Pastor in court

Michael Dulaney
Geoffrey Stokes outside the Kalgoorlie Courthouse. Picture: Louise White

An Aboriginal pastor who allegedly shot at miners working on a sacred site in the northern Goldfields says his case will be "bigger than Ben Hur" when it comes to court later this year.

Wongatha man Geoffrey Stokes appeared in Kalgoorlie Magistrate's Court yesterday in relation to the October confrontation, which took place near the Mt Margaret Aboriginal community, 400km north-east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Mr Stokes is alleged to have fired a shot from a hunting rifle over the heads of miners gathered near Mt Margaret Hill after finding "mining action" at the site.

Defence counsel Greg Wildie told the court that while the case appeared "deceptively simple", it had developed a political edge, and the defence needed further time to prepare because of the complex tribal and land matters it involved.

Magistrate John O'Sullivan adjourned the matter, with Mr Stokes due to reappear on April 9.

Speaking to the _Kalgoorlie Miner _ outside the courthouse, Mr Stokes said the outcome was "what he expected".

"This is going to be bigger than Ben Hur, you know," he said.

"The State Government should be held accountable for what's going on out there."

He said the case had serious implications for Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia, arguing the Government's proposed changes had the potential to strip protections away even further.

Miner Darlex Holdings was carrying out a 1000-tonne gold bulk-sampling program at the site when the confrontation occurred on October 29.

Speaking to the _Miner _ yesterday, project manager Andrew Hadson said the gunshot caused Chinese investors inspecting the site to race to the top of the hill, leaving a "trail of dust" in their wake.

Mr Hadson said he was approaching Mr Stokes to address his concerns when the shots were fired.

Meanwhile, the heritage status of the Mt Margaret site remains uncertain, with a Department of Aboriginal Affairs investigation still ongoing.

A spokesman for the department confirmed in December the area had previously been acknowledged as a heritage site by its Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee in 2002, but a "systems issue" prevented this status being updated to the Heritage Register.