BY GEORGIA FULLERTON
There are growing calls for action to stop construction on Sydney’s South-East light rail line, following the discovery of 22,000 Indigenous artefacts.
The collection, including tools and stone off-cuts, was found at a tram stabling yard in Randwick, and could shed light on how Aboriginal tribes travelled, traded and interacted.
Following the discovery, Transport for NSW stopped construction, after consulting with four local Aboriginal Heritage groups and a consulting archeological firm, GML.
Indigenous experts and a politician have said that the government needs to stop work completely on the construction of the site until the full extent of the artefacts is confirmed.
It would halt progress $2.1 billion light rail line is set to open within the next three years from the city to the Eastern Suburbs.
Aboriginal heritage consultant from Tocomwall, Scott Franks, said the material is incredibly unique: “In thirty years I have never witnessed such a rare and complex site. We can learn a huge amount from these artefacts, it’s nationally important.”
“We can get proper dating. The women had ground ovens, they used balls of clay to keep the fire heaters up and as they were cooking materials, the moisture of the meats would have filtered down into the stones and clay. We can find out exactly what they used to eat through resident samples,” Mr Franks said.
Transport NSW have said due to the small scale of the find, work could continue nearby:
“Elsewhere on the site, it’s critical that we continue preparations for building a city-changing public transport project. The good news is that the two are not mutually exclusive and can continue simultaneously,” the statement said.
“It is critical that the artefacts are extracted delicately and respectfully and we are making sure that area is accessed sensitively,” the spokesperson said.
Transport for NSW prepared an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment Report and an Archaeological Technical Report. They took samples of soil from 40 bore holes.
A spokesperson for Transport NSW, said: “At the site of the 22,000-plus artefacts that we have discovered, the soil we extracted appeared to contain stone tools and other fragments.”
“The archaeologists and Aboriginal groups noticed that the artefacts did not look similar to others found nearby and so further investigation would be required to determine their origin and use.”
Transport NSW said it was due to the small scale of the find, work could continue nearby: “It is critical that the artefacts are extracted delicately and respectfully and we are making sure that area is accessed sensitively,” the spokesperson said.
The area of interest takes up 200 square metres on a site measuring 20,000.
But Mr Franks said that the site was not confined to 200 square metres, comparing the work site to a chess board.
“You take one out and the game is finished. It’s not an option to continue work nearby, this is what they’ve been told time and time again by us, and by their own consultant archeologist GML.”
He said: “The actual artefacts that we have located is one very small section of the actual archeological deposit. It’s called a potential archaeological development,” he said.
“That’s what those stone tools represent. It’s not just a small section of the major construction, what else happened across this area?” Mr Franks said.
“In fairness to the Bidjigal nation, their history needs to be recorded, it needs to be preserved for their future generations”
Protestors gathered at the excavation site on April 1st, to hear speeches from Local Aboriginal elders, Aboriginal heritage experts, environment groups and MPs, who called for an urgent stop work order.
Greens MP, David Shoebridge, spoke at the event: “Excavation on the site has already likely destroyed thousands of artefacts, which have been crushed by heavy machinery.
“The Minister for the Environment needs to immediately issue a Stop Work order to halt the destruction of irreplaceable Aboriginal heritage at this site,” he said.
“Escalating the issue up to the Commonwealth Minister’s desk is essential because of all the state protections that have been turned off.
Mr Shoebridge sent federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion, an application asking for an end to the construction. This would allow a proper assessment of the site, under sections nine and ten of the Federal Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act.
Mr Shoebridge said: “This site should be protected and celebrated, the story it tells about the history of Aboriginal people and its evidence of trade routes and potential first contact makes it genuinely unique.
“This is of the utmost seriousness and we are calling on the Minister to act”
In 2011, Australia’s largest KFC restaurant in Newcastle was built over more than 5700 Aboriginal stone tools and campsite remains.
The $2.5 million development, which was said to have met all heritage assessments, contained carbon-dated evidence of Aboriginal occupation between 6716 and 6502 years. This is the oldest evidence of human settlement in Newcastle.
The final excavation report was completed a year after the KFC restaurant was built on the site.