Australian Archaeological Association statement on Djab Wurrung tree

12th November 2020


The loss of the Djab Wurrung tree has highlighted one of the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous communities both in Australia and overseas: the recognition and protection of cultural landscapes. The Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) Inc acknowledges that First Nations people across the country routinely find themselves in the distressing situation of having to decide which irreplaceable heritage they value over another in order to make way for infrastructure. The absence of a landscape approach to heritage management exacerbates this issue.

Cultural heritage should not be viewed as individual sites or material culture, rather they must be recognised as integral parts of cultural landscapes. The removal of any component of that landscape reduces the significance of the whole, generating more painful experiences for First Nations people.

The AAA Inc. calls on state and federal governments to provide legislative frameworks that better acknowledge Indigenous perspectives regarding the holistic connection between cultural heritage and landscape. Further, it is essential that they work collaboratively and proactively with First Nations people as a minimum standard. We acknowledge that, in this instance, all options for salvage of the most significant cultural elements of the landscape were considered, and in consultation with the Indigenous community, the least destructive option was taken. At a national scale, these actions will not only help mitigate further damage to cultural landscapes by encouraging stronger recognition and appreciation of their cultural value, but also foster greater respect towards First Nations people and their continuous connection to the land and their culture.

Deep concern about draft WA Heritage Bill posing “very high risk” to Indigenous heritage

09th October 2020

Media Release – 8/10/2020

Download statement

The Australian Archaeological Association Inc. (AAA) and the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists’ Association (AIAA) are deeply concerned the Western Australia Draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 will not meet its intended goals. Public submissions on the draft Bill close tomorrow (Friday 9 October 2020).

The President of the AAA, Tiina Manne, says the draft Bill needs to be amended as it currently poses a very high risk for Aboriginal communities, industry and heritage practice.

“The issues and impacts upon Aboriginal cultural heritage that have been highlighted recently through the Juukan Gorge tragedy will be repeated time and again, unless there is proactive legislation in place that creates a better system for everyone,” she said.

The AAA and AIAA said the draft Bill must provide Aboriginal Traditional Owners greater involvement in decision-making and review provisions rather than continuing to favour proponents, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council and the Minister. The draft Bill continues to facilitate development approvals rather than protecting and celebrating Aboriginal sites and cultural landscapes. Other concerns include that the fundamental steps of identifying and understanding Aboriginal cultural heritage have not been included in the Bill and the vague and inconsistent use of definitions within the Bill provides opportunities for individuals to exploit loopholes. There is also the need for the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council and Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services to be permanently funded and adequately resourced.

The President of the AIAA, David Johnston, said the Commonwealth Government must assume responsibility and accountability to protect Indigenous heritage at a national level.

“Indigenous communities must also carefully consider who is advocating for ‘us’ on the heritage reform agenda,” Mr Johnston said.

The draft bill is an historically important opportunity to improve the recognition, respect and management of cultural heritage in Western Australia. AAA and AIAA therefore strongly urge the Western Australian Government to keep working to improve the draft Bill, through genuine collaborative involvement of Traditional Owners and heritage practitioners, and through incorporating the above amendments, so that respectful, positive conservation and management of Western Australian Aboriginal heritage will be enabled, and clarity and certainty for all parties involved will be provided.

For more information please contact:

Dave Johnston
0412 211 137

Archaeology and the Humanities – promoting critical thinking and informed reflection

05th July 2020

In January 2020 Minister of Education Dan Tehan stated, “the Morrison Government … recognise[s] the importance of research into Australian society, history and culture”. Five months later, the Morrison Government has proposed dramatic changes to university fee structures that double the cost of study in these same disciplines. This move will amplify the perceived divide between the natural sciences and HASS (humanities and social sciences). What 21stcentury science, business and society need is an integration of these fields of expertise; archaeology plays a vital role in this endeavour. By applying scientific techniques to social issues, including climate change and adaptive technologies, archaeology remains the only discipline able to study the full spectrum of Australia’s deep human history. The history of humanity – the story of us – is a common, binding thread that crosses barriers such as age, gender, culture and religion.

Archaeology – skills rich

Archaeology is a professional discipline with graduates in high demand across the sector, applying training that is specialised, skills-rich and transferrable. University-trained practitioners provide expert management advice and essential compliance documentation to support major infrastructure and development projects that support our economy. We also provide evidence of human ingenuity through time that is a source of national pride and social integration. Archaeology has a long and successful commitment to achieving excellence in training and job-readiness. Since 2005 we have conducted five-yearly reviews of the training needs of our industry and continue to adjust our university training and courses accordingly. We have developed National Benchmarking Guidelines which clearly articulate the knowledge and specific skills expected of graduates upon completion of a 4-year Honours degree – the industry minimum standard. In 2019, we launched the Australian Archaeology Skills Passport, a national program aimed at streamlining skills training across the discipline, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the sector.

Archaeology – socially engaged

Archaeology uses both history and science to understand social issues. For example, the impact and legacy of British colonisation/invasion manifests today in a divided society and a contested heritage. In partnership with Traditional Custodians, archaeologists work to understand not only the depth of time but also the cultural richness of Australian Indigenous societies prior to British invasion. Archaeologists also work to understand more recent colonial entanglements and impacts as they explore the material culture of social, economic and environmental change since First Contact. Land-based and maritime heritage sites not only serve as a reminder of the past but also continue to contribute to the character and economy of Australia today. HASS graduates, who can think laterally, critically and creatively, make up a large proportion of people working for Indigenous organisations as teachers, social workers, anthropologists, historians, archaeologists and government officials. The proposed fee changes will not only curtail this work, but will also disadvantage women, who make up to 60% of HASS students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people from non-traditional education backgrounds who use HASS degrees as pathways into universities.

Archaeology – global and local

All Australian archaeology departments maintain international research and engagement collaborations with key institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. These collaborations elevate Australia’s standing within the international research community on globally important issues. These international connections help promote greater understanding and appreciation of our own unique Indigenous cultures. We also maintain relationships locally with communities in every State.

The Australian archaeological community is united. We ask the government to rethink its proposed fee restructure to ensure the HASS sector continues to produce socially engaged and scientifically excellent graduates.

Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists


Statement from the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists Association

09th June 2020


Statement from the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists Association

5 June 2020

 “The act by Rio Tinto to blast Juukan Gorge, a millennia old archaeological site and an ancient place of sacred significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples of the Pilbara region is condemned by the Australian Indigenous Archaeologists’ Association (AIAA).

AIAA is concerned about the commitment of Rio Tinto to Australia’s Reconciliation Process with Indigenous Australians. That the destruction was carried out during National Reconciliation Week is particularly sad, but the decision to do so on Australia’s national day of Recognition of the Stolen Generations, ‘Sorry Day’, added insult to injury for the PKKP peoples and is an insult to all to Indigenous Australians.

AIAA questions Rio Tinto’s adherence to the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) Indigenous peoples and mining good practice guide. Specifically, acting in good faith, free prior and informed consent, and the failure to protect a sacred site of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura.

Finally, AIAA questions Rio Tinto’s adherence to their own standards. In Rio Tinto’s own Reconciliation Action Plan 2016-2019 they talk about Walking the Land Together, and how they will work with Traditional Owners to develop Cultural Heritage Management Plans. In their The Way We Work (2017) Rio Tinto asserts they will “Listen with respect and value the contributions of others.”

Our Association stands in solidarity with the PKKP peoples and all Australians involved in protecting Indigenous cultural heritage. While Rio Tinto acted within the law of Western Australia, we call for reform of Western Australia’s heritage protection laws.

The Indigeneous People of West Australia should be the guiding voice and at the centre of this reform, so that meaningful change can occur.

We also call on the Australian Commonwealth Government to legislate  minimum national standards (internationally recognised) for Indigenous heritage site assessment, management and protection.

This should include standards for the protection of both tangible and intangible aspects of our places within the cultural landscape.

We continue to recommend the establishment of an Australian Indigenous Heritage Commission to oversee and manage our valued sites and places. Australia’s rich Indigenous heritage and culture should be afforded the respect and protection that it deserves.”




Loss of Juukan Gorge Rockshelters, Pilbara Region, Western Australia

02nd June 2020

Australian Archaeological Association Inc.: Press Release

Loss of Juukan Gorge Rockshelters, Pilbara region, Western Australia


The destruction of the significant Juukan Gorge rockshelters, despite new and compelling evidence from archaeological excavations conducted after the permit to destroy was issued, highlights the urgent need to reform the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. These actions highlight the need to have robust heritage agreements between proponents and Aboriginal communities that are responsive to new information about the cultural significance of sites. There has been an increasing call from professional archaeologists and Aboriginal Representative Bodies to have a forum in Western Australia for heritage appeals that considers the values of heritage to Traditional Owners and the State, and takes into account wider considerations of significance such as The Burra Charter.

New evidence for values and significance should be able to be incorporated into agreements with communities and reflected in the level of protection afforded by heritage law. This would bring WA into line with other States where up-to-date assessment of the significance of sites is used to make informed decisions around their protection and management. The early dates for occupation at Juukan, at 46,000 years ago, puts this site in the oldest bracket of dates for the human occupation of Australia’s deserts. This issue emphasises the need for the WA State Government to progress the reforms to the Heritage Act for greater clarity, certainty and site protection for Traditional Owners, land-users and the Regulator, and not the least for the heritage itself.

While AAA understands that Rio Tinto was legally permitted to destroy these sites under a Section 18 Notice issued in 2013, the fact that Rio did not revisit this decision after the site’s increased cultural significance was demonstrated by subsequent archaeological excavations, and visits by Traditional Owners, is inconsistent with modern standards of heritage management. Many of our members work extensively and collaboratively with Rio Tinto and have done so for many years, on the assumption that Rio Tinto’s strategic mission is to set best practice in cultural heritage management and establish and maintain ethical partnerships with Traditional Owner communities. It is expected that RTIO, and other resource developers, meet both the regulatory requirements mandated by state legislation and the expectations of their agreements with Traditional Owner groups. That the timing of the destruction of these sites was on Australian Sorry Day was particularly unfortunate. Multi-decadal investment in best-practice heritage management and Traditional Owner partnerships can be eroded by such actions.

There are important lessons to be learned here. As a discipline that prides itself on our collaborative work with Traditional Owner groups while striving for best practise outcomes in heritage compliance, we call on the Western Australian regulators and industry leaders to work towards building a stronger and fairer heritage protection framework for the State.

In this Week of Reconciliation – we say: We are Sorry.


For further information, contact:


Dr Tiina Manne, President, Australian Archaeological Association Inc. <>


Dr Peter Veth, Professor of Archaeology, University of Western Australia and Director of UWA Oceans Institute <>