Cultural heritage

Cultural heritage

Actively engaging with Traditional Owners is a vital part of operating in Western Australia, particularly in the regions where we operate.

We actively work towards continuous improvement of our cultural heritage management system by engaging with local Aboriginal groups and seeking open and transparent communication and consultation.

We manage our heritage areas through a combination of surveys including Ethnographic and Archaeological, ground disturbance protocols and access management. We rely on input from Traditional Owners, Historians, Environmentalists and Archaeologists to ensure identification, assessment, protection and management of Aboriginal heritage sites remains a key consideration in all of our activities. Recently, under the guidance of the Traditional owners in Port Hedland we relocated middens and baler shells from a site that was culturally significant to the local Aboriginal people. No damage occurred when the shells were relocated to another site of cultural significance.

Conservation Agreement

In 2007, Rio Tinto supported the inclusion of the Dampier Archipelago including the Burrup Peninsula on the National Heritage List, in recognition of its outstanding rock art values. The listing covers approximately 300 square kilometres of the Dampier Archipelago land area which includes a significant portion of Rio Tinto's iron ore and Dampier Salt leases.

The Dampier Archipelago has one of the largest and most diverse concentrations of rock art (petroglyphs) in the world, with an estimated one million engravings. Dating back tens of thousands of years, the petroglyphs comprise images of fauna - avian, marine and terrestrial, humans and human activities and geometric designs. The area is also characterised by stone features, camp sites, quarries and shell middens providing a fascinating insight into the cultural life of Australia's Indigenous ancestors.

As an outcome of the National Heritage Listing, Rio Tinto signed a Conservation Agreement with the Australian Government formalising our long term commitment to protecting the rock art on the Burrup Peninsula. This included the establishment of a fund to advance the understanding and preservation of the rock art itself and its historical and cultural value.

As part of the Agreement, Rio Tinto has committed funds for a period of ten years to:

  1. identifying all sites with National Heritage Values
  2. presenting and transmitting information about the National Heritage Values
  3. managing National Heritage Values to ensure the values are conserved for future generations
  4. researching and monitoring the National Heritage Values

Heritage management

The Rio Tinto leased lands in Dampier, Western Australia are situated within the National Heritage listed, Dampier Archipelago including the Burrup Peninsula. The listing provides for the preservation, on behalf of the community, of places and objects of National Heritage significance. The Dampier Archipelago's rock art (petroglyphs) and stone structures showcase a rich cultural and spiritual history dating back tens of thousands of years.

All who live and work on the Burrup Peninsula have an obligation to ensure the very best heritage management is maintained in the area so it can be preserved and appreciated for future generations.

Right across the Pilbara region, Rio Tinto's Aboriginal Heritage Management Programme meets our obligations for identification, assessment, protection and management of Aboriginal heritage sites.

We employ a large team of professional heritage staff to implement the company's heritage requirements. This includes a Specialist in cultural heritage with a specific focus on the Burrup Peninsula leases. The heritage team works closely with Aboriginal Traditional Owners to best manage cultural heritage sites.

Rio Tinto must comply with or exceed legislative requirements under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation 1999 (EPBC), the West Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (AHA) and other relevant statutes in relation to cultural heritage management.

To achieve leading best practice management for cultural heritage, we have a Cultural Heritage Management System in place and a range of interconnected policies, standards and procedures.

These documents include:

  • Rio Tinto Communities Policy
  • Rio Tinto Communities Standard
  • Rio Tinto Guide

Gnulli Heritage Agreement


Dampier Salt signs important heritage agreement with Gnulli people - 11 August 2011

The Gnulli Heritage Agreement formalises the relationship between Rio Tinto's Dampier Salt operations and the Baiyungu traditional owners of the land around Lake McLeod about 100km north of Carnarvon.

Dampier Salt’s previous managing director Denise Goldsworthy said at the time that the agreement established clear guidelines on how and when to engage Traditional Owners in determining the cultural and heritage significance of the area.

The Heritage Agreement actively supports positive relationships with the Indigenous custodians of the country where we have mining operations and the agreement that has been signed establishes protocols for interaction between Dampier Salt and Traditional Owners and clarifies other issues relating to community consultation on heritage issues.

Dampier Salt is extremely pleased with the outcome of these negotiations and is confident that all sides will benefit from the Heritage Agreement.

Dampier Salt is always keen to improve its mining activities but never at the expense of local culture. The Heritage agreement will help protect an irreplaceable community asset and our Indigenous heritage.

The Baiyungu people are one of a number of peoples represented by the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) - a native title representative body protecting the interests of Traditional Owners in WA's Gascoyne, Murchison and Pilbara regions. YMAC chief executive Simon Hawkins said he was pleased with the agreement that would help provide a strong legacy for the Gnulli group.

Dampier Salt is also actively persuing similar agreements with Traditional Owner groups in and around the Port Hedland and Dampier regions.