Reporting and identification
If you discover Aboriginal remains, please do not interfere with the burial area. Instead immediately notify the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites and the Western Australia Police.
Photographs of the general area should be taken. It is important to mark the location of the remains with care so that directions can be provided to the police and/or the Registrar to relocate the site.
Only a qualified archaeologist or forensic specialist can disturb the remains for the purpose of identification and relevant Aboriginal people should be involved if any disturbance is necessary. Ideally, a team comprising relevant Aboriginal people, police, a staff member of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and a physical anthropologist and/or trained archaeologist should undertake the process of identification.
Procedures for dealing with a burial site
After discovering a burial site or Aboriginal remains, the following action should be taken:
- Immediately contact the police and the Registrar.
- If development or other ground disturbing activities are carried out, these activities must cease immediately.
- The police will investigate the remains as soon as possible. The Registrar will liaise with police to ensure that the minimum amount of disturbance takes place before identification of whether the remains are of Aboriginal origin and not a matter for further police involvement.
- Upon notification that the remains are of Aboriginal origin and not a matter for further police involvement, the Registrar will seek the immediate involvement of relevant Aboriginal people.
- The landowner will develop an appropriate action plan for the management of the remains, in consultation with relevant Aboriginal people and the Registrar.
- The Registrar will ensure that the burial place is recorded and placed on the Register of Aboriginal Sites.
- The Registrar will ensure that the burial place is reported to the Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Affairs, in accordance with the legal requirements under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protection Act 1984.
- If the landowner wishes to carry out further development activities on the location the Registrar will provide advice on how to lodge an application to use the land.
Managing Aboriginal remains
The most effective way to prevent site disturbance is to know of the existence of Aboriginal sites beforehand.
If you undertake ground-disturbing activities, you should consult with relevant Aboriginal people, particularly in areas such as coastal dunes (commonly found to be the location of burials) and areas which have sandy soils. Consultation should take place before starting ground disturbing activities. In many cases, local Aboriginal people know whether burial sites are likely to exist.
Prior consultation with Aboriginal people means you will know who to contact for further advice about future management of the remains, if Aboriginal remains should be discovered. You may also have a protocol already in place to manage any remains that may be located.
When Aboriginal communities and the Registrar become aware of the discovery, the options for dealing with the remains depend on:
- the views of relevant Aboriginal people
- the circumstances at each place
- the nature of any development which is occurring.
Aboriginal people may want to learn more about the remains, for example:
- the gender
- how old was the person
- how old are the remains (length of interment)
- whether there are grave goods
- what mortuary rites were practiced, (staged burial, cremation, seated or flexed burial, decoration of the bones).
To activate such studies the consent of the relevant Aboriginal people and the Registrar is required in accordance with Section 16 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 and must be undertaken by a qualified archaeologist or appropriate specialist.
Options for managing Aboriginal remains: