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Accepted Paper:

Treating the Truffula Tree Syndrome: why assessing cumulative industrial development effects is vital for preventing the permanent loss of culturally-significant Aboriginal heritage sites in Australia  


Clare M Mouat (The University of Western Australia)
Benjamin Smith (University of Western Australia)

Paper short abstract:

Decades of case-by-case industrial development approvals have extensively damaged culturally-significant Aboriginal sites in the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia. Reforms that assess the cumulative impact effects of new developments around these sites would better prevent permanent heritage loss.

Paper long abstract:

We urgently need to examine the history and processes of industrial development on or near culturally-significant Aboriginal sites across (Western) Australia. A multidisciplinary response can more powerfully examine how State planning processes approve these developments and advocate reforms for assessing the cumulative development effects to prevent the permanent loss of significant cultural heritage sites. We explore the Burrup Peninsula (North WA). ‘The Burrup’ is one of the most globally significant areas for rock art with more than 2 million rock engravings and a stylistic sequence that extends back more than 30,000 years. The art reflects radical changes to the environment during and after the last Ice Age and it includes depictions of extinct animals. A historical timeline and archival analysis of past, pending, and wider development shows how six decades of piecemeal approvals are ultimately destroying the environment and the culturally-significant rock art and sites. Nearly 30 percent of the Burrup is now industrialised and the chemical plants are emitting levels of pollution comparable to all of New Zealand. This potentially compromises the Burrup becoming UNESCO World Heritage Site: ‘sites of outstanding importance… to the common heritage of humankind’. We expose the shocking failures of case-by-case planning approvals and the ensuing ‘Truffula Tree Syndrome’ (after The Lorax by Dr Seuss) whereby piecemeal destruction is passed off as ‘appropriate’ right up to the moment when everything is gone. We conclude with implications and recommendations for reconciling findings within current planning reforms and wider policy processes governing the Burrup and Australia.

Panel AA11
Anthropologists and geographers engaging in public policy and practice