Indigenous site ‘older than pyramids’ in Perth freeway’s path taken off heritage register

Archaeological survey by state’s Department of Aboriginal Affairs identified no Aboriginal material at Bibra lake north site in Perth, despite 1970s study that uncovered more than 2,000 artefacts

A piece of chert similar to the ancient artefacts that were discovered near Bibra lake. Photograph: UWA Archaeology/AAP

A Western Australian government advisory committee has deregistered an Aboriginal heritage site that is “older than the pyramids” and reversed its previous opposition to a proposed freeway which will overlap the site.

The site is on the northern banks of Bibra lake, about a 20-minute drive south of the Perth CBD, and under the path of the proposed Roe 8 freeway extension. Construction is scheduled to begin next year as part of the first leg of the $1.6m Perth Freight Link.

The site was taken off the Aboriginal heritage register by the Aboriginal cultural materials committee (ACMC), part of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, in June, because an archaeological survey conducted by the department found no Aboriginal cultural material.

At that same meeting, the committee reversed its previous decision not to grant heritage clearance for the proposed freeway works.

Minutes of the ACMC’s meeting in February 2013, which were tabled in parliament, recommended that consent for the road construction should not be granted, “based on the ethnographic significance of the sites, the subject of the notice, and the objections to the purpose raised by the majority of the Aboriginal [sic] consulted”.

But the minutes of its meeting in June recommended “that consent with conditions be granted, noting that the applicant has indicated that the purpose will be designed and constructed in a manner to minimise the road footprint and impact on Aboriginal sites and places”.

The Aboriginal affairs minister, Peter Collier, said the department had asked ACMC to reconsider the Roe 8 heritage application on the basis of new archaeological information about three sites, including the Bibra lake north site that has since been deregistered.

Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Collier said he had to “have regard to the general interest of the community” when considering Aboriginal heritage recommendations. But he said: “I understand and recognise the importance and significance of the North lake and Bibra lake area to the traditional owners.”

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