Our lost history

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 24 Februari 2013 | 19.55


THE addition of a long stretch of the West Coast to the National Heritage List has delighted Tasmanian Aborigines because of its "indigenous values".

While environmental activists are dismayed more of the Tarkine area has not been listed, Aborigines are celebrating because one of their most treasured heritage areas is joining places such as the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour Bridge on the list.

They hope to rebuild some of the villages that once dotted the coastline and develop a tourist industry to help more people appreciate their history.

"We were stunned that the Federal Government acknowledged the true value of the area and recognised it as so valuable to the whole nation," said Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre legal director Michael Mansell.

"It is a great shot in the arm for Aboriginal people and our heritage. Finally someone other than us has recognised the fascination of our past."

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said the indigenous values identified by the Heritage Council ran down a coastal strip from south of Marrawah to Granville Harbour.

The listed area was mostly only 2km wide but covered 22,000ha.

"The Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape will become the 98th place protected on the National Heritage List," Mr Burke said.

"Everybody I've spoken to, whether from industry, government or indigenous groups, have acknowledged the extraordinary importance of those sites.

"This is a little-known part of Australia's Aboriginal heritage and the listing will help tell it to the wider public."

Mr Mansell said the area used to be heavily populated. Some of the first Europeans along the West Coast wrote of meeting bands of up to 400 Aborigines.

They built dome-shaped huts, decorated with charcoal drawings on bark.

Often five or six huts were grouped together, each sleeping up to 40 people.

Archaeologists found evidence of villages almost 2000 years old.

Hut depressions showed the villages' scale, and shell middens hundreds of metres long and up to 80m high showed how indigenous Tasmanians had lived in the area since long before Christ.

Up the coast at Preminghana (Mt Cameron West), ancient rock engravings revealed the artistry of these people.

Mr Mansell said the next step was for Aborigines to be involved in the management of the area, as had successfully happened at Uluru in Central Australia.

Most of the strip is in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service, which is doing a lot of work to manage public access so vehicles in the popular 4WD area stick to tracks and beach zones, and do not damage middens and other fragile sites.

"Ninety per cent of what the Parks and Wildlife Service have got in place would remain but we want to add an Aboriginal overlay," Mr Mansell said.

"With the help of the federal and state governments, we could have Aborigines on the spot with responsibility for bringing back to life our cultural heritage so people can relate to the story.

"You've got to have Aboriginal people there. Parks and Wildlife can't do that.

could make a difference.

"Before the Aboriginal involvement in (Uluru's) management, it was seen as just a rock, a natural attraction to be climbed and photographed."

With its Aboriginal heritage revealed it became Uluru, a deeply significant spiritual place in the nation's heart.

"We want to share the beauty of this history," Mr Mansell said. "The best way to preserve it is to make people value it.

"Tasmania still has its head in the sand about Aboriginal heritage. People outside Tasmania are more interested than many locals."

He said one of the first things the Aboriginal community would do was rebuild some huts.

Known sites included a village of nine huts at West Point (Nungu), eight at Rebecca Creek, seven at Pollys Bay north, one at Bluff Point, two at Couta Rocks, three at Ordnance Point, nine at Brooks Creek, three at Temma, seven at Gannet Point and one at Sundown Point (Laraturunawn).

Another big attraction would be the rock engravings.

"The only failing of the Federal Government listing is that it does not go far enough north to cover the rock engravings at Preminghana," Mr Mansell said.

"We want to take groups to Cape Grim (far North-West Tasmania), where Aboriginal men and women were massacred in the early colonial days. The VDL Company which owns the property is happy for us to lead groups (there).

"Then it would be south to the rock engravings at Preminghana and to some of the middens and huts."


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