Multinational to be Prosecuted for Allegedly Destroying Rock Art

Burrup mapThe fight to save ancient treasures goes on. There are the bigger battles, the ones to save important heritage sites from war-time destruction see Kashgar, Iran and Iraq. There are the battles against neglect, as in the case of Libya. Then there are the battles against the downright stupid. The careless. The ignorant. The culturally desolate wastelands that can sometimes be found inside the human body.

In Western Australia, the state government is set to prosecute a cement and quarrying company for allegedly decimating 10,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art.

The Age newspaper reported that the company CEMEX admitted breaching a national heritage zone in Burrup, a protected heritage area in Western Australia’s north. However the company says its actions left no damage. The government contends that CEMEX bulldozed and blasted rocks known to contain important rock art. It says the actions also damaged an ancient Aboriginal quarry that houses archaeologically significant indigenous tools. The Age reported that CEMEX was blaming a manager who has since left the company.

A Giant Of Business

Now CEMEX isnt some little cement company that’s not savvy enough to knows its rights and responsibilities (or the law). Its the Australian arm of the world’s largest building materials supplier and third largest cement producer. The environmental sustainability section of its Australian website is at pains to point out the company’s green credentials “We believe that, as well as complying with the law, we should be progressively reducing the environmental impact of our operations… Our people partner with environmental protection agencies and local school to restore scrub ad wetland habitats and also participate in restoring endangered species habitats…”

Just not, it seems, the habitats of people who lived 40,000 years ago.

Now CEMEX isnt some little cement company that’s not savvy enough to knows its rights and responsibilities (or the law).

Western Australias Department of Indigenous Affairs has been investigating the breach since January, but a local Aboriginal elder and a custodian of the Burrup rock art, Wilfred Hicks, told The Age destruction of rock art in the area had been going on for years.

Whether Mr Hicks alleges this destruction to be at the hands of just CEMEX is unclear. What is clear is that the indigenous custodians of this important site are seemingly powerless to stop what they say is big business destroying important art and other artefacts left by their ancestors.

Under the states heritage laws, fines of up to AUS$5 million can be dished out, along with seven years jail for individuals authorising such destruction. So the question remains: if these penalties dont deter businesses from engaging in cultural vandalism of this type, what will? How do we protect important sites such as the Burrup rock art?