Dire future for the Pilbara’s historic buildings

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The old Mount Welcome Station homestead.
Camera IconThe old Mount Welcome Station homestead. Credit: Tom Zaunmayr

WA’s lack of real protection for heritage assets is plain to see in the Pilbara, where scores of celebrated buildings sit falling to pieces, and are in many cases only one cyclone away from total destruction.

One could take a quick walk around the east side of Roebourne, where the remnants of several of the North West’s first buildings paint a sad story of neglect.

Wittenoom’s history features one of Australia’s most influential businessmen and disastrous humanitarian outcomes, yet instead of preservation, there has been a strong push over the years to wipe this story from history completely.

Many aspects of the Pilbara’s past are heritage-listed, but there is little onus on owners, lease-holders or agencies to ensure those buildings survive.

VideoCossack landowners discuss the long-running issue of development in the coastal Pilbara ghost town.

A Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage spokesman said the Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990 did not require that heritage places be conserved or maintained.

“However, planning, building, demolition and other applications affecting a place in the State register are referred by the relevant decision making auth-ority (usually a Local Government) to the Heritage Council for advice on the heritage aspects of the proposal,” he said.

Cooya Pooya Station is on a crown reserve within the Harding Dam water catchment area, which is managed by the Water Corporation.

It is one of many heritage-listed Pilbara homesteads, including Mount Welcome homestead in Roebourne, which have been allowed to fall into a state of severe disrepair.

Cooya Pooya Station.
Camera IconCooya Pooya Station. Credit: Picture: Keni Burford, Keni Burford.

Dampier resident Keni Burford said she had watched the home-stead become increasingly run-down and vandalised over the past 14 years.

“I understand that unfortunately the majority have ruined it for the people who have done the right thing and we can’t go there anymore, but I don’t think just because access is taken away, everything can be allowed to be neglected,” she said.

“I don’t think there is any sense Water Corp is going to rectify the damage done but it could at least clean it up and maintain the grounds.

“What is the point of heritage-listing buildings if there is no responsibility falling on the owner of that building?”

Mrs Burford said change was needed at a State and national level to ensure the past was protected for future generations to learn from.

Water Corporation north west regional manager Rino Trolio said public access to Cooya Pooya was restricted as it was within the drinking water reservoir protection zone.

“Water Corporation is not required to maintain the structures at Cooya Pooya Station,” he said.

“Our priority is providing safe drinking water to the community, and protecting our drinking water catchments is our first line of defence.”

Mr Trolio said rangers did patrol the area to remove rubbish, and urged people to respect the exclusion zone.

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