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Mining giant ‘sorry’ for blowing up ancient rock shelters

Brockman 4 Iron Ore Expansion
Brockman 4 Iron Ore Expansion. Credit: Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation

A multinational resources company regrets destroying two ancient Aboriginal sites to make way for a metal mine expansion in Western Australia’s Pilbara.

Rio Tinto has apologised for detonating two ancient deep-time rock shelters, which contained artefacts estimated to be 46,000-years-old, for its Brockman 4 Iron Ore Expansion – 55km northwest of Tom Price.

“We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP), and we are sorry for the distress we have caused,” Rio iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said in a public statement. “Our relationship with the PKKP matters a lot to Rio Tinto, having worked together for many years.”

Relics lost in bungle

The proponent conducted the controlled explosion at Juukan Gorge on May 24, destroying grinding stones, a bone sharpened into a tool and 4000-year-old braided hair that were inside the hidden shelters.

Although the expansion was approved back in the year 2013, the indigenous PKKP complained they felt distressed by the accidental damage.

Indigenous group ‘outraged’

They rejected Rio’s earlier explanation that had PKKP expressed concern about preserving the site during years of consultation, the company would have taken further action after completing a large-scale exercise to preserve artefacts back in 2014.

“At all times, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation (PKKPAC) has been direct and explicit in the archaeological and ethnographic significance of these rock shelters and the importance that they be preserved,” PKKPAC spokesperson Burchell Hayes told the Australian Associated Press. “We believe Rio Tinto’s outrageous statement is a bid to minimise the adverse public reaction and community outrage about Sunday’s blast at Juukan Gorge; and the distress and upset caused to the PKKP.”

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Rio will launch a full investigation into the matter.

“From a broader perspective, as we already work within all existing frameworks, we will launch a comprehensive review of our heritage approach, engaging traditional owners to help identify, understand and recommend ways to improve the process,” Salisbury said.

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  • Not only indigenous Australians are dismayed and angered over the destruction of ancient rock shelters by the international mining company Rio Tinto. No amount of money or apologies rectify the gross dereliction of duty of care to these irreplaceable areas of Australia. All levels of government should put into place legislation to immediately stop the destruction of these heritage sites.

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