The WA and Federal representatives for Aboriginal people have remained coy as a Perth council ploughs ahead with a bridge plan critics say will have a “Juukan Gorge-style” impact on Aboriginal heritage sites.
On Wednesday evening a City of Swan council motion to revoke an earlier vote to approve the design of the Lloyd Street Bridge was defeated 10-5, the same margin as the original vote.
Federal Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt, whose electorate the Federal-funded project is in, said the design had received section 18 approval, the same rubber stamp given to Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2020.
“As is normal practice with these types of projects, the money was given to the State Government who then work with local government to deliver the project,” he said.
WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said his office had met with Traditional Owners, but said the project was Main Roads’ responsibility.
The Federal Government has funded the project to the tune of $20m, with the State pouring in $13.3m.
Speaking against the design on Wednesday night, councillor Ian Johnson said it was against the wishes of Traditional Owners and the recommendations of the Commonwealth report produced in response to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge.
“We need to think more deeply and more carefully about this bridge,” he said.
“We received substantial correspondence from Traditional Owners just before the meeting… should we not take the time to read that and to meet with them?”
Noongar Elder Greg Ugle said the City of Swan and Main Roads had disrespected Traditional Owners.
“A number of our Traditional Owners were not happy because our recommendations, including to build a span bridge with a 30-metre buffer on each side was not even looked at, it was deemed too expensive,” he said.
“Main Roads went away with the designer and… showed us a skeleton view of their preferred design.
“What that failed to outline was the buffer from each end was coming out 200 metres either side.
“Out of at least eight recommendations we put forward only one was respected, that we be recognised as the Traditional Owners of the region.”
“Our recommendations, including to build a span bridge with a 30-metre buffer on each side was not even looked at” – Greg Ugle
Traditional Owner Murray Jones said the area to be destroyed was significant to Aboriginal people.
“The place in Lloyd Street is the place they would go to meet and for educational purposes… and to teach ceremonial dance and other ceremonies that would be handed down from generation to generation,” he said.
“This site has been open who come down and camped there, to people from Yued and Ballardong… A lot of people from our cultural practice will connect it to certain spirits that gather around.
“We are not opposed to a bridge in itself, it is the design of the bridge that is going to affect the flora and fauna in the area… The impact will be quite devastating in that area.”
The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage confirmed two Aboriginal heritage sites in the area had been assessed when approval was given under section 18 of the current Aboriginal Heritage Act last year.
“Main Roads WA responded to the concerns of the Traditional Owners regarding the significant values of the Helena River and amended the bridge design to reduce the impact of the new bridge on those values,” they said.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti said the State’s $13.3m contribution was set in stone, allaying earlier fears the money would be pulled if the bridge did not go ahead as planned.
Asked why the City of Swan had not consulted directly with Traditional Owners on the project, rather than leaving it to Main Roads, a spokesperson said the City had “requested the State Government incorporate the building of Lloyd Street Bridge as part of the broader Great Eastern Highway Interchange project”.
“This has significantly reduced the construction and maintenance costs to the City and ensured a far more culturally and environmentally appropriate bridge design. Main Roads has kept the City well informed of their consultation processes and outcomes and we feel confident in their approach.”