Friday, May 17, 2013

Traditional owners protect their own cultural treasures

A partnership involving Wajarri Traditional Owners and two archaeologists from the University of Western Australia is seeing sites of extraordinary cultural and archaeological significance investigated and documented in Western Australia’s remote Weld Range.

Cultural importance of ochre mines

The 60km-long range in the Murchison – about 600km north-east of Perth – is home to the National Heritage-listed Wilgie Mia and Little Wilgie ochre mines and known to contain at least 18 more sites of critical cultural importance.

They include ecologically diverse hunting and camping grounds, waterholes, rock shelters, law grounds, specialist seed-gathering places, burial grounds, quarry sites, rock-art sites (often dominated by hand stencils of women and children) and stone arrangements, including one used to teach young boys undergoing initiation how to navigate by the stars.

“These places present a rare insight into past lifeways, communication, trade and marriage networks as well as the underlying cosmology of a living culture,” archaeologist, Project Co-ordinator and UWA Masters student Viviene Brown said.

Wajarri Traditional Owners have worked closely for several years with archaeologists from UWA’s Eureka Archaeological Research and Consulting Centre to gather site data but there is little official record so far of the cultural and archaeological treasures they have uncovered.

Research Project Director Dr Vicky Winton said a key goal of the federally-funded Weld Range Web of Knowledge project was to produce a cultural heritage management plan for prospective land users to ensure a collective approach to heritage management rather than the current piecemeal approach. The project would also foster the archaeological recording and reporting skills of Wajarri Traditional Owners to enable them to secure better heritage outcomes.

Engaged in active recording of cultural heritage

“This is their heritage and they are deeply committed to its protection,” Ms Brown said.

Wajarri Traditional Owner Colin Hamlett said the project was important for all Australians, particularly future generations.

“When I was at school they were teaching us about other country’s culture and language, but people in Australia should be learning about Australia and the history of traditional Aboriginal people,” Mr Hamlett said. “We thank UWA’s Eureka group for making this possible.”

UWA Eureka centre Director Professor Joe Dortch said he was excited to see the continuing partnership between the University and Wajarri Traditional Owners strengthened by the Federal Government’s Indigenous Heritage Program.

“The Weld Range Web of Knowledge Project shows how archaeologists and traditional owners, by working closely together, can produce excellent results in both cultural heritage management and research.”

The Indigenous Heritage Program – administered by the Federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities – has granted Ms Brown, Dr Winton and a core group of Wajarri Traditional Owners $229,800 over three years, including funding for three 11-day field trips.

Past Horizons. 2013. “Traditional owners protect their own cultural treasures”. Past Horizons. Posted: April 11, 2013. Available online:

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