Suzi Coates (DEPI Ballarat, cultural issues)
Suzi is herself indigenous and has worked on several interesting projects.
There are 99 known Aboriginal cultural sites in the Grampians of which 69 are rock art. All are very vulnerable to fire, as are scar trees and quarries. Damage is caused by ash, smoke, heat. And not just the fire, also the clean up and subsequent erosion. Damage to the art work (heat flaking etc), the surrounding infrastructure, and the subsurface archaeological deposits. The damage may not be apparent to casual inspection, as the micro climate has effects.
The post fire team had 3 requirements: assess and conserve, repair and replace infrastructure, assess control lines prior to remediation works.
Teams have so far gone to 23 known sites and have found 3 new ones. More are likely to be found. The teams have consisted of people from four traditional owner groups and 3 agencies.
- It takes time (at least 4 weeks) to get the right teams organised
- the need to use experienced staff
- the need for a formal debrief, feedback and evaluation mechanism for both successes and things needing improvement
- heritage assessment is a priority early on.
It was lucky that there had been plans for a prescribed burn in the area, so work had gone into clearing vegetation from the sites, thus there was less defoliation of the rock as less heat close by.
It will be important to use the more open bush to look for sites and register them with AAV. A team is coming soon to register and reregister sites, both within and outside the burnt area.
Partnerships, both with natural values work and cultural heritage will be essential. Traditional owners and AAV. Rock art conservationists are rare and expensive.
There was quite a bit of discussion about how non-indigenous people can get involved in cultural heritage. Rock climbers make discoveries, some pass them on, others keep quiet over fear of losing sites. But many are passionate about preserving the sites. Other members of the public are keen to help but don’t know how to. No definite answers, but at least the question has been raised.