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February 2, 2023

Cultural heritage report goes public

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Part of the area which would have gone underwater if the Dunoon Dam had gone ahead. Photo David Lowe.

A redacted copy of the 2013 Ainsworth Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment document has been made publicly available on the Rous County Council website, clarifying the extensive Widjabul Wia-bul connections with the land which would have been inundated by the Dunoon Dam.

Much discussed in the dam debate, but only available to a select audience until now, the extraordinarily thorough and detailed report is available as a PDF here, having had sensitive information removed for a public audience.

Cliff in Channon Gorge, near Dunoon. Photo David Lowe.

Chair of Rous County Council, Keith Williams, said the public release of the 2013 Ainsworth Culture Heritage Impact Assessment should end the claims by some councillors that the indigenous heritage in the Dunoon area has either not been properly investigated or simply doesn’t exist.

He told The Echo the report ‘fundamentally’ changed his view.

Numerous graves and other heritage

The 463 page Ainsworth Report details substantial indigenous heritage within the proposed Dunoon dam site that it has assessed as State Significant and unlikely to receive approval should Rous attempt to proceed with the dam, without having exhausted all other potential avenues of water supply.

Until recently the report has remained confidential, based on the concerns expressed by the Widjabul Wia-bul Traditional Custodians at the exposure of culturally sensitive and personal information and the risk of vandalism at the sites.

This area would have been drowned by the Dunoon Dam. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Williams told The Echo, ‘I am grateful to the Traditional Custodians for the trust they placed in me to allow me to view a copy of the report during the consultation period for the Rous Future Water Plan. It changed my view on the feasibility of a dam completely.

‘There are clearly many more burials than I was initially led to believe, including from times prior to European settlement. The description of the site as “State Significant” should ring alarm bells for any proposed development in the area.’

Cr Williams also expressed his gratitude to the Traditional Custodians for allowing a de-identified version of the document to be published.

‘I understand the sensitivity of the material and the deep significance of the the area to the Traditional Custodians,’ he said. ‘This would have been a difficult decision. I hope it is just the start of a renewed trust between Rous, the Traditional Custodians and the community.’

Genuine communication and consultation needed, not dog whistling

Channon Gorge, close to proposed Dunoon Dam wall. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Williams said allowing publication of the information will help the community better understand the rationale for his decision to put the dam to one side, while Rous Council enters into genuine consultation with the Widjabul Wia-bul Custodians and explores all other viable water supply options.

‘The publication of the Ainsworth Report should put an end to the racist dog whistle of a campaign, that we just need more studies. What we need is the willingness to accept what is already known,’ he said.

While the Dunoon Dam has been rejected on multiple occasions by Rous County Council on heritage and other grounds, a group of councillors from Richmond Valley and Ballina are continuing to agitate for the option to be re-considered.

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  1. Bul,Bul and more BULL !
    Does anybody believe this rubbish ? This area is burnt-out cow paddocks , go and have a look.
    How many places on this continent after sixty thousand years , doesn’t have many grave sites ?
    Cheers , G”)

    • Old white male privilege passing judgement again Ken? Your comment is a disgrace. Little wonder it’s made behind a gutless half name

  2. Gosh, now I know what the Traditional Owners have to put up with on a daily basis.

    The Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment is highly detailed and has been peer-reviewed by some of Australia’s top archeologists. It confirms what the Widjabul Wia-bal have been saying – no more studies are needed to establish the importance of the area. The author suggested that more examination could be done, as researchers always say, but that does not mean the work already done is insufficient.

    This area compares in significance with the Juukan Cave in WA that was destroyed by Rio Tinto. The proposed dam site at the end of Fraser Rd has state, national and international importance. The burial sites are pre-contact and post-contact. The pre-contact ones appear to belong to 3 different phases. That means that they are not just important to their Aboriginal owners, they are archeological treasures as well.

    It would have been nice if the Traditional Owners had just been believed from the outset. I wonder if an apology is out of the question?


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