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Walmadany - James Price Point - WRN Meeting: 27th September 2012

Redfern Community Centre

Hugo Street Redfern


Walmadany - James Price Point

Guest Presenter: Deborah Wall OAM


Aboriginal people in Broome prefer to refer to this place as Walmadany-James Price Point

"Over emphasis on integration into economic markets results in dividing Indigenous families and groups and undermines the integrity of the Aboriginal domain. I use as a case study Indigenous effort to protect heritage sites through the Lurujarri Heritage Trail in the Kimberley. I argue that the struggle to represent the songline and the song cycle to protect heritage sites at Walmadany-James Price Point in West Kimberley, Western Australia manifests tensions between continuity and change."

Deborah Wall OAM, PhD Candidate, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney, WRN


Report onWalmadany - James Price Point:

At our WRN meeting in September, we were privileged to hear from Deborah Wall OAM who is working on her PhD Thesis which is focussed on Walmadany - James Price Point.

Some of the key points and aspects related to:

The clash between two cosmologies: a land-based cosmology culture and a Western commodity economy culture makes the narrative of connection to Country difficult to represent in a political process that values the prospect of industrialization in West Kimberley. Deborah talked about the story of how Paddy Roe formed the Goolarabooloo organisation and the Lurujarri Heritage Trail and how the concept of ‘heritage’ was represented in Goolarabooloo and the WA Government’s websites.

The Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Precinct development in the Kimberley has been marred by conflict even before the agreement with the ‘Traditional Owners’ was signed in 2011. As there was no authentic consensus amongst the ‘Traditional Owners’— Jabirr Jabirr and Goolarabooloo, it was not entirely surprising to see Goolarabooloo, the resisting group who felt disenfranchised, assert its ‘voice’ through litigation and advocacy campaigns. Prior to native title determination, the claimants were confronted with an industrial development proposal involving their native title claim area.

The Land, the Law, the Song Cycle

The land itself is the holder of ‘heritage’: song cycle, middens, and burial sites (land-based cosmology). The Law survives through the Song Cycle, which tells the journey of ancestral beings who created the land and its people. The songs contain codes of behaviour that are fundamental to maintaining the ‘balance and well-being of the land’. The Song Cycle is an oral heritage map.

Representation of ‘heritage’

Goolarabooloo’s representation of ‘heritage’ revolves around a view of a living culture that is interconnected, integrated and interactive with flora, fauna, rocks and water. Their culture essentially has a spiritual outlook. Because of the interconnectedness of culture, damage to one site affects the other sites. For Traditional Owners, sites are treated as a single entity, and must be protected as a whole.

In contrast, the WA Government’s website representation of ‘heritage’ sees land as an economic asset, not as a sacred landscape. ‘Heritage’ that concerns land may be available for other purposes such as resource development. The focus of WA State’s heritage website is on legislation, regulation, and management in interactions that concern Indigenous people’s heritage issues. Potential developers appear to be the target audience.

Description of ‘heritage sites’

Goolarabooloo’s description of heritage sites: middens in the dunes that are also burial sites containing ‘the bones of the old people’, who have lived there, ‘fished, sung to the Country, and painted up in its ochres to dance’. The land is the holder of ‘heritage’. Legitimacy comes from the land.

WA Government’s description of heritage sites: the focus is on ‘material manifestations of Aboriginal occupation’ — defined in categories (Aboriginal objects – related to ceremonial life, pre-colonial era, post-contact period; Aboriginal culture – traditions, language, protocol).

Two key pieces of legislation inform the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA) administration:

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (to protect Aboriginal heritage) and the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972 (established the Aboriginal Lands Trust that administers lands previously held by the Native Welfare Department and a number of State Government agencies.

Management of operational details that involve both ‘heritage’ and ‘development’ issues.

DIA and the Department of State Development (DSD) are government bureaucracies that formulate the operational details that involve both ‘heritage’ and ‘development’ issues. DIA’s key role emphasizes heritage protection while DSD focuses on development.

Source of legitimacy:

The main role of Goolarabooloo Law Bosses (Elders) is to ensure that the Law (traditional culture) is passed down to succeeding generations.The source of the Law is Bugarregarre (the Dreamtime) when spirit beings created all life. For the WA Government, the source of legitimacy is the two pieces of legislation mentioned above.

A target audience?

Potential developers appear to be a target audience of the WA Government’s website evidenced by the process guide that is implied. To identify heritage sites, website users must look under the ‘Register of Aboriginal Sites’ where they will find what processes are involved in ‘Community consultation’ and ‘Legal requirements’. Consultation with ‘the relevant Aboriginal stakeholders and with the wider community must be documented and the values of the site recorded. The stakeholder must make use of local knowledge but also give a sense of community ownership of the site, which could be important in ‘maintaining the site in the future.


Benterrack, Krim, Stephen Muecke and Paddy Roe. 1984, 1996 ed. Reading the Country.

Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press;Murphy, P. and Sinatra, J. ‘Paddy Roe Aboriginal elder, 1912-2001’. Obituary, Sydney Morning Herald, July 20, 2001.

Trigger, D. 2003. ‘Trashing Heritage: Dilemmas of rights and power in the operation of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Legislation’, Studies in Western Australian History 23.



Department of Indigenous Affairs

Department of State Development

Reproduced with kind permission from Deborah Wall and WRN.