Culture shapes our way of life and how we see the world - our ideas, values, customs and behaviour.
Not everyone’s culture is the same, so it’s important to the time to understand our differences and create cultural awareness.
For the past two years, our focus has been on strengthening our understanding and relationship with the local indigenous culture, and any possible impact our work might have.
A new approach to understanding Aboriginal heritage
With works occurring right across the South West Interconnected grid (SWIS), we needed a way to actively and appropriately manage any indigenous heritage issues that might arise.
Following extensive consultation with the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, we signed our very first Noongar Alternative Heritage Agreements (NAHAs).
What are Noongar Alternative Heritage Agreements?
The NAHAs provide a clear and consistent approach to meeting our legal obligations relating to Aboriginal heritage identification, assessment and management.
“It strengthens the relationships between Western Power, Aboriginal communities and service providers, while also improving the outcomes for our network design, planning and development,” says Jared Morskate, Senior Assessment and Approvals Specialist.
What do Noongar Alternative Heritage Agreements mean for Western Power?
In practice, the NAHAs help provide guidelines to minimising the impact of necessary works. A good example of this being put into practice was the Red Hill project, where installing a tower to support transmission lines had potential cultural impacts, particularly with the presence of the Nuytsia floribunda (Christmas tree), which holds cultural significance to Aboriginal people.
As Yvonne Daddow, our Aboriginal Liaison Officer*, explains “The Christmas tree plays a significant part in Aboriginal culture and heritage as the Aboriginal people would bury their deceased under the trees. It is said, in Aboriginal culture, that the trees shall bloom a bright orange flower at Christmas time to display the number of blessings it had received from the Aboriginal people. Of course not every Christmas tree has an Aboriginal person buried under it, but for Aboriginal culture, it is a respected tradition to protect the trees for this very reason”.
Using a considered approach, access roads to the site were redesigned to avoid contact with the area and prevent any damage to this area of cultural significance.
Nuytsia Floribunda, the West Australian Christmas Tree. Image Credit: Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority
Engaging with traditional owners to protect heritage sites
While our preferred approach is to keep away from Aboriginal heritage sites, this isn’t always possible. When this happens, we engage with traditional owners to survey the site and agree on appropriate measures.
”The NAHAs put in place a step by step approach that will ultimately promote early review of potential site impacts. It will ensure engagement with the correct people who can speak for country, who then have a real say in the cultural management of the site,” says James Widenbar, Environmental, Safety and Planning Assessment Team Leader.
Every project we encounter is handled with great sensitivity to ensure areas of cultural importance are protected. Some recent projects include:
- Stand-alone Power Systems (SPS) installations – we identified two SPS locations situated within known Aboriginal heritage sites. The installation sites were revisited and installation was designed outside of the heritage areas. The same approach is currently being used for the next phase of SPS and our PowerBank installations.
- Distribution line construction in the Goldfields – following an Aboriginal heritage survey, artefacts were discovered along the edge of a claypan. We consulted traditional owners who raised the potential impacts at this culturally sensitive site. As a result, the line route was redesigned to span over the site instead of building a tower, which would have caused significant ground disturbance.
- Structure replacement at Fish Market Reserve, Bassendean – plans to replace overhead lines with an underground cable across the Swan River was reviewed following consultation with traditional owners. Given the sensitivity of the Swan River, we redesigned the works to keep the overhead line in place and took precautions around site excavations to monitor any ground disturbance.
Sometimes we stumble across artefacts during earthworks. If we suspect they’re of Aboriginal origin, we stop works immediately and establish a ‘no work zone’ area until consultation with traditional owners takes place.
Impacting Western Power’s culture
The heritage agreement also aligns with Western Power’s own Reconciliation Action Plan, which looks to build on Western Power’s internal and external approach to reconciliation.
The RAP has defined outcomes for success, which include:
- Improved communication with Aboriginal persons who can speak for country
- Increased knowledge and cultural awareness when planning and delivering works
- Increased opportunities for Aboriginal employment through qualified Aboriginal heritage service providers
- Improved relationships with key external stakeholders relating to Aboriginal Heritage and Native Title matters
“Our increasing relationships with the Indigenous Groups and Elders within the areas we operate have gone from strength to strength”, says Yvonne Daddow, our Aboriginal Liaison Officer.
We worked with local elders as part of the Yandin wind farm project
Engaging with elders for our renewable energy projects
“Recently our collaboration with the Yued Elders Council in Cataby and Dandaragan for the Yandin wind farm project has resulted in Welcome to Country’s for two major stakeholders and heritage surveys requested from private landowners involved in the wind farm constructions”, says Yvonne.
Our reputation as being respectful to the traditional owners of the lands resulted in private landowners seeking our advice on heritage matters relative to any project construction on their properties.
“For me, as the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, this could not have been a better outcome for all parties involved. Our Reconciliation Action Plan had laid the foundations for Western Power to form these relationships with traditional landowners and in doing so, we forged those relationships with contract companies as well as local property owners," says Yvonne.
It is our hope and intent that each of these plans and steps will take us forward and build a stronger relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
*Brad Collard is our current Aboriginal Liaison Officer, as at July 2021.
Yvonne Daddow, our Aboriginal Liaison Officer