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

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Event details

Panel Discussion

Date & time

Monday 23 November 2020


Online via Zoom Webinar
ANU Canberra


Peter Veth, Greg McIntyre SC, Dr Virginia Marshall, Matthew Zagor


ANU College of Law

This event featuring RegNet’s Dr Virginia Marshall is organised by the Law Reform and Social Justice (LRSJ) at the 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.


Peter Veth is a Professor at the University of Western Australia and leading Archaeologist who has carried out research and management throughout Australia, Torres Strait and Island South East Asia. His research has engaged with desert themes and science for over 30 years including pioneering work with colleagues on the archaeology of the Western Desert, Aru Islands, Timor Leste, Torres Strait, Dampier Archipelago, Barrow and Montebello Islands. He has developed terrestrial and coastal archaeology projects at both undergraduate and doctoral levels with colleagues from Australian, US and UK Universities.

Recent ARC projects include the Australian Historic Shipwreck Preservation Project; The Archaeology of East Timor; the Archaeology of the Aru Islands; and Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming (Dampier Archipelago). He is a CI on two Kimberley ARC projects dealing with the role and ages of rock art in changing cultural and natural landscapes of the northern Kimberley. Research carried out on the Montebellos and Barrow Island has established the earliest evidence for coastal occupation at 50,000 years ago and the systematic use of a broad suite of maritime resources through periods of significantly fluctuating sea-levels.

Greg McIntyre SC is a Barrister at Michael Kirby Chambers in Western Australia.His early years of practice were with Aboriginal Legal Services in Western Australia and Far North Queensland, focusing on criminal law. He conducted the Mabo case over its 10 year history and has had a practice in Native title since that time. He had the conduct of the case of Koowarta v Bjelke Petersen in 1982 and has had a practice in human rights matters with a focus on racial discrimination and racial vilification since that time. In 1990 he took the case of Bropho v WA to the High Court and his practice has involved a number of Aboriginal Heritage and Environmental protection cases.

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 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.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet