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Heritage road

By David Leigh - posted Friday, 29 April 2011

If the 5000-year old Egyptian pyramids were to be destroyed, anger would result. If a heritage-listed house in Tasmania, just two hundred years old, were to be altered in some way, the heritage council would fine the culprits heavily. Why is it that Aboriginal artefacts built into a landscape, 37,500 years ago, are not considered important?

Kevin Rudd apologised to the indigenous people in 2007, in an attempt to make restitution and yet, today the Brighton Bypass, just north of Hobart, is set to destroy a site considered important to the original inhabitants of Tasmania without a second glance. To do so is akin to destroying a roman ruin or the site of an Aztec city and yet these sites are only a few thousand years old. It would appear indigenous people in Tasmania today are to suffer the same treatment as those who lived here when white settlement occurred. They are exiled from their sacred sites just as the their ancestors were exiled from the Island or, worse still, shot.

The Jordan River Levee forms part of the route for the proposed Brighton Bypass, north of Hobart. Aboriginal Heritage Officer, Aaron Everett says he want's the site world heritage listed because it shows an ongoing relationship with the area by indigenous people. The site's archaeological director, Rob Paton has confirmed the artefacts are between 28,000 and 40,000 years old.


The archaeological surveyors claim that there could be up to 3-million artefacts on the site and that this would make it one of the oldest Aboriginal sites in Tasmania and possibly one of the oldest in the southern hemisphere.

Paton claims the artefacts are stone tools and sharpening implements, which are rarely found in such circumstances. They show the day-to-day existence of Aboriginal people from the hunter-gatherer period and bare great significance, not just to Aboriginal sites but to hunter-gather sites worldwide.

There is much controversy over the site as it threatens the State Labor Government's plan to build the new bypass away from existing housing and other infrastructure. The existing road is inadequate for the amount of freight haulage being carried between Hobart and the north of the state.

The railway was traditionally used to convey freight but due to a lack of government investment in track maintenance over the past 20 years the railway has become unsafe creating more reliance on road transport.

The Southern Transport Investment Program is a report tabled by the Lennon Government in 2007 and outlines the plan for a massive upgrade of the Midland Highway. The 26-million dollar bypass section runs adjacent to the Pontville Detention Centre, the site of another controversial development, which is set to house 400 male Afghan refugees.

The site was found by Aboriginal Heritage Officer, Aaron Everett and archaeologist Dr Tim Stone in 2008 during a government initiated survey of the area.


The survey - The Jordan River Levee Site Southern Tasmania (Robert Paton Archaeological Studies Pty Ltd) - was given limited access to the site and only 8 trenches were allowed at 2 metres by 2 metres each. Around 1700 artifacts were discovered, an average of 100 per square metre and Dr Paton, who carried out the excavation claims that only about 0.001% of the sites potential richness was revealed.

Despite limited access and time being allowed the survey was completed and the report tabled.

A peer review was then commissioned by the government - Peer Review of the Draft Final Archaeological Report on the Test Excavations of the Jordan River Levee Site Southern Tasmania (Robert Paton Archaeological Studies Pty Ltd, August 2010) and carried out by Professor Jim Allen Archaeological Consultancies, NSW, which completely undermined the work done on site by Robert Paton on the grounds that the report failed to demonstrate that humans were present at that site 37,500 years ago. The findings were based entirely on the report itself as opposed to a site examination. This is usually the case in any peer report and one could draw a direct correlation between the limited access allowed, the budget of the original report and the amount of information available for the peer report.

It makes little difference to the Tasmanian people if they are sent one hundred metres to the left or right or even a kilometre on the 300-kilometre journey from Hobart to Launceston. The deviation however, makes 570 successive lifetimes of difference to the original inhabitants of this land.

We pay homage to the Aboriginal people when any event takes place and when any meeting or parliamentary session is commissioned. We do this out of respect for the original landowners and yet it is an empty gesture when we do not honour the very history of a culture, which is far older than ours, by building a road through it.

Sorry is a word; nothing more and hypocrisy is another and something Australian governments have made into an art form. The sad part is that our governments supposedly represent our views and speak our words. By accepting the word of this peer review are we are condoning the desecration of an ancient culture?

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About the Author

David Leigh is a film maker and novellist who currently lives in Tasmania.

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