The sandhills were destroyed during construction of a fence line on the boundary of Beltana Station and the Nilpena Ediacara National Park in South Australia.
Culturally significant sandhills at a heritage site in the Flinders Ranges have been destroyed. Source AAP Georgie Moore
Traditional owners have been left devastated after unauthorised earthworks destroyed a sacred Aboriginal heritage site in the Flinders Ranges.
Culturally significant Adnyamathanha sandhills were destroyed during construction of a fence line on the boundary of Beltana Station and the Nilpena Ediacara National Park in South Australia’s mid-north, The Advertiser reported on Sunday.
Kuyani woman Regina McKenzie said it was “totally heartbreaking” to see the damage caused to a crucial part of the traditional owners’ cultural heritage.
“All the old lawmen … said the sandhills were never to be touched,” she told ABC Radio on Monday.
“It’s our belief system. It is so sacred.
“You can’t put it back as it was.”
The Environment Department wrote to the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA), the registered native title holder, seeking advice on whether a cultural assessment was required on the stretch of land on August 30.
But four days later, before the consultation process had been completed, the department discovered a private contractor had already begun digging holes on the site and immediately ordered works to stop.
Ms McKenzie said no negotiations had been done with ATLA, despite the area being protected under native title.
“It’s gone through and destroyed this very important part that’s dear to us,” she said.
“It’s like going through a church or a war memorial.”
Environment Minister Susan Close said the works justifiably caused significant angst and upset within Aboriginal communities.
“What has happened at the Beltana Pastoral Lease is deeply upsetting for the Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and I am very sorry for the distress it has caused them,” she told AAP.
The department will inspect the site alongside traditional owners and review its approval processes after the apparent confusion over permissions for the 2km stretch of fencing.
The owner of Beltana Station was required to put the fence up to prevent cattle wandering into the newly-declared Nilpena Ediacara National Park, considered important to SA’s bid to secure World Heritage listing for the Flinders Ranges.
National Parks and Wildlife Service executive director Mike Williams has apologised for a “miscommunication” that allowed the disturbances to occur.
Opposition Leader David Speirs says the revelation is “absolutely shocking”.
“This is not only an important cultural site, it’s a really important geological site as well, so you have to tiptoe around it and make sure you do everything correctly,” he told ABC Radio.
“Something’s gone horribly wrong here and where’s the minister?”
In May, the SA government announced it would toughen penalties for damaging Aboriginal heritage sites following the destruction of Juukan Gorge in Western Australia, with fines of up to $2 million for companies and up to $250,000 and a two-year jail term for individuals.