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Murujuga, usually known as the Burrup Peninsula, is an island in the Dampier Archipelago, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, containing the town of Dampier. Originally named Dampier Island after the English navigator William Dampier, it lies 3 km off the Pilbara coast. In 1963 the island became an artificial peninsula when it was connected to the mainland by a causeway for a road and railway. In 1979 Dampier Peninsula was renamed Burrup Peninsula after Mt Burrup, the highest peak on the island, which had been named after Henry Burrup, a Union Bank clerk murdered in 1885 at Roebourne.[1][2][3]

The region is sometimes confused with the Dampier Peninsula, 800 kilometres (500 mi) to the north-east. In Ngayarda languages, including that of the indigenous people of the peninsula, the Jaburara (or Yaburara) people, murujuga meant "hip bone sticking out".

The peninsula is a unique ecological and archaeological area since it contains the Murujuga cultural landscape, the world's largest and most important collection of petroglyphs – ancient Aboriginal rock carvings some claim to date back as far as the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. The collection of standing stones here is the largest in Australia with rock art petroglyphs numbering over one million, many depicting images of the now extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger).

Map of Dampier Archipelago and Burrup Peninsula

The Dampier Rock Art Precinct, which covers the entire archipelago, is the subject of ongoing political debate due to historical and proposed industrial development.


The traditional owners, the Indigenous people of the Burrup Peninsula were an Aboriginal nation known as the Yaburara (Jaburara) people. Between February and May 1869 a great number of Yarburarra people were killed in an incident known as the Flying Foam Massacre.[4] The five clans who took over the care of the land as traditional custodians following the massacre include Yaburarra, Ngarluma, Mardudhunera, Yindjibarndi and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo peoples.[5][6][7]

Development controversy[edit]

Burrup rock art

Concern around the ecological, historical, cultural and archaeological significance of the area has led to a campaign for its protection, causing conflict with industrial development on the site. The preservation of the Murujuga monument has been called for since 1969, and in 2002 the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations (IFRAO) commenced a campaign to preserve the remaining monument. Murujuga has been listed in the National Trust of Australia Endangered Places Register[8] and in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.[9] No other sites in Australia have ever appeared in the World Monuments Watch.

Claims have been made that since 1963, 24.4 percent of the rock art on Murujuga has been destroyed to make way for industrial development.[10] However, the Western Australian government, responding to a question in parliament, has argued for a much lower figure, suggesting that approximately 4 percent of sites, representing approximately 7.2 percent of petroglyphs, have been destroyed since 1972.[11] However, as the Western Australian government has noted, there is no complete inventory of rock art in the region,[12] making assessments of current and future impacts on the site a challenging task.

In 1996, a Burrup Peninsula Land Use Plan and Management Strategy, prepared by the Burrup Peninsula Management Advisory Board, presented an approach to multiple land use on the Burrup Peninsula. The primary purpose of the Burrup Peninsula Land Use Plan and Management Strategy was to allocate land for industry, conservation, heritage and recreation following on from an earlier multiple land use plan for the Burrup Peninsula The Pilbara 21, Final Strategy Report (1992). The 1996 Plan attempted to balance competing land uses through the division of the Burrup Peninsula into two broad land use areas: (a) Conservation, Heritage and Recreation Area; and (b) an Industrial Area. The Plan recommend allocating approximately 5,400 hectares (62%) of the Peninsula for conservation, heritage and recreation, and associated uses – leaving (it is assumed) 38% of the area for "the allocation of industrial land (in addition to existing industrial leases) with an emphasis on port sites and strategic industry". While comment is provided in the plan on "the value of the Northern Burrup for preservation of its renowned Aboriginal heritage and environmental values" no comment is made on the amount of rock art affected by development and recreational activities.[13]

Work commissioned by the West Australian National Trust led it to nominate the site for the National Trust Endangered Places list in 2002.[14] In 2004, funding was provided by American Express through the World Monuments Fund for further research and advocacy to be undertaken, with the goal of achieving national heritage status for the site. In 2006 the Australian Heritage Council advised the federal Environment and Heritage Minister that the site was suitable for National Heritage listing.[15]

The West Australian State government has continued to support development at the site, arguing a lack of cost-effective alternative sites and that geographical expansion of facility areas will be extremely limited. The campaign against development has blurred some traditional political boundaries, with former conservative party Resources Development Minister Mr Colin Barnett now supporting campaigns to save rock art in this area.[16]

The debate has placed the Australian national government in a difficult situation.[17] On the one hand, national heritage bodies have supported protection for the area, and the governments at national and state level have been of opposing political parties, giving the federal government reason to support site protection. On the other hand, the Western Australian economy has been crucial to Australia's economic wealth generally, and its export earnings in particular, and the national government will be reluctant to appear to interfere with that economic prosperity.

The protest campaign against development has garnered popular support:

42,000 personal messages were lodged with Woodside's Directors at their Annual General Meeting. Following shareholders questions at the AGM, Director Don Voelte finally admitted that the State Government had directed them towards developing amidst the rock art and that they had accepted.

— [18]

By June 2007, the debate continues, with the Australian government still to determine what if any intervention it may make in the case under federal heritage protection or other laws. The federal minister indicated support for National Heritage listing, however the question of site boundaries and management strategies was still under negotiation.[19]

The site was heritage listed in 2007.

On 7 July 2008, the Australian Government placed 90% of the remaining rock art areas of the Dampier Archipelago on the National Heritage List. Campaigners are now demanding that the Australian Government include all of the undisturbed areas of the Dampier Archipelago on the World Heritage List. According to the Philip Adams radio show on the ABC, one worker on the site, an electrician for Woodside claimed the company had crushed 10,000 petroglyphs for roadfill, at a time of international outrage over the Taliban destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas. The oldest representation of a human face was also destroyed. The rock pools are filled with green scum, the eucalypts of the area dying, the fluming of escaping natural gas, from faulty piping, rises as high as a six story building and burns the equivalent of the entire annual emissions in New Zealand, every day.[20]

The area remains on the World Monument Fund's list of 100 Most Endangered Places in the World - the only such site in Australia - because of continued mismanagement of the heritage and conservation values of the Burrup.[21]

Since December 2006, the Global Stand Up for the Burrup campaign has organised more than 440 photo-events in support of World Heritage Listing for the Burrup.

In January 2020, the Australian government lodged a submission for the Murujuga cultural landscape to be included as an Australian entry to the World Heritage Tentative List.[22][23][24]

Undersea archaeological site[edit]

On 1 July 2020, scientists published a study reporting on the finding of Australia's first ever ancient Aboriginal underwater archaeological sites at two sites off the Burrup Peninsula. The 269 artefacts found at Cape Bruguieres, as well as an 8,500-year-old underwater freshwater spring at Flying Foam Passage off Dampier are described in the study.[25] Estimated to be thousands of years old, the artefacts include hundreds of stone tools and grinding stones, evidence of life before sea levels rose between 7,000 and 18,000 years ago, after the last ice age. The Australian Archaeological Association described the research as "highly significant".[26]

The report was the result of four years of work by a team of archaeologists, rock art specialists, geomorphologists, geologists, specialist pilots and scientific divers, funded by the Australian Research Council, in collaboration with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation,[27] on a project known as the "Deep History of Sea Country" project.[28] Teams from Flinders University, the University of Western Australia, James Cook University, Airborne Research Australia, and the University of York in England were involved.[25]

The site was placed on the WA Aboriginal Heritage List (protected under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972), and the Federal Government said such underwater sites fall under the state jurisdiction. The federal Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 was updated in 2019 to automatically include sunken aircraft and shipwrecks older than 75 years, but it does not automatically include Aboriginal sites.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kuhlenbeck, Britta (2009). "Politics of Space". Re-writing Spatiality: The Production of Space in the Pilbara Region in Western Australia. Hamburg: University of Hamburg. p. 154. ISBN 978-3-643-10980-4.
  2. ^ Bednarik, Robert G. (May 2002). "The survival of the Murujuga (Burrup) petroglyphs". Rock Art Research: The Journal of the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA). Archaeological Publications. 19 (1): 29. ISSN 0813-0426.
  3. ^ "Supreme Court - Criminal Sittings". The West Australian. Perth, WA. 2 July 1885. p. 3. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  4. ^ Gara, Tom (1983), The Flying Foam massacre : an incident on the northwest frontier, Western Australia, retrieved 7 February 2020
  5. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (29 January 2020). "Australia lodges world heritage submission for 50,000-year-old Burrup Peninsula rock art". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  6. ^ "Wong-goo-tt-oo elder sings about the spiritual and cultural importance of the Burrup rock art | Sovereign Union - First Nations Asserting Sovereignty". Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  7. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (22 March 2018). "Indigenous owners 'left out' of rock art site's world heritage listing talks". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  8. ^ National Trust of Australia, Endangered Places Register 2004,
  9. ^ World Monuments Fund - Dampier Rock Art Complex
  10. ^ Robert G. Bednarik, Dampier Fact Sheet, October 2006, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 May 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Hon. John Ford, answer to question on notice, Western Australia Legislative Council Hansard, 16 August 2005.
  12. ^ WA Department of Industry and Resources, Burrup Peninsula, Frequently Asked Questions,
  13. ^ See: Burrup Peninsula Land Use Plan and Management Strategy (1996) at
  14. ^ National Trust of Australia (WA), Archaeology and rock art in the Dampier Archipelago,
  15. ^ ABC News Online, National Trust backs Burrup heritage report, 4 October 2006,
  16. ^ See public interview comments
  17. ^ See for example, AM, 3 October 2006, New factors prompt further Burrup Peninsula consideration, (transcript of radio report), ABC Radio,
  18. ^ GetUp campaign blog post,
  19. ^ The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Turnbull works for Burrup Solution, media release, 22 Feb 2007
  20. ^ 'Burrup's rock art: the protracted World Heritage listing,' Late Night Live with Philip Adams, 29 April 2013
  21. ^ Aboriginal rock art site vandalised, Australian Geographic, 2 March 2011.
  22. ^ "World Heritage Tentative List submission - Murujuga Cultural Landscape". Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. 2020. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  23. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (27 August 2018). "'The rocks remember': the fight to protect Burrup peninsula's rock art". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  24. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (29 January 2020). "Australia lodges world heritage submission for 50,000-year-old Burrup Peninsula rock art". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  25. ^ a b c Michelmore, Karen (1 July 2020). "Ancient Aboriginal underwater archaeological sites discovered, and a new frontier for study". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  26. ^ Benjamin, Jonathan; O’Leary, Michael; et al. (1 July 2020). Petraglia, Michael D. (ed.). "Aboriginal artefacts on the continental shelf reveal ancient drowned cultural landscapes in northwest Australia". PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science (PLoS). 15 (7): e0233912. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0233912. ISSN 1932-6203.
  27. ^ Bailey, Geoff; McDonald, Jo; Benjamin, Jonathan; Leary; Ulm, Sean (1 July 2020). "In a first discovery of its kind, researchers have uncovered an ancient Aboriginal archaeological site preserved on the seabed". The Conversation. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  28. ^ "Deep History of Sea Country – Climate, Sea Level and Culture". Deep History of Sea Country – Climate, Sea Level and Culture. Retrieved 5 July 2020.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Vinnicombe, P. (2002), Petroglyphs of the Dampier Archipelago: Background to Development and Descriptive Analysis, Rock Art Research, Volume 19, No 1, pp 3–27
  • 'Burrup and Beyond: A short guide to the area's cultural heritage and history' by Dr Ken Mulvaney, 2013, sponsored by Rio Tinto, 49 pages.

Coordinates: 20°34′52″S 116°48′29″E / 20.581°S 116.808°E / -20.581; 116.808