Apparently a site of great cultural significance has been found in Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains. It’s a 100m x 50m sandstone slab covered in shallow engravings that are invisible for most of the day, emerging only in the angular light of dawn and dusk. From the substance of the engravings it is being compared to Mount Olympus, in that it supposedly depicts various deities and mythological creatures such as an ‘eagle man’ as well as “an evil and powerful club-footed being, infamous for eating children.”

The site is being described as ‘the most amazing rock engraving site in the whole of couth-eastern Austalia’. Probably second only to the thousands of known individual rock engravings on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, which was a hot topic of debate at the end of last year, but for one reason or another, has fallen from the spotlight of late.

Woodside Petroleum want to build an on-shore natural liquefied natural gas plant on the peninsula – which, by the way, will process the spoils of Australia’s support for East-Timorese independence back in 2002 (read about it here) – but the rock art is unfortunately precisely where they want to build it.

At the time, we recorded about 9500 engravings on our North West Shelf leases, many of which remain undisturbed today. About 1800 were relocated. (from Woodside Petroleum’s website)

The same website claims that Woodside are working with local Aborigines to minimise any impact on the remainder, but from all news pieces on the matter, this is by no means uncontroversial.

No matter what we try and do, it’s the Minister is the one who’s got the answer. We could sit and cry day and night and they’ll just turn around and say, “There’s only black fellas. We’ll just go straight through them. We want this project to go ahead. We’ll go straight through it.” And that’s the way it’s happening. (Wilfred Hicks talking to the 7:30 report)

Hicks refers to the Minister for Environment (former Minister by now; Howard shuffles them around so often that it’s amazing they actually know what their portfolios are) Ian Campbell, who refuses to assign heritage listing to the Burrup, citing economic growth as the reason (and this is was the Minister for the Environment, not Industry).

Anyone who knows the extent of this rock art, and who says that none of it should be disturbed is taking an absolutist position that will hurt Australia’s economy and it will hurt the world’s environment. (transcript of a PM program, taken from the department’s website)

He mentions hurting the world’s environment here because of the relative benefits of natural gas as opposed to other forms of fossil fuels, but that is another debate altogether. To cut a long story short, I am skeptical that they would reduce any use of coal-power, just because of an influx of gas, and, by the time the gas is exported on diesel-powered ships, the difference in emissions is greatly reduced.

Having said that, it isn’t just the federal government taking an unreasonable economic-growth-trumps-all argument; understandably, the Western Australian government is keen to preserve the state’s 14% growth. And at the end of the day, why let a bunch of old rocks get in the way of inherently unsustainable economic growth?

Luckily, Wollemi National Park is nowhere near any politically hot natural gas reserves (as far as we know!) so it has a good chance of gaining the heritage listing that the Burrup desperately needs.

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