Tag Archives: News

Controversy and Ethical dilemmas of the rock art discovery at the Coalpac Invincible Colliery, NSW

Map of the area

Image: Map of the area

Since 1989 the company known as Coalpac has been operating in the Lithgow area of the central Blue Mountains, New South Wales. Over that time there have been some environmental issues with the Invincible Colliery. When Coalpac applied for a modification to its mining license to allow for an expansion in 2010, there arose a number of concerns amongst the local community. These concerns were of an environmental nature and the community began lobbying the NSW government to deny the application. Coalpac commissioned an environmental impact statement which satisfied the government requirements by early 2013 and it seemed likely that the application would be accepted (Coalpac 2014b). What happened next is an example of the ethical and professional dilemmas faced by archaeologists employed within the mining industry.

In 2010, Coalpac as part of the environmental impact statement conducted an archaeological survey of the area concerned. The survey was conducted by two archaeology consultants from a mining engineering firm, employed by Coalpac and three representatives of the Wiradjuri people, the local Indigenous community (Coalpac 2012:4-5). In April of 2014 members of the Lithgow Environment Group found a stencil of a handprint in a cave which had not been identified by the Coalpac survey. The presence of the hand stencil was raised with the NSW government as was the validity of the heritage assessment undertaken by Coalpac. The stencil was described as being ‘obvious’ and distinct from the rock face, so how did the survey team miss it? (Hepworth 2014).

Hand Stencil

Image: The hand stencil in question

The original consultants were called in again to have another look and they concluded that the hand stencil motif did not match with other rock art in the area. Furthermore since the rock wall was prone to cracking and flaking due to water flow the stencil could not be of ‘significant’ age. Coalpac declared the motif to be only 3½ years of age at most (drawn since the original survey in 2010) and went as far as declaring it to be a phony (Coalpac 2014a). It should be noted however, that if the stencil was real and the original team missed it the first time, why use them again? Coalpac appeared to acting based on an assumption that the stencil was fake before conducting the second survey. If that was the case was the survey team instructed or encouraged to find that the stencil was modern? Certainly the Australian mining website jumped onto the bandwagon and ran a series of articles immediately following the release of the second survey report, declaring the stencil to be a phony and suggesting that it was simply an attempt by self-serving environmentalists to block a project which would create hundreds of jobs for the community (Hagemann 2014a).

After the second survey the Blue Mountains Conservation Society commissioned an archaeological consulting firm to conduct a third survey of the rock art site. The third survey team found additional hand stencils in other parts of the cave wall as well as scatters of stone tools on the floor. Their conclusion was that the site was used by Indigenous peoples over a long period of time for shelter and that all the rock art in the cave including the ‘phony’ stencil were of considerable age (Blucher 2014). These results were subsequently verified by a representative of the Office of Environment and Heritage which has the final say on matters of Indigenous heritage. So how is it that the results of surveys both conducted by trained archaeologists could differ so radically?

Stone Tools

Image: Stone tools found on the cave floor in situ.

The environmental group opposing the expansion called into question the due diligence and competence of the original survey team. Furthermore perhaps their status as being ‘independent’ consultants should be questioned as well? In addition a representative of the Wiradjuri council claimed that the representatives involved in the original survey were not from the area of the mine and were not familiar with the Indigenous sites located there (Hagemann 2014b). If Coalpac had been serious about protecting Indigenous heritage and following due process surely they should have taken the time to consult with Indigenous people with proper levels of knowledge of the area?

So why did this happen? The answer perhaps lies in Coalpac’s financial situation, the company is currently insolvent and the two open cut mines including the Invincible Colliery are currently not in operation. Energy Australia has declared its willingness to buy Coalpac and re-open the open cuts if the expansion plan is greenlighted. It is entirely possible that Coalpac may have put the archaeological consultants they hired under pressure to produce results that would not cause problems for the expansion plans. Or they may have restricted their time and funding to such an extent that the consultants did not have the resources to conduct more than a preliminary survey of the hand stencil. If that was the case how was it possible that the NSW government was ready to approve the expansion plan, should they have not realized that the heritage assessment was lacking? The author will leave the reader to form their own opinion on the issues raised in this blog but it does highlight the ethical and professional dilemmas faced by archaeologists employed by the mining industry.

Reference List

Blucher, A. 2014 Mine’s Aboriginal ‘rock art’ found to be authentic. Retrieved 27 August 2014 from Mine’s Aboriginal ‘rock art’ found to be authentic – ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Coalpac 2014a Community Newsletter July 2014. Lithgow: CW Print on behalf of Coalpac Pty Ltd.

Coalpac 2014b Company Website. Retrieved 26 August 2014 from http://cetresources.com/

Coalpac 2012 Environmental Impact Statement. Retrieved 26 August 2014 from https://majorprojects.affinitylive.com/public/637aed249f70dea6ec7b53b2235ef77e/10.%20Coalpac%20Consolidation%20Project%20EA%20-%20Main%20Report.pdf

Hagemann, B. 2014a “Aboriginal” art stopping coal expansion found to be phony. Retrieved 27 August 2014 from “Aboriginal” art stopping coal expansion found to be phony | Mining Australia

Hagemann, B. 2014b Coalpac’s claims about age of Aboriginal hand stencil in dispute. Retrieved 27 August 2014 from http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/coalpac-s-claims-about-age-of-ben-bullen-hand-sten

Hepworth, A. 2014 Mine’s ‘rock art’ just 3½ years old. Retrieved 1 September from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/mines-rock-art-just-3-years-old/story-e6frg9df-1226964358502#

National Archaeology Week 2014: Events in South Australia

National Archaeology Week 2014 is creeping up fast! Starting next Sunday, the 18th of May, NAW 2014 in South Australia is packed with a variety of public engagement initiatives. Many thanks to City of Tea Tree Gully Library, Old Highercombe Hotel Museum, Tea Tree Gully and Districts Historical Society, Flinders University Archaeology Department, the Flinders Archaeological Society, the South Australian Museum, and the South Australian Archaeology Society for organising this year’s events!

Please click this link to download the NAW 2014 SA flyer for more information: NAW 2014 SA Events.

For more information on NAW, please see the NAW Facebook page, Twitter account (@archaeologyweek), or contact Jordan Ralph, SA Coordinator of National Archaeology Week.

In South Australia, National Archaeology Week is incorporated into About Time, SA’s History Festival. For more on About Time and the many events on offer, please see their informative website or pick up a program from your local library.


Gunbalanya Repatriation – Stealing is No Bloody Good

This post discusses part of the Barunga, NT Rock Art Field School, with a focus on one of the more significant social and political events that occurred in 2011. I was a volunteer demonstrator on this field school because it was taking place in the area that I am conducting my research and I was due to begin my data collection. The participants of the field school were due to depart Darwin on Tuesday 19th July 2011, for Barunga but like all fieldwork, this changed…

Sally May (ANU) phoned Claire Smith on the Sunday before our departure to say the human remains that had recently been repatriated by the Smithsonian Institute (USA) as well as some Australian museums were being reburied in a ceremony at the community from which they were stolen. The largest collection of remains was taken from the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) region of Arnhem Land as part of the Northern Australian Expedition led by Charles Mountford. Since then, the remains have resided at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Other remains from this area that have resided in Australian museums, such as the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, had also been returned.

Our detour from Darwin - Gunbalanya - Barunga

Orchestrating the return of these remains was a long process involving many consultations between the Gunbalanya community and the museums. Ultimately, the hard work of Traditional Owners and community members paid off and the remains were returned to country.

The reburial ceremony was due to take place mid-afternoon on Tuesday and we decided that this was an event not to be missed; unfortunately, repatriation of human and cultural remains does not happen very often. In order to be on time to the cermony we had to leave Monday, which posed a problem, as some people were not arriving in Darwin until 2am Tuesday!

Flinders rock art field school crew

I left Darwin on Monday morning (with fellow students, Bianca, Nessa and Yolanda), following Sally and Ele in our rental four-wheel-drives. We arrived at Gunbalanya at about four in the afternoon; the rest of the Flinders cohort was to follow as they flew into Darwin. The second convoy (Mick, Ebbsy, Beckie, Jarrad and Tegan) arrived at about eleven pm. We were sharing a run-down, asbestos-riddled house of the like that are all too common in Aboriginal communities. The final convoy (Claire, Jacko, Michael, Zidian, Andrew, Britt, Lauren, Tom, Antoinette and Rebecca) arrived at about six am Tuesday morning.

While those that had little to no sleep slept, the rest of us helped organise the post-ceremony celebrations. The Art Centre capitalised on the large number of willing volunteers, and roped a few of the Flinders crew into helping with stock-take. What a great introduction to the necessity of flexibility on fieldwork!

The Flinders staff and students played a proactive role in the organisation and running of the events of the day; Mick, Michael and I acted as photographers for the community and visually documented the procession and ceremony. The rest of the group acted as de facto caterers for the community at the celebratory BBQ.

Cooking buffalo steaks for the celebrations

While this is a positive event, the remains should never have been stolen, especially under the guise of ‘research’. I use the word ‘stolen’ and acknowledge that some may disagree with this, however, I am not a fan of beating around the bush; this is what happened, it is the way the community feels and it is the way I feel. As Traditional Owner of the region, Jacob, says in the ABC footage, “stealing is no bloody good”. It is very important to acknowledge the wrongdoings of past researchers, however righteous they believed their actions to be, so that we can continue to learn and improve our approaches to culturally sensitive materials and issues. It is an indication of the strength of the current Australian archaeological and anthropological disciplines that most contemporary research is carried out professionally and ethically.

I will not describe the official events of the day because it is something that is better seen than read.

Instead, visit these links to the ABC news reports:



Official procession to the burial grounds

There is no doubt this is one of the more important social and political events that occurred in 2011; it deserved much more media coverage than it received.

Jordan Ralph

This post originally featured  on my personal blog @ jordsralph.com

All views are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisations, institutions or individuals mentioned within.

Last attempt to save the Glenelg Cinema

by Natalie Bittner.

We offer you the public of South Australia a centre of entertainment unique in this state. Every luxury, every thought, every care that 27 years of experience dictates, that modern science knows, is here for your comfort, your convenience, your service. We present the showplace of Australia, the Ozone Theatre Glenelg

(From the program distributed at the Gala opening night of the Ozone Theatre, Glenelg November 5th 1937)

Glenelg Cinema. Corner Jetty Road and Rose Street. Photo: Natalie Bittner. 26/05/2011

In the next few weeks, the fate of the Glenelg Cinema complex will be decided. The cinema has been closed since the end of January 2009 with no development on the site and a drop in visitor numbers to the Eastern end of the Jetty Road precinct noticed by nearby traders. In the week following its closure, the Wallis cinema company put up most of the interior fixtures for sale, including the seats and doors.

Having been designed by architect Kenneth Milne in 1936, the Glenelg Ozone Theatre (as it was then known) consisted of a single cinema screen, and had twin marble grand staircases and tartan carpeting throughout. Known for his impeccable detailing, the façade of the building includes stone from Basket Range in the Adelaide Hills, horizontal fins and the current vertical signage is the same element used in the original construction. Advertising material from 1938 says that the Ozone Theatre had air-conditioning throughout, a ladies smoking lounge, and a baby-friendly viewing area where mothers with screaming children ‘will not be embarrassed’ (The Advertiser Saturday October 9, 1937). On the 5th of November 1937 Glenelg Ozone Theatre’s gala opening night consisted of a technicolour screening of A Star is Born with shorts including How to Vote. (The Mail Saturday November 6th, 1937).

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Blog progress

This is a new site that replaces the former blog of the Flinders University Department of Archaeology. We’ve imported all of the old content and are in the process of checking for errors and building the new site. There are many things to fix….but we are working on it!

We hope to have a formal launch within a few weeks.