‘APOLOGISE!’ – Traditional custodians demand an apology at Woodside AGM over cultural destruction
Traditional custodians from WA’s north west have made a heartfelt plea for oil and gas giant, Woodside Petroleum, to issue a public apology for the destruction of more than 4,000 pieces of cultural heritage in the 1970s.
Kuruma Marthudunera woman, Josie Alec, and Mardudhunera woman, Raelene Cooper, both attended Woodside’s annual general meeting in person to issue a heartfelt plea for an apology from CEO Meg O’Neill and Chairman Richard Goyder.
Addressing Ms O’Neill and Mr Goyder directly, Josie Alec referred to the apology issued by Rio Tinto for the highly controversial destruction of culturally significant rock shelters at Juukan Gorge.
“In the 1970s, Woodside destroyed between 4,000 and 5,000 pieces of rock art in the construction of the Karratha gas plant,” said Alec.
“Here, today, will you apologise for that destruction of our cultural heritage?”
Alec and Cooper are traditional custodians of Murujuga – also known as the Burrup Peninsula. The area is home to an estimated one million ancient petroglyphs – rock carvings which include illustrations of long-extinct species; depictions of human figures; maps and even some of the first images of European settlers and their ships. Some of the carvings are believed to be nearly 50,000 years old.
The area is currently the subject of a UNESCO world heritage bid, but the Burrup Peninsula is dominated by highly polluting heavy industry, of which Woodside is a significant part.
Issues around the protection of cultural heritage on Murujuga have been thrown into sharp focus by Woodside’s highly controversial Scarborough gas proposal which analysts have suggested will produce 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 25 years.
Emissions produced by heavy industry on the Burrup Peninsula have been found to eat away at the surface of the rock art, prompting fears that the world’s ‘oldest and largest art gallery’ could be gone within 100 years.
Research by Professors Benjamin Smith and John Black from the University of Western Australia (UWA), found that nitrogen oxides – released by heavy industry – create acids when mixed with rain and dew, eventually dissolving the rock art altogether.
The issue has been described by traditional custodians and conservationists as ‘Juukan Gorge in slow motion’.
Raelene Cooper also addressed the Woodside AGM by reading from an open letter, delivered to the WA Government earlier this year, setting out the widespread community opposition to the Scarborough project and fears for the ‘damage that will be done to our own cultural heritage’ and that their country ‘would be used in a way that will harm people all over the world by accelerating global warming’.
The Woodside AGM was also attended by several, high profile experts and analysts from Australia’s leading conservation, environmental and shareholder advocacy groups who asked questions relating to the company’s merger with BHP and its climate plan.
The plan, which was put to a vote of shareholders, has been subject to criticism for being ‘light on detail’ and criticised for inadequate emissions reporting, notably around Scope 3 emissions.
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