Rock art and mining violence on the Australian Burrup Peninsula: language wars, economy and culture

Jeff Lewis, Belinda Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Humans have lived on the Australian continent for around 50,000 years. During that time, the indigenous people developed complex cultural, economic and social systems. These systems were sustained and expressed through the myths and songlines which comprise the indigenous people's Dreaming. It was through the Dreaming that the natural, symbolic and material worlds converge, enabling humans to orient themselves spiritually, cosmologically and geographically. This cultural and natural contingency was shattered by the British invasion and settlement of Australia from 1788. In one particular region of the country, the Burrup Peninsula, this violation has been perpetuated through the destructive practices of mining. The Burrup Peninsula is located in the remote Western Australia Pilbara region on the Dampier Archipelago. This area hosts one of the world's most extensive and significant indigenous Palaeolithic art galleries—petroglyphs that may be as old as 30,000 years Before Present. The Pilbara also contains one of the world's most extensive and richest iron ore deposits, as well as a vast array of other minerals and fuels. This paper examines the ways in which the cultural and natural heritage of the Burrup has been excoriated by the mining industries. The paper examines recent attempts to protect the heritage of the area from further destruction. It focuses on the World Heritage nomination of the Burrup, indigenous activism and the complex politics of conservation in the area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-186
Number of pages8
JournalPerspectives in Ecology and Conservation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Burrup
  • Cultural heritage
  • Indigenous Australia
  • Mining
  • Petroglyph
  • Rock art
  • World Heritage

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