town’s population- turned up to a government meeting outlining the plan for the next phase.

The government is promising 15-20 jobs, and a $10million dollar cash injection to the town if the facility is built.

They’ve now added a $2million package, regardless of whether the facility goes ahead.

Hawker resident John Hennessy was one of the few residents to publicly voice his support during the meeting.

“This will put employment into the town forever, we're talking about a project that's going to run for 300 years or whatever, it's an enormous project,” he says.

“There’s an enormous amount of money involved and we're honoured to be able to receive it if it goes ahead.”

Federal member for the electorate of Grey, Rowan Ramsey attended the meeting and said it’s important that residents are armed with the facts.

“We have to find a solution Australia-wide, we've been trying to for 30 years,” he says.

“This time the government and the opposition agreed that we would ask land holders to nominate and then we would consult with the community and that’s what we're doing,” he says.

The presentation was frequently interrupted by angry interjections from members of the crowd - many expressing concerns about the lack of consultation with the town and the Adnyamathanha people.

73-year-old Adnyamathanha Elder, Enice Marsh travelled two hours from her retirement home in Gladstone to attend.

“I would like to send a message to the government, if the government plan on putting a radioactive waste dump… near our most important Dreamtimes stories I think this is totally unaccepted, and I am saying to the government to stop this madness,” she says.

Concerns the town is being bought off

The CEO of the Adnymathanha Traditional Lands Association Vince Coulthard told The Point that the Federal Government has failed to consult properly with them so far, twice cancelling meetings with his board members at the last moment.

“The minister [Frydenberg] called me on Tuesday morning at eight o'clock and he was assured us that these people would come and meet with the board…. but we won't hold our breath because they've said that before,” he says.

He’s also concerned the town is being bought off, describing the $2million dollar package as a “kick in the guts”.

“It will sway people, because it's like a carrot dangling, I mean money talks…we bring $133million dollars through the region through tourism and what’s $2million dollars?”

Local farmer Jon Gill says many of the landowners and farmers are standing with the Adnyamathanha in opposition to the waste.

He shares 10 kilometres of fence line with the nominated site and is worried the stigma around nuclear waste will impact tourism and drive down the value of his 4000 sheep and 50 head of cattle.

“It’s going to affect everything up here, it’s going to be known as the hawker dump,” he says.

“When it gets dry and tough out here, tourism is what we live on and if we lose that we lose a big chunk of our livelihood.”

Broad community support needed to proceed

The Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia Josh Frydenberg has emphasised in a statement that no final decision on the location has been made and there must be ‘broad community support’ to proceed.

Polling earlier this year showed more than 60 percent of residents in the area were broadly supportive of the project progressing to its current phase of broader consultation.

A department of Industry, Innovation and Science spokesperson confirmed that more polling will be done in the coming months along with face-to-face meetings.

The next phase will also involve a range of technical assessments on the site -including an independent cultural heritage survey in consultation with the Adnymathanha people.


Adnyamathanha people gear-up to save their land from nuclear waste dump
As a royal commission hands down it's final report about whether South Australia should lead the way in nuclear waste, the fight over the nuclear waste dump in the community of Hawker heats up.