“There is rock art, grinding stones … there’s about 50 of them and spear sharpening tools in the area they’ve bulldozed. We’re talking about material that is 10, 20, 30 thousand years old.
Kimberley Aboriginal leader Wayne Bergmann has demanded Buru Energy halt works at its Ungani oilfield operations in the Canning Basin, claiming the company had bulldozed a significant Aboriginal site without permission and damaged artefacts tens of thousands of years old.
Mr Bergmann has lodged a complaint with the Department of Indigenous Affairs, which has said it is investigating the matter. Test production of oil began at Ungani, about 100km east of Broome, earlier this year, in the first commercial onshore production in the region since the Blina oilfield started up in 1983.
Mr Bergmann said Buru had been warned by traditional owners not to conduct ground disturbing works in the sandhills, which contained extensive evidence of human habitation.
“The ‘Blue Hills’ is an area that had a high Aboriginal population,” he said.
“We are outraged at the lack of respect Buru Energy has for Aboriginal people and our heritage; Buru Energy needs a lesson on how to work with Kimberley Aboriginal people.”
In partnership with Buru Energy, Mitsubishi owns 50 per cent of the exploration tenements in the Canning Basin, in northern Western Australia. Buru Energy executive director Eric Streitberg said all of Buru’s operations were conducted after heritage clearances were obtained from traditional owners.
The area in question was being prepared for a geophysical survey to be carried out, he said.
“This particular work was conducted following extensive consultation with the Nyikina Mangala people over a period of nine months and has included on-ground monitoring by the traditional owners,” he said.
He said there were no sites registered with the Department of Indigenous Affairs in the area of the alleged disturbance. However, Buru had agreed to halt works while investigations were carried out.
“As soon as Buru was made aware of the concerns, operations ceased in the area in question and the company will not conduct any further work in that area until all investigations are complete,” he said.
A Department of Indigenous Affairs spokesman said the Aboriginal Heritage Act protected all Aboriginal sites even if they were not recorded on the register. nThe Department was advised of the allegation yesterday and responded immediately, he said. Buru shares closed down one cent at $2.81.