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Vandals destroy prehistoric aboriginal art

South Australian officials have been criticized for failing to secure Koonalda Cave, which was previously vandalized

Trespassers have ruined a one-of-a-kind sacred artwork in South Australia’s Koonalda Cave by drawing on it with their fingers, the state’s aboriginal affairs minister and attorney general, Kyam Maher, told local media on Wednesday, demanding a “severe penalty” for the unidentified vandals.

Dating back some 30,000 years, the art comprised “some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation of that part of the country,” according to Maher.

The graffiti, which reads “don’t look now, but this is a death cave,” left the artwork “unrecoverable,” archaeologist Dr. Keryn Walshe told The Guardian. “The surface of the cave is very soft. It is not possible to remove the graffiti without destroying the art underneath.”

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The vandals allegedly removed parts of a fence protecting the site in order to crawl underneath and enter the cave, a protected national heritage site since 2014. “This isn’t some sort of accidental disturbance,” Maher said. “This is someone who has deliberately got through fencing, barbed wire and gone in and destroyed this.” 

Maher vowed to increase the punishment for violating the state’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws, which currently carry a sentence of up to six months’ prison time or a $10,000 fine, The government is also considering installing a live video monitoring system and has been consulting with the indigenous Mirning people, for whom the cave is sacred, to improve security, he added.

For some, however, this was too little, too late. Walshe pointed out that the fence had become “inadequate” over the last four decades, allowing previous vandals to gain access, countering Maher’s insistence it was sufficient to keep most would-be trespassers out. 

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The failure to build an effective gate, or to make use of modern security services… has in many ways, allowed this vandalism to occur,” Dr. Clare Buswell, chair of the Australian Speleological Federation’s Conservation Commission, told the Aboriginal lands parliamentary standing committee in July – a month after the government was first informed the vandalism had happened. 

It was willful, deeply incised, damaging the art, and nothing has been done since to protect the site, so this could continue until some protection is installed,” she said. “It’s simply not good enough for the minister to say, oh, we’ll just increase the amount of fines or other punitive actions.”

December 22, 2022 at 10:47PM
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