Fly-in, fly-out workers on Barrow Island are taking advantage of a unique opportunity to learn about the remarkable history of their workplace thanks to a collaboration between Chevron Australia and The University of Western Australia.
UWA Oceans Institute Director Professor Peter Veth has helped co-ordinate an archaeological exhibition at the newly opened Harry Butler Meeting Place on the island, which lies 60 kilometres off WA’s Pilbara Coast.
In 2012 Professor Veth led an international team of archaeologists on a research expedition to Barrow Island, the group unearthing ground-breaking evidence that changed the date of coastal occupation in Australia.
“The insights provided by the archaeology of the area are extraordinary and that it’s great they are now being shared with the Chevron workforce,” Professor Veth said.
Celebrated amongst the team’s findings were ancient occupational sites that were discovered in deep, massive labyrinth caves, representing some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation of Australia, dating to approximately 50,000 years ago.
“We excavated the site for three years, meticulously worked down through little layers with brushes and trowels and recorded every single artefact” Professor Veth explained.
“We also found evidence of Aboriginal people having camped near old claypans leaving stone tools and food preparing platforms. Barrow Island was connected to the mainland for most of human history before rising sea levels cut it off about 7,000 years ago.
“In the caves and shelters there are remarkable records of both local and imported stone and shell artefacts, and dietary remains of shellfish, fish, turtle, crustacean; and land animals ranging from small carnivorous marsupials, bilbies, hare wallaby and even a Tasmanian Tiger!”
Prior to the team’s findings on Barrow Island, it was commonly argued that human occupation of the northwest dated back to 47,000.
The limestone island – which since 1910 has been listed as an A-class reserve – is home to a variety of plants and animals, many of them endangered or rare on the mainland. It’s also home to Australia’s largest gas project, Gorgon, operated by Chevron Australia.
During a 50-year association with Chevron Australia, largely spent on Barrow Island, popular naturalist Dr Harry Butler defined the approach for industry to co-exist with the natural world and actively conserve valued ecosystems.
He helped shape and maintain Chevron’s environmental management practices on WA’s second largest island, with his approach now accepted by many as a global industry model.
The Harry Butler Meeting Place will serve as an environmental education centre and Chevron Senior Environmental Advisor Johann van der Merwe said it provides an opportunity for Chevron to continue the environmentalist’s efforts to protect the integrity of the island’s fragile and unique ecosystem, in co-existence with industry.
“Harry Butler was a legend of his time and a pioneer of environmental conservation, so Chevron is really proud of this centre in his name to encourage further research of this nature on the island,” Mr van der Merwe said.
“The archaeological display is an important part of sharing the area’s incredibly rich and diverse history, and we’ve really enjoyed working alongside UWA on this part of the project.”
Caption: Posters, artefacts and a video, all make up part of the archaeological history display at the Harry Butler Meeting Place on Barrow Island.
Liz McGrath (UWA Oceans Institute) (+61 8) 433 795 509