Publication Details

This article was originally published as Organ, M, A conspiracy of silence - the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sites, Aboriginal Law Bulletin, 3 ALB 67, April 1994, 4-7.


The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NP&WS), under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW) ('the Act'), is responsible for the 'care, control. and management' of Aboriginal cultural hentage sites (middens, burial sites, rock art sites, etc.) throughout NSW.2 Section 90 of the Act states that it is an offence to destroy, deface or disturb an Aboriginal site, and that consent to do so must be sought from the Director of the Service. It is questionable not only whether it is appropriate that the Service should wield such power, but also if it is adequately carrying out its statutory duty, when the system under which it operates is leading to the silent, unseen destruction of sites on a daily basis throughout NSW. Whilst the Service, in collaboration with local Aboriginal communities, has achieved much in the preservation an~ protection of significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites since 1974, it is not above criticism, and areas such as public education programs and identification of sites outside of national parks and reserves have been severely neglected. Part of the problem is the system itself, which, by default, has allocated to the NP&WS the central role of manager, and destroyer, of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, as opposed to a more regional or community based approach with direct Aboriginal control. Furthermore, the Service, whose primary responsibility is the management of the State's national parks, has limited resources with which to carry out its duty in this area, allocating individual officers vast tracts of the State for which they must bear responsibility for site management. In many cases, ongoing involvement by local Aboriginal communities is limited, voluntary and under-resourced.