Aboriginal artefacts found at Sydney light rail site

Thousands of Indigenous artefacts have been uncovered during excavation works for Sydney’s light rail project in the eastern suburbs.

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The project managers have stopped work on the site for now, but there are calls for a complete halt, with concerns it could be a mass Aboriginal grave.

The New South Wales government is not confirming whether it will continue construction on a section of Sydney’s new light rail line where thousands of Indigenous artefacts have been found.

About 20,000 artefacts were discovered in excavation pits around the rail line’s proposed tram stable yard in Randwick, in the city’s east.

They include items believed to have been traded from the state’s Lower Hunter Valley which have never been seen before.

Transport for New South Wales recognised the significance of the find between late 2015 and January this year, but has not said if it will stop work on the $2.1 billion project.

Altrac Light Rail chief executive Glen Bentley says the company is communicating with all the stakeholders.

“With the heritage experts and Aboriginal stakeholders, with all that evidence, we’ll be able to put together the story of what happened here.”

Indigenous heritage advocates have called for the site to be classed as an Aboriginal heritage area.

Some of the excavations could contain graves.

A cultural heritage specialist with the consultancy Tocomwall, Scott Franks, says it is a significant find.

“This is a site of significance, nationally. Whatever means, we need to know. It’s holding the Australian government to account, or the Crown. It’s about understanding what happened here, so our old peoples can rest.”

Another cultural heritage specialist with Tocomwall, Danny Franks, says the range of objects is of major historical significance.

“The density of artefacts that were found go into the tens of thousands, and a higher proportion of them were tips, blades. Now this leads us to suggest there was conflict here, which very well was a high probability of meaning there was death associated with this site.”

Citing journals from 1791, Scott Franks says it could have been the site of conflict between traditional landowners and Governor Arthur Phillip’s troops.

“This site represents a clear confrontation of women, children and men who were taken from the land. Ripping this up and not treating it like a proper archaeological dig is criminal.”

While the objects have been recovered and catalogued, there is no guarantee the site will be protected.

Altrac Light Rail’s Glen Bentley says it is too early to tell what will be done with the discovery.

“So there’s no works happening in this area, where we’re continuing with this investigation. So, until we finish that investigation, there will be no further works. The social value of this to the local Aboriginal community is immense, and we’re very committed to continue working with Aboriginal stakeholders to unlock the puzzle.”