Woman charged over masterpiece attack

A woman has been charged with criminal damage over an attack on one of Australia's most famous paintings staged as a protest against a gas company's alleged destruction of rock art in Western Australia's north.

Video released by activist group Disrupt Burrup Hub on Thursday shows a woman spray-painting a Woodside Energy logo onto Frederick McCubbin's work Down On His Luck at the Art Gallery of WA.

She then appears to glue her hand to the wall beside the colonial masterpiece as a man lays an Aboriginal flag on the floor of the gallery.

"This painting is barely 100 years old," the man says, pointing to McCubbin's 1889 oil on canvas work.

"We have 50,000-year-old artwork that Woodside is destroying. Cultural artwork that is sacred to our people is being destroyed."

Police on Friday said a 37-year-old Northbridge woman had been charged with one count of criminal damage over the incident.

The gallery said the McCubbin piece was protected by a clear plastic sheet and not damaged by the yellow paint.

Descendants of the famous artist, Margot Edwards and Ned Reilly, said the protest was in line with the McCubbin family's "rich legacy of using art to make comment on urgent environmental issues".

"The actions of the Disrupt Burrup Hub protesters have re-contextualised a national symbol," Ms Edwards said in a statement.

She said the family understood that Woodside and not their great-grandfather's painting was the target of the attack.

Mr Reilly said Australia had a rich history of environmental and political art, and "this clever and well considered gesture adds to that history".

"The point of disruptive actions like this, is to shock people out of inaction and activate a national conversation around vital issues of urgent importance," he said.

Disrupt Burrup Hub has called for industrial development on the rock art-rich Burrup Peninsula, about 30km west of Karratha in the Pilbara region, to be stopped, including Woodside Energy's expansion of the Pluto gas plant.

The Burrup Peninsula, known as Murujuga to traditional owners, contains the largest and oldest collection of petroglyphs in the world.

It is also home to the Murujuga National Park, the town of Dampier, Dampier Salt, a Rio Tinto Iron Ore export facility and a fertiliser plant.

Woodside has operated the Karratha Gas Plant on the Burrup for more than 30 years and has the majority share in the nearby Pluto Gas Plant.

Both projects required a significant amount of rock art to be relocated on the peninsula.

The company plans to expand the Pluto plant to process natural gas from the Scarborough offshore gas field.

A spokeswoman said Woodside respected people's rights to protest peacefully and lawfully.

"Woodside has a proven, more than 35-year, track record of safe, reliable and sustainable operations on Murujuga, delivering natural gas to customers in WA and around the world," she said.

"Our environmental approach complies with all applicable environmental laws and regulations and is underpinned by robust science-based decisions."

The company said peer-reviewed research had not identified any impacts on Murujuga rock art from industrial emissions associated with liquefied natural gas production.

Former chair of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation Raelene Cooper described Thursday's protest as "very courageous".

She said while people were asking why artworks couldn't be left alone, that was exactly how Indigenous communities felt about rock art.

"The animals and plants on the Burrup are dying and the rock art is disappearing before our eyes," she said in a statement.

The woman is scheduled to appear in Perth Magistrates Court on February 16.