Australia Adds ‘Magnificent’ West Kimberley to National Heritage List

CANBERRA, Australia, August 31, 2011 (ENS) – West Kimberley, an area of outstanding natural, historic and Indigenous significance in northwestern Australia, will be placed on Australia’s National Heritage List, Environment Minister Tony Burke announced today. But the listing does not ease conservationists’ fears that mining and industrial development might still spoil the area.

“The west Kimberley belongs on a list of the places which define Australia,” Burke said. “Its unique wildlife, stunning coastlines, spectacular gorges and waterfalls, ancient and ongoing Aboriginal cultural traditions as well as its pastoral and pearling history make this one of the most remarkable places in our nation.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke announces the west Kimberley listing, August 31, 2011 (Photos courtesy Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)

The area to be placed on the National Heritage List includes the Kimberley coast from Cape Leveque in the west to Cambridge Gulf in the east, the Kimberley plateau and country south to the Oscar and Napier Ranges, and the Fitzroy River.

Burke said the Gillard government would recognize outstanding heritage values within more than 19 million hectares of the west Kimberley, conferring the country’s highest form of heritage recognition.

“Following a long and comprehensive assessment by the Australian Heritage Council, which included a lot of feedback from communities and my own consultation with the people who live and work in the region, I have determined that the west Kimberley is a fitting addition to the National Heritage List,” said Burke.

The west Kimberley is the 96th place and the largest land-based National Heritage listing. It is the first listing to proceed with the full consent of the Traditional Owners.

Part of the newly protected Kimberley coast of northwestern Australia

“The Australian Heritage Council’s assessment included extensive consultation with a number of people and groups including the West Australian Government, Traditional Owners, the mining industry, pastoralists and other owners and occupiers,” said Burke.

The west Kimberley’s placement on the National Heritage List means its heritage values are now protected under national environmental law, but the listing does not automatically keep development out of the listed area.

“It is important to recognize national heritage listing is about protecting our nation’s outstanding heritage values by considering them in any development proposal under national environmental law and the listing itself does not prevent development,” Burke said. “National heritage listing protects heritage values; it is not an automatic lock-up.”

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry said he worries that industrial development could spoil west Kimberly regardless of the National Heritage listing.

“ACF remains concerned about current proposals to mine coal, bauxite, uranium and iron ore in the region and to process gas on the Kimberley coastline,” Henry said today.

Another section of the newly protected Kimberley coast of northwestern Australia

“Formal recognition of the importance to the nation of the West Kimberley’s natural and cultural values confirms what many in the region and elsewhere already know – that this is a very special part of Australia that is too precious to lose to industrialization,” said Henry.

The Humane Society International welcomed the new protection as the organization nominated some special areas for heritage protection in 2006, helping prompt the government to assess the west Kimberley region for its heritage values.

“Once listed as a National Heritage site, Australia’s environment laws will allow this minister and those that follow to give these places much stronger protection from the development pressures mounting in the Kimberley,” said Michael Kennedy, HSI campaign director.

But Kennedy warned that, “proposals by Minister Burke to reform the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 may eventually weaken the protections provided by today’s announcement, by devolving power to the states, limiting access to the courts, and relying too much on broad strategic assessments.”

“HSI will remain vigilant to ensure the protection bestowed today is enduring,” he said.

Roebuck Bay on the Kimberley coast is part of the protected area

Areas in the west Kimberley identified as having outstanding heritage values and inscribed on the National Heritage List include:

  • The coast from the Buccaneer Archipelago to the King George River; the Mitchell Plateau; King George Falls; Geikie Gorge, Windjana Gorge and King Leopold Ranges
  • Rich biodiversity, including many plants, mammals, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates that are found only in this part of Australia
  • Remnants of a vast coral reef, similar in scale to the Great Barrier Reef, that existed nearly 400 million years ago
  • Dinosaur footprints on the west coast of the Dampier Peninsula which are remarkable remnant of past life in the region
  • Ongoing Aboriginal traditions associated with Wanjina and the Rainbow Serpent and spectacular rock
  • Sites which tell a more recent history including Jandamarra, the dispute at Noonkanbah Station and the drove to Fossil Downs which became the longest overlanding cattle drive in Australia’s history
  • Evidence of early contact with Indonesia as well as early European exploration of the Australian continent

Henry of the Australian Conservation Foundation said, “Other areas in the Kimberley, including the marine environment and parts of the Fitzroy River valley and Dampier Peninsula, also deserve National Heritage status, but they have not been fully assessed because of lack of data at this time. We will be asking the Australian Heritage Council to further examine the region for additional places and values that should be listed, with the consent of the Traditional Owners.”

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