Shanghai night field

LAST STAND: Aboriginal elder Kevin Taggart says Saddleback Ridge is important to him. Picture: Peter Stoop

Bulga to continue fight against mine

A RECOMMENDATION to allow Rio Tinto to mine through the previously protected Saddleback Ridge has broken Kevin Taggart’s heart.

‘‘It was our last stand,’’ the Aboriginal elder said, after the Planning and Assessment Commission recommended the controversial Mount Thorley-Warkworth extensions for approval on Thursday.

‘‘It doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people, but it means everything to me,’’ Mr Taggart said.

In January, with the assistance of Lock the Gate, Mr Taggart wrote to the commission requesting it meet with the Wonnarua Traditional Custodians group.

Elders wanted to give the commissioners a tour and explain the culturally significant landscape elements that Mr Taggart believed were ignored in the project’s cultural heritage assessment.

The bushland holds spiritual and physical pathways that lead to the Baiamai Caves and Yengo Flat Rock sacred sites.

‘‘It was a lookout, a place of harmony and protection,’’ Mr Taggart said.

‘‘Once a connection goes, everything goes and it just keeps happening. There will be nothing left.’’

A Rio Tinto spokesperson said no issues regarding any particular cultural heritage significance of Saddleback Ridge were raised during the consultation process.

We ‘‘consulted extensively with the Registered Aboriginal Parties [of which there are more than 80 groups and individuals] to the satisfaction of Office of Environment and Heritage,’’ a spokesperson said.

Based on consultation with the registered groups, the company has established the Wollombi Brook Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Conservation area at Warkworth mine.

But Lock the Gate Hunter co-ordinator Steve Phillips has raised concerns that Aboriginal representatives were misled into thinking Saddleback Ridge was already lost.

From the cultural heritage working group meeting minutes, it looked like the representatives were led to believe the only hope they had was to sign off on the mine’s proposed conservation area, Mr Phillips said.

He said the statements made at the meeting were misleading.

‘‘Saddleback Ridge is not a write-off,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s been no approval to mine there.’’

Asked why he did not participate in the cultural heritage process, Mr Taggart said internal fractures within the Wonnarua clan had made it difficult.

‘‘I’ve learnt a lesson over that,’’ he said.

‘‘All I want to see is our culture saved and our people get looked after.’’