MRBTA cave work angers Wadandi

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Wadandi elder Bill Webb. Photo: Rhys Dickinson, Augusta-Margaret River Times
Camera IconWadandi elder Bill Webb. Photo: Rhys Dickinson, Augusta-Margaret River Times

The Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association has acknowledged its stalled Mammoth Cave redevelopment initially went ahead without Federal Aboriginal heritage clearance or Aboriginal supervision.

The “mistake” comes as sections of the Wadandi Aboriginal community continue their complaints about the tourism sector monetising the region’s cave network and not looking after sacred sites.

New MRBTA chief executive Claire Savage said claims by Wadandi custodians Aboriginal heritage concerns caused the project’s delay were incorrect, and attributed delays to funding diverted to other projects. However, MRBTA acknowledged the error.

“The MRBTA does not have Section 18 clearance,” she said. “It has not been determined whether this is a requirement or not. The mistake has been reported to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and we are working through the process with them.”

Noongar anger related to earthworks at Mammoth Cave occurring without consultation, as well as previous concerns some elders were not involved in reported reburials of Aboriginal remains.

Ms Savage said heritage consultation was planned for Mammoth Cave, which “indicated low-level impact due to the small footprint of the hut which is located on previously disturbed land”. “However, due to an internal miscommunication, the builder was accidentally given the go-ahead to start preparing for the construction, and in doing so carried out earthworks to level the site for the new building before the proper process was completed,” Ms Savage said.

“The builder acted in good faith and bears no fault in this matter. The work was halted as soon as the mistake was realised.”

The project was to develop new ticketing booths.

Wadandi elder Bill Webb told the Times it was “about time they started leaving Aboriginal stuff alone”.

“There’s a lot of people starting to get annoyed a lot of monitoring is going on and local (Aboriginal) people are being left out,” he said.

“(The tourism sector is) forever damaging Aboriginal sites for justification of making heaps of money out of them.

“These caves are some of the key spiritual sites.”

The Wardan Centre’s Mitchella Hutchens also told the Times there was not enough consultation with elders living in the region.

“If we look after each other, we can really promote and look after this region in a really great way,” she said.

The discontent follows several years of complaints about tourism’s impacts on the Margaret River and its caves, which was to be discussed with councillors by elder Wayne Webb on Wednesday night, but the briefing was deferred to March 13 (see breakout).

Shire president Pam Townshend has led calls for more Aboriginal heritage consultation and said local Noongars “have been overlooked in the way the caves have been used for tourism to date”.

Last year, Cr Townshend flagged the Shire forming a consultative committee involving the Wadandi.

Ms Savage said overall the MRBTA had “an excellent track record of caring for the caves and cave precincts under our management”.

A SWALSC adviser said the matter would be discussed by the council’s South West Boojarah working party.

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