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Traditional owners take protest to Plibersek

Custodians of one of the world's oldest art galleries have staged a protest outside Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek's office, calling for more protection for ancient artworks.

Murujuga, on the Burrup peninsula in Western Australia, is the largest collection of Aboriginal rock art - also known as petroglyphs - in the world.

Custodians of this unique sacred place are concerned that proposed industrial developments could damage or destroy the ancient artworks.

Mardudhunera custodians Mark Clifton and Raelene Cooper travelled across the country this week in support of the Save our Songlines campaign.

In late January, the Australian government nominated the Murujuga Cultural Landscape for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

If accepted, Murujuga would be the second site in Australia listed for First Nations cultural heritage, after the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, on Gunditjmara country in Victoria.

The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, which represents five language groups in the region, prepared the nomination in partnership with the Western Australian government, with support and advice from the Commonwealth.

The Save our Songlines campaign is asking Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek for further protection for the site under Indigenous heritage protection laws.

However Ms Plibersek said arrangements were in place to protect the area. She is awaiting a final report from an independent assessor on any potential threat.

"The government is confident that the right management arrangements are in place to ensure Murujuga is comprehensively protected and managed at the state and Commonwealth level," Ms Plibersek said.

"Traditional owners will continue to be at the forefront of the management and decision-making for this site."

The Burrup is also an industrial hub, home to liquefied natural gas and fertiliser processing plants.

Custodian Mark Clifton said Murujuga holds significance for Indigenous people all over Australia.

"There's songlines and carvings that depict ceremonies," he said.

"Those stories and songlines are what hold us as one and still guide us today.

"The rock art depicts things right from wrong, it tells you what you can and can't do, it even tells you when the weather changes.

"For example, when the kanji tree has its yellow flowers, that tells us that wedge-tailed eagles should be laying eggs, but because of the impacts of pollution and industry, now the eggs aren't hatching or being laid when they should be.

"My generation is obligated to look after and conserve what the old people have left.

"We need to treasure what we have today, for tomorrow we might not have it."

Raelene Cooper told AAP she and other traditional owners were concerned about the effects that expanding heavy industry could have on Murujuga.

"Murujuga is our everything," she said.

"It's our obligation and responsibility to take this matter up and make our voices heard."

Traditional owners did not want any more projects developed, Ms Cooper added.

"We don't want our country distorted any further," she said.

"These industries are dangerous for our culture, for our history and for our fight against climate change.

"This place is so special globally, it needs to be protected."

The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation indicated it could support a proposal for moving some petroglyphs to make way for a new fertiliser processing plant.

However, Ms Cooper, a former chairwoman at the corporation, said that wasn't acceptable.

"Resource companies talk about what they need, they don't ask, and they told our elders that whether you like it or not, these pieces would be relocated," she said.

"When you remove the rock art, it's like ripping out teeth.

"If you remove rock art, you remove the spiritual connection with the rock itself, it holds a story and a songline that you cannot replace.

"It will not grow back."