West Wallsend Butterfly Cave

Clayton Barr - Private Member's Statement

The Butterfly Cave is a sacred Aboriginal women’s site in the West Wallsend village in the electorate I have the great privilege to represent. In the past eight or nine years I have spoken in this House about the enormous danger this beautiful, natural and important site faces at the hands of developers. And in the past couple of weeks has come the realisation that Rio Tinto has blasted and completely destroyed a sacred Aboriginal site in the north of Western Australia. Whilst a lot of finger-pointing was going on about whose job it was to protect that particular piece of our heritage as Australians on this land, in the end just not enough was done. There have also been reports that mining giant BHP is on track to destroy dozens and dozens of special Indigenous sites. Again, a lot of finger-pointing is going on about whose responsibility it is to protect those sites.

Today I want to talk about the Butterfly Cave yet again because developers and their bulldozers are on its doorstep. They are going to cut down all of the trees and foliage around the area. They will completely expose what should be a hidden, secreted, sacred site protected from the eyes of others. This House is wilfully going to allow that to happen—not because we do not know, but because we choose not to know and act. A former Minister for Environment and Heritage, and a former member for Maitland, Robyn Parker, declared it a sacred site but, unfortunately, only with a 20‑metre buffer. It is hard to have a secret, sacred site with only a 20‑metre buffer and the surrounding area covered in brick veneer and tile houses, concrete driveways and the like. It is pretty much putting a spotlight on that particular area and certainly not recognising its significance.

Over the past couple of days in Black Lives Matter protests, certain individuals have taken to different statues across our land and the history that sits in behind that. All power to those people, and all power to those who were outraged that someone may have put a little bit of paint on Captain Cook’s statue. If I am making members mad by saying that so flippantly—good. I want them to be mad. Captain Cook has a history on this land for less than 250 years. Why do we place at a high emotional value on his statue when we sit here and completely ignore 50,000 years’ worth of value on a natural cave that is such an important place to our Aboriginal women? Who wants to have a go at explaining that to me?

Why do we care about heritage and buildings that are 100 years old because they were built by whitefellas? We have statues down the road of whitefellas who arrived here 200 years ago and might have built a road or a tunnel. Why do we care so much about them but ignore the Aboriginal history that is part of our land and our landscape? It is tens of tens of thousands of years old. I have pleaded with various Ministers of this Government to take action. Following the New South Wales placement of an Aboriginal significant site but with no protections, the Federal Coalition Government intervened and said it would place a further protection on that area because the New South Wales protection was insignificant. I thank them for that protection. However, when it comes to the push and shove about who is going to enforce, to inspect and to be on the ground to make sure that the bulldozers and the chainsaws do not destroy that site, the answer is no-one. When that site is destroyed, who will be guilty? Every single person in this room, every single person in Federal Parliament, and every single person who turns an eye away from our Indigenous culture. Come on. We have got to fix this.