Destruction of Juukan Gorge: Law, Mining, and the Protection of Aboriginal Heritage

Presented by ANU College of Law

On 24 May 2020, Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed two 46,000 year old rock shelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia - the traditional lands of the Puttu, Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, for whom these sites were sacred. News of the government-approved destruction attracted international condemnation and national soul searching, as attention turned to the manifest failures of Australia's heritage protection and land rights regimes.

As we await the findings of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, the Law Reform and Social Justice (LRSJ) program has invited three national experts to share their views on the adequacy of these legal regimes, and the relationship between the extractive industries, Indigenous communities, and the law.



  • Professor Peter Veth

Professor Peter Veth has carried out collaborative archaeological projects with Traditional Owners and Custodians throughout the Western Desert, Kimberley, coastal Pilbara, North-West Shelf and Goldfields. He has worked on cultural heritage and native title projects including the National Heritage and Outstanding Universal values of Murujuga (Dampier Archipelago), the Ngarluma-Yindjibarndi and De Rose Hill native title claims. He has held teaching, research and director positions at JCU, ANU, AIATSIS and UWA. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 2005 and awarded the Rhys Jones Medal in 2014 for outstanding contributions to Australian Archaeology. He was the inaugural Chair of Kimberley Rock Art and has just finished a term as Director of the Oceans Institute. He is now focusing on research within the North West deserts of Australia.

  • Greg McIntyre SC

Greg McIntyre SC is a Barrister practising in Western Australia who has a history of engagement with Indigenous legal issues, having worked with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia from 1976-8 and 1988-90 and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) and Njiku Jowan Legal Service in Cairns from 1980-88. He was engaged in the establishment of the Pitjantjatjara Council in 1977 and attended the second Kimberley Land Council meeting in 1978. He had the conduct of Mabo v Queensland  from its commencement in 1982 until its conclusion in 1992 and has since had a practice in Native Title, including for the Banjima People and others in the Pilbara. He had the conduct of Koowarta v Bjelke Petersen  in 1982 and has since conducted a number of cases under the Racial Discrimination Act, including racial vilification cases. He argued Bropho v WA in the High Court in 1990 and has conducted a number of cases related to Aboriginal Heritage, including Robinson v Fielding in 2015. He is presently engaged in litigation on behalf of the Friends of Australian Rock Art relating to the Burrup Peninsula. He is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame and University of Western Australia where he has taught a course on Indigenous Peoples and the Law. In 2009 he received the Australian Human Rights Commission Law Award.

  • Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is the Inaugural Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow with ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) and the Fenner School of Environment and Society. She is a practising lawyer and duty solicitor, a former associate & researcher with the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney and professional member of the NSW Law Society and Women Lawyers Association of NSW. She is also the former Senior Legal Officer of the Australian Law Reform Commission and inquiry into 'Family Violence & Commonwealth Laws: Improving Legal Frameworks' (ALRC 117), Executive Officer of the NSW Government's 'Aboriginal Water Trust' and criminal defence lawyer with NSW Legal Aid.

Virginia is the winner of the WEH Stanner Award for the best thesis by an Indigenous author, titled, 'A web of Aboriginal water rights: Examining the competing Aboriginal claim for water property rights and interests in Australia'. She is also Partner Investigator (PI) with an ARC Linkage Grant, 'Garuwanga: Forming a Competent Authority to Protect Indigenous Knowledge' ($244,000).

  • Matthew Zagor

Matthew Zagor is an Associate Professor and Director, Law Reform and Social Justice at ANU College of Law. He has 20 years' experience as a human rights and refugee advocate, practitioner and scholar. His research is characterised by its transdisciplinary approach and diversity, with recent publications covering comparative constitutional law, the legal recognition of refugee narrative identities, the 'humanity' turn of international law, and perspectives of legality amongst Israeli soldiers. 

Before joining academia, Matthew worked in community law, the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, and as a Member on the Migration / Refugee Review Tribunal. He remains actively involved in law reform and public policy, making regular submissions to Parliamentary inquiries, commenting publicly on refugee policy, and sitting on the Advisory Committee of the ALRC's Freedoms Inquiry.

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