Aboriginal elder calls for greater protection of burial sites in Yanchep National Park

Aboriginal elder Trevor Walley says the are around Yonderup Cave was a burial site.
Aboriginal elder Trevor Walley says the are around Yonderup Cave was a burial site.

AN Aboriginal elder has called for greater recognition and protection of burial sites in Yanchep National Park.

A sign has recently been installed near Yonderup Cave advising it is an Aboriginal site and anyone who alters the site would be committing an offence under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Yanchep Aboriginal eco-education officer Trevor Walley said there were Aboriginal burial sites throughout the area, but they had been disturbed.

“There are no signs to say this is a burial site,” Mr Walley said.

“People should know about that history.

“People are camping on top of burial sites.

“In Aboriginal culture, that’s basically our cemetery.

“The Aboriginal elders are really shocked because it’s been hidden from people.”

A Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage spokesman said staff were investigating the claims regarding Yonderup Cave.

Documents obtained by the Weekender said there were two collections of human skeletal material from Yonderup Cave, one in 1939 and another in 1984.

One of the documents said Aboriginal skeletal material had been on display in the cave since the early 1930s.

It said in 1984, the Nyoongah Aboriginal Community asked the national parks authority to remove the remains and WA Museum to investigate their significance.

“The Aboriginal people didn’t put those bones down there,” Mr Walley said.

“The cave is our journey to our next dreaming – people are buried near the caves.

“Aboriginal people wouldn’t go into the caves because the spiritual people are in there.

“I think there was a bit of skulduggery going on.

“People have collected those skeletons and thrown them down Yonderup Cave.”

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) Swan Coastal District manager Mark Cugley said the department was not aware of any confirmed Aboriginal burial sites within Yanchep National Park.

“Any bones that were found at Yonderup Cave are now housed at the WA Museum,” he said.

“There are different views regarding the origin of the bones that were found in the cave and how they came to be there.”

Mr Cugley said the department acknowledged and respected Aboriginal culture.

“There is a sign at Yonderup Cave identifying one of the blocked off chambers as an Aboriginal protected area,” he said.

“DBCA will continue to be guided by the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to ensure this Aboriginal protected area and other sites of significance within the Yanchep National Park are appropriately acknowledged and protected.”

Mr Walley said although some historical documents suggested the women had been killed as punishment for breaching Aboriginal law, he believed they were sacrificed as part of the law.

“When someone dies, they usually take people with them,” he said.

“Those women were sacrificed to go on this journey.”

Mr Walley said he wanted to hold a cleansing ceremony with local elders to allow the spirits of people buried there to follow the “songline” to the ocean.

Nearer to Nature has run adventure caving in Yonderup Cave as part of its school holiday programs and the Parks and Wildlife Service runs 90-minute climbing and crawling tours in the cave.

The maximum penalty for disturbing the Aboriginal site is $20,000 and nine months jail for an individual, and $50,000 for a body corporate.

The Department of Indigenous Affairs recently install a sign advising it is a protected site.