Glendell mine expansion will impact 'hallowed ground' of the Wonnarua people says their family head Robert Lester

The Glendell open cut mine expansion will impact 'hallowed ground' of the Wonnarua people says their family head Robert Lester.

Mr Lester, who is chairperson Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People (PCWP), states the mine's footprint will impact on a track of land that contains vital materials that have culturally significant value to the PCWP for ongoing culture protection and practices of our lore and customs.

"The PCWP states that the area in question was and is a landscape that clearly records inland wars waged upon our people covering a large area of the massacre of our people and as such should be treated as a sacred site," he wrote.

The land Mr Lester is describing forms part of what mining giant Glencore hopes to develop and extract 135 million tonnes of coal.

Known as the Glendell Continuation Project it will extend the life of the company's existing Glendell open cut mine near Ravensworth until 2044 with Glencore saying the project will provide ongoing employment of 600 workers and inject millions of dollars into the local and state economy as well as provide millions of dollars in state mining royalties.

PCWP were the registered Native Title claimants for large tracts of the Hunter Valley including nearly 80 per cent of the region's mining operations. The claim was withdrawn and PCWP representatives are currently reviewing the next stage in having the a new claim registered.

Having a registered claim carries with it various legislative requirements that must be adhered to when it comes to planning processes. One being that the claimants should have access to the site to make their own assessments of the Aboriginal cultural heritage.

In February PCWP representatives along other researchers were given access to the site to prepare their Glendell Aboriginal Cultural Values Assessment Report which the Department of Environment, Planning and Industry has now received.

The 200 page document lists in detail the historic facts behind the massacre sites that took place on the Ravensworth Estate during 1826-1827.

Ravensworth Homestead; Photos: EIS Glendell Continuation Project.

Ravensworth Homestead; Photos: EIS Glendell Continuation Project.

At that time the property was the owned by Dr James Bowman the Principal Surgeon for the colony of NSW.

He married Mary Isabella Macarthur, the second daughter of John Macarthur in 1823 and took up 10,000 at Ravensworth in 1824 building the Ravensworth Homestead complex around 1832.

To reach the coal reserve in the continuation project Glencore has to relocate the Ravensworth Homestead with one option being to move the complex nearby on the property or, two, the company's preferred option based on the community feedback and work undertaken by an advisory body they appointed is to relocate the building to Broke and create a tourist attraction.

But both options have raised serious concerns for the PCWP who point out in the Glendell Aboriginal Cultural Values Assessment Report the importance of place not just objects describing the Glendell site as having immense enduring and spiritual value.

The Wonnarua people have used that landscape for over 20,000 years and the project area is of cultural importance to them and future generations.

Ravensworth Estate. Photo: EIS Glendell Continuation Project.

Ravensworth Estate. Photo: EIS Glendell Continuation Project.

The loss of 'place' would result in a loss of intergenerational equity.

Of note is the fact that only 7.5% of PCWP country remains untouched.

In his Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment which is attached to the Report Professor Neale Draper writes about the cultural and social significance of the Ravensworth Estate listing the importance of the location to Wonnarua people before the arrival of white settlers as well as its colonial history that includes a catalogue of violence against Aboriginal people.

"This place is regarded as both symbolic of and central to the violent invasion and decimation of the Wonnarua people in this region," he wrote.

He states Ravensworth Estate has very high scientific significance because of its potential to yield additional archaeological information.

He says there is considerable evidence to support the recognition of the remaining Ravensworth Estate including Ravensworth Homestead as an 'Aboriginal Place' as defined in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974).

"They (PCWP families) are convinced that Ravensworth estate harbours the shallow graves and restless spirits of Wonnarua people who were killed there during the course of colonial conflict, including men, women, and children and that disturbance of those places and remains through the expansion of open-cutcoal mining would be both traumatic and culturally dangerous." *

"In this case, the only effective mitigation of this harm would be to preserve this remaining landscape and built infrastructure on the Ravensworth estate from destruction and dislocation from open-cut mining.

"Should the mine expansion proceed, the proposed relocation of Ravensworth homestead would cast it adrift from its geographic ' sense of place' that is at the core of its cultural heritage significance for Wonnarua people."

*Assoc Prof. Draper, "I am aware that this is the Wonnarua view which may vary from the views of some heritage prqactioners."