Site watch: recent changes to Aboriginal heritage site registration in Western Australia

Joe Dortch, Tom Sapienza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2011 the Western Australian government reformed administration of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (the Act). Among several changes, many sites ceased to be recognised as sites, and new site submissions became unlikely to be accepted as sites. To identify changing patterns in site acceptance, we compared the government’s metadata spanning seven years (2008-2015) listing registered sites and lodged and rejected site submissions. A remarkable 14,419 site status decisions were made in the period, including the mass de-registration of 3207 formerly registered sites—mostly in the Pilbara mining region. The majority of affected sites are archaeological sites, with artefact scatters affected out of proportion. It is unclear whether sites became de-registered because they have been disturbed as the result of approval for development applications, or for other reasons. Up to 2015, consultation with Aboriginal stakeholders was minimal. Some 5% of site status changes involve illogical or unexpected steps such as re-registration or temporary removal from the site lists, potentially creating confusion for stakeholders and proponents. By 2011, heritage management under the Act had become cumbersome, but the drastic reforms since then have increased uncertainty and undermine Aboriginal heritage protection. We call for greater transparency in management, and for recognition of Aboriginal sites as components of landscapes in which damage to heritage should be minimised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


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