Environment

‘Exceptional’ Indigenous burial site in Sydney set to secure state protection

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A chance discovery on a 177-year-old surveyor's map of a rare Indigenous burial ground is expected to trigger the area's protection by the Berejiklian government.

Despite consultants describing the site – in the West Schofields development precinct near Blacktown – as potentially "of exceptional cultural and scientific significance", its location may be kept secret to respect the wishes of "representative Aboriginal parties", a Planning Department spokesman said.

Colin Gale, a member of Blacktown Council's Aboriginal advisory committee, says an area of West Schofields believed to contain a burial site should be protected.

Colin Gale, a member of Blacktown Council's Aboriginal advisory committee, says an area of West Schofields believed to contain a burial site should be protected.Credit:Wolter Peeters

About eight years ago, historian Paul Irish was part of a team examining records of the Sydney Basin held by the State Library of NSW when he noticed a reference to a "Burial ground of the Blacks" on an 1842 map of the Windsor region by surveyor J. Musgrave.

His finding triggered several reports by archaeologists for the Blacktown City Council and the state government, the latest of which redacted many key details. The Herald has also decided not to identify the area being investigated.

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The 1842 Windsor District map by surveyor J. Musgrave, containing a reference to "Burial ground of the Blacks".

The 1842 Windsor District map by surveyor J. Musgrave, containing a reference to "Burial ground of the Blacks".Credit:State Library of NSW

Still, the issue remains contentious on a number of fronts, including among members of the Indigenous community.

Colin Gale, a resident of the area – who hails from "the oldest documented family in Australia", citing his ancestors' early contact with the colony's first governor Arthur Phillip – is eager for the burial site to be declared not least to ensure its protection from planned housing developments.

"This is the only identified historical burial ground in the Sydney Basin," Mr Gale said. "You should put it out there in big capital letters."

Phil Khan, a principal of the Kamilaroi-Yankuntjatjara Working Group, also supports the area being "kept as a monument for our people".

Mr Khan said he was wary that without public protection, the land could be disturbed: "It's what the Aboriginal people have had to put up with all over Australia."

The Herald sought comment from the Deerubbin Local Land Council, one of the regional Indigenous groups.

The map's 'Burial ground of the Blacks" reference on land held by Joseph Pye Esq.

The map's 'Burial ground of the Blacks" reference on land held by Joseph Pye Esq.Credit:State Library, NSW, with Mary Dallas Consulting Archaeologists

Dr Irish said planners face several dilemmas.

One is that the area's acidic soils would have aided decomposition, so "there may be nothing more to be found" in terms of human remains even if excavations were carried out, he said.

Another is the vague map reference implies an area several hundred hectares in size. That scale is likely to be too large even assuming the arrival of European settlers had concentrated Indigenous people into that part of the Cumberland Plain.

(Joseph Pye Esq., whose land the burial site is located on, was known by historical records to be relatively friendly towards the traditional owners, one official said. That suggests the site may have involved mostly post-colonial burials.)

Setting aside a big protection zone may affect residents whose land does not have burial links, Dr Irish said: "I don't think they should be treated as though they literally have bones in their backyards."

The Planning spokesman said the govRead More – Source