Billionaire Gina Rinehart has buried plans to dig for diamonds on Cape York's world-famed rock art country.
But Ms Rinehart's decision comes as another mine project threatens a "Lost World" of creatures, cave paintings, and sacred "cocoon" burial sites in a largely unexplored part of far north Queensland.
Peter Michael The Sunday Mail (QLD)
1 June 2014
Aboriginal elders are calling for World Heritage protection over sacred sites and rock art in the state's Top End.
Hancock Prospecting, owned by Australia's richest mining mogul Ms Rinehart, surrendered two exploration permits over Quinkan country near Laura, after widespread outcry over the possible impact to the 30,000 year-old rock art.
Tribal leaders have hailed the move as a victory for the "Dreaming spirits" in the sandstone escarpments of the Quinkan country.
Medicine Man Tommy George Snr, the king of the Kuku Thaypan tribe, tells those lucky enough to visit the site how the most sacred artwork depicts "good" and "evil" magic spirits who rule over the land.
Paintings in caves spread over at least 230,000ha of sandstone country tell stories of the Rainbow Serpent, kangaroo, fish, turtle, powerful spirits and the coming of the white "bullyman".
"We've won that battle," said tribal elder Bernie Hart, of the Muundhiwarra clan, and traditional owner of parts of the Bathurst and Melville Ranges.
Mining activity is a threat to the irreplaceable rock art
"Not even Gina was powerful enough to take on them old Quinkan spirits.
"But now we've got a bigger fight on our hands."
Aust-Pac Capital's Wongai Project has a State Government approved exploration permit and plans for an underground coalmine, 18km-long conveyor belt and coal dump at Bathurst Heads, 150km northwest of Cooktown.
They intend to barge coal out to ships in Princess Charlotte Bay and out an existing channel in the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland Museum senior curator indigenous studies Trish Barnard said she supports World Heritage listing.
"These sacred sites and rock art dates back 30,000 years," Ms Barnard said. "It'd be a real shame if it was not listed."
Mr Hart is a traditional owner of parts of the Bathurst and Melville Ranges, described as the "Lost World" by scientists, after several new species were found in a first-ever expedition by National Geographic last year.
His grandfather was the last of the "undertakers", who wrapped the dead in a "cocoon" of bark, and stashed them in a honeycomb of caves, painted with sacred symbols, pictures of tall ships and dreaming stories.
"Lots of so-called traditional owners don't care. They are only looking at dollar signs. To them it's all about the money," he said.
"It's one of world's oldest examples of occupation, and it is here in north Queensland."