Seven of eight recommendations were accepted by the federal government after Rio Tinto blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves in 2020. Source: APH
TANYA PLIBERSEK: As the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people wrote in their submission to this inquiry, the Juukan Gorge disaster is a tragedy, not only for our people, it is also a tragedy for the heritage of all Australians and indeed, humanity as a whole.
We can feel the scale of this loss when we hear the way traditional owners described it in their testimony. This place was, and I quote, "an anchor of our culture." It was a, quote, "a museum of heritage." It was a site of profound, sacred, unique, and ancient power. The Juukan Gorge is one of the oldest sites of human habitation in Australia with 46,000 years of continuous culture, traditions, practices, and stories.
When the site was excavated in 2014, archeologists were amazed at what they found-- a 4,000-year old hare built, a 28,000-year-old bone tool, one of the oldest of its kind ever found in Australia, and a whole collection of ancient grinders and stone tools, some of the oldest that have ever been seen on this continent. That's the scope of history that we're dealing with here.
It is unthinkable that any society would unknowing-- would knowingly destroy Stonehenge, or the Egyptian pyramids, or the skull caves in France. When the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed in Afghanistan, the world was rightly outraged. But that's precisely what occurred in Juukan Gorge. And what made it even more insulting, this happened in the days before reconciliation week, when elders were planning to take their young people to the sacred caves to teach them about their culture and their ancestors.