Indigenous activist calls for Sound protection

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Aerial of the shipbuilding precint on Cockburn Sound , Henderson.
Camera IconAerial of the shipbuilding precint on Cockburn Sound , Henderson. Credit: WA News

An indigenous activist who helped challenge the controversial Roe 8 project has said the possible development of an outer harbour in Cockburn Sound would destroy an area with just as much cultural significance as the Beeliar Wetlands.

Traditional custodian Corina Abraham-Howard was a vocal opponent of the Perth Freight Link project, saying at the time the road would disturb an area that was just as important for Noongar people as Kings Park or Anzac Cove was for non-Aboriginal people.

In 2016, she challenged the State Government in court for changing the Aboriginal Heritage status of the land that would have been affected by the project, but the challenge was dismissed.

The project was later scrapped, and Ms Abraham-Howard said she was still concerned about other areas of cultural significance being destroyed by development, airing her concerns about the effect the proposed outer harbour could have on Cockburn Sound.

“That area is so significant to us,” she said,

“It’s part of our Dreaming stories and where people have lived, but also still has so much wildlife in the area.”

Ms Abraham-Howard said the development would “destroy” the Sound.

“I am not going to be hypocritical and fight for one piece of my country and sacrifice another,” she said.

“I didn’t fight for Roe 8 so that the Government could then go and build the outer harbour,” she said.

UWA School of Indigenous Studies Professor Len Collard said Derbal Nara (Cockburn Sound), was a site that for thousands of years had sustained indigenous people.

“The ocean is a significant cultural resource for the Noongar people and the area still sustains us,” he said.

Professor Collard said if the outer harbour project progressed, consultation with local Aboriginal people was needed.

“Cockburn Sound is an important site that will be sustainable into the future, but we may only later be able to look at it from on top of a hill and look at what we lost,” he said.

If the project did get the green light, he suggested that funds be allocated to the indigenous population. “If big business and international corporations come in and develop these areas, they should contribute funds to traditional owners,” he said.

Although the Westport Taskforce is still investigating options for further port developments in Fremantle, Kwinana and Bunbury, taskforce chairwoman Nicole Lockwood has acknowledged Kwinana is shaping as the logical successor to Fremantle port.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt said he was aware there were some areas of cultural significance within Cockburn Sound and that the Westport Taskforce had engaged senior Noongar statesman Dr Richard Walley, who had grown up in the Kwinana area, to lead the project’s Aboriginal engagement and heritage assessment.

“This engagement has commenced with representative Aboriginal stakeholder groups and will continue throughout Westport’s process. All registered Aboriginal heritage sites will be taken into account,” he said.

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