Murujuga Rock Art Conservation Project - media coverage

Press/Media: Press / Media


The Murujuga Rock Art Conservation Project is a truly independent project that seeks to assess the impact of industrial emissions upon the rock art of Murujuga, Western Australia. The project is funded by concerned citizens. No funding is accepted either from industry or from government. The project is approved by Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation.

Period15 Mar 2019 → 16 Feb 2023

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleRock art expert challenges politicians on Murujuga threats
    Degree of recognitionRegional
    Media name/outletNgaarda media
    Media typeWeb
    Producer/AuthorEliza Kloser
    PersonsBenjamin Smith
  • TitleEmissions take the gloss off ancient rock art
    Degree of recognitionNational
    Media name/outletThe Australian
    Media typeWeb
    DescriptionA new study has delivered what researchers say is the first visual proof that industrial emissions on Western Australia’s Burrup peninsula have damaged some of the area’s ancient Aboriginal rock art.
    With the federal government investigating the environmental and cultural impacts of billions of dollars of planned investment in the area, including major projects being advanced by
    Woodside Energy and private company Perdaman, new research
    led by University of Western Australia archaeologist Benjamin Smith documented what he said was visual evidence of petroglyphs being damaged by acidic emissions from nearby heavy industry.
    Producer/AuthorPaul Garvey
    PersonsBenjamin Smith
  • TitleRace and power collide in a fight over sacred rock art in remote Australia
    Degree of recognitionInternational
    Media name/outletCNN International
    Media typeWeb
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    DescriptionIn a June paper, co-authored with other eminent rock experts, Smith found that industrial pollutants from other development on the peninsula – namely nitrogen oxides – are already eroding the outer layer of Murujuga’s petroglyphs, causing the carvings to slowly disappear.
    The paper draws on other published studies that “agree that the rich red-brown patina of Murujuga’s rocks, as with other forms of rock varnish, is dissolved with increasing acidity.” Smith says acid levels increase when sulphur and nitrogen oxides emitted from the industrial plants on Murujuga mix with moisture. Smith’s findings contradict previous research – partly funded by industry – that claimed there was “no adverse impact tothe rock engravings from industrial pollution,” which Woodside uses to back its claim that its gas plant activities aren’t harming the petroglyphs.
    In a statement to CNN, Woodside said: “Peer-reviewed research has not demonstrated any impacts on Burrup (Murujuga) rock art from emissions associated with Woodside’s operations.”
    Smith and other experts have long argued that the raw data used to support those findings is flawed.

    Woodside has told CNN it is committed to using technology to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions across its operations while it awaits the results of the rock art monitoring program, but it also confirmed that no new investment had been made into pollution control measures for its infrastructure since 2008.
    Smith says the existing body of science shows Murujuga’s rocks won’t survive the coming decades if the Scarborough project goes ahead – due to the sheer scale of its projected emissions.
    “It’s an obvious no-brainer … there should be no new developments on Murujuga,” Smith said. “The world is turning against people like Woodside that make vast profits at the expense of the planet and the expense of our heritage.”
    Producer/AuthorHannah Ritchie
    PersonsBenjamin Smith
  • TitlePollution is threatening some of the world’s oldest rock carvings
    Degree of recognitionInternational
    Media name/outletNational Geographic
    Media typeWeb
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    DescriptionMurujuga, which covers the Dampier Archipelago and adjacent Burrup Peninsula, has one of the world’s most important collections of petroglyphs. These were created over thousands of years, says Benjamin Smith, Professor of World Rock Art at University of Western Australia.
    Of the other significant rock art sites in the world—from
    7,000-year-oldcarvings in Norway to 25,000-year-old cave paintings in Brazil and 13,000-year-old paintings in Zimbabwe
    —none rival Murujuga for volume or continuity, he says. “What makes Murujuga special is the density and absolute amount of rock art,” Smith says. “The art also has a longer sequence than any of these other sites, extending from recent times back at least 40,000 years, probably 50,000 years.”
    Rock art researchers so far have catalogued only 3 percent of Murujuga’s total area, an ongoing project that has recorded 50,000 images, Smith says. There could be up to 2 million petroglyphs at Murujuga. As well as being majestic works of art, these carvings provide remarkable scientific insights. “Murujuga has some of the oldest known images of the human face and a series of extinct animals,” Smith says. “The changing fauna within the art shows massive climatic and environmental changes over time. The site was once more than 60 miles inland. Now it is a peninsula surrounded by sea.” Yet in a physical sense, Murujuga’s future is bleak, says Smith. Pollution generated by huge and expanding industrial complexes on the Burrup Peninsula threaten the ancient site. “If the pollution levels are allowed to continue at current levels, serious damage will be done to the rock surfaces of Murujuga and quickly,” he says.
    Producer/AuthorRonan O'Connell
    PersonsBenjamin Smith
  • TitleFears pollution will destroy world's biggest collection of rock art 'within 100 years'
    Degree of recognitionNational
    Media name/outletABC
    Media typeWeb
    DescriptionRock art could be 'gone in 100 years'
    To refute the claims by Ian MacLeod and Warren Fish, seven world renowned scientists have compiled four years of research to prove the ancient rock art at Murujuga is under threat from industrial pollution.
    University of Western Australia world rock art professor Benjamin Smith led the research, and said it was important to get the facts right.
    "A conclusion that is patently wrong needs to be rebuffed, and hence, I went back and worked with a range of colleges around the world to bring the science to bear," he said.
    Nitrogen oxides, released from industrial activity, land on the rocks as dust, which then mixes with rain and dew to form acids that degrade the patina, a varnish that coats the rocks into which the engravings are carved.
    Professor Smith said that over time, the patina would be dissolved by the acid and the petroglyphs would be permanently lost.
    What is in question, is the rate of acceleration of the decay caused by industrial pollution.
    Professor Smith said he was unsure of an exact point of no return for the rocks, but believed it was imminent.
    "The emission coming out of Woodside and Yara are enough, we know, to start eroding the manganese and iron out of the surfaces of the rock," he said.
    "What we are trying to work out is how fast they are degrading.
    "But we are certainly looking at decades, not centuries."
    Producer/AuthorJames Liveris
    PersonsBenjamin Smith
  • TitleRock art and a hard place
    Degree of recognitionNational
    Media name/outletThe Weekend Australian Magazine
    Media typePrint
    Duration/Length/Size12 minute read
    DescriptionThe biggest and oldest collection of rock art in the world lies hard up against a booming resources precinct. Can they really coexist?
    Producer/AuthorVictoria Laurie
    PersonsBenjamin Smith, John Black


  • Rock art
  • Murujuga
  • Industrial emissions
  • Acid rain
  • Heritage
  • Petroglyphs
  • Pollution
  • Dampier
  • Burrup
  • UNESCO World Heritage