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Australia's colonial past haunts major Sydney tram project

Aboriginal Australians demanded a halt on a A$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) tram construction project in Sydney after excavators found 20,000 objects potentially linked to one of the country's first conflicts between its original inhabitants and Europeans.

Australia's colonial past haunts major Sydney tram project
Cultural heritage manager Danny Franks inspects the excavation site where he had 
discovered Aboriginal artifacts in the ground at a construction site for a light 
railway in Sydney, March 31, 2016 [Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed]
Within months of starting work on the three-year project, a government archaeological consultant said on Thursday that excavators found the trove of stone relics in a small patch of land where a new tram station is planned.

"What we want to see is a stop work order to fully understand this," the consultant, Scott Franks, who is aboriginal, told reporters. "If it's going to be torn up, the whole site has got to be treated as a thorough and proper archaeological investigation, and time and expertise is needed."

Australia's colonial past haunts major Sydney tram project
Some of the more than 20,000 artefacts located at the proposed stabling yard 
[Credit: Tocomwall]
The find underscores one of Australia's great unresolved conflicts: a desire for progress in a society first formed as a United Kingdom penal colony, coupled with a history of sometimes violent oppression of the country's original occupants.

Franks said the site may be linked to one of the most famous clashes between U.K. settlers and Aborigines in 1790, when a garrison of first fleet soldiers was sent to kill or capture six aborigines in retaliation for spearing a colonial ranger. The troops returned empty-handed.

Australia's colonial past haunts major Sydney tram project
Heritage consultants have estimated there may be around 50,000 artefacts 
at the site [Credit: Tocomwall]
The New South Wales state government meanwhile wants to spend A$16.5 billion on road and rail upgrades throughout the city of 5 million people as it braces for another million inhabitants in the next decade.

A NSW government spokesman did not answer a Reuters question about whether the government would stop or alter the project, but said in an email that "the social value of the site to the local Aboriginal community is very high".

Australia's colonial past haunts major Sydney tram project
The site intended to be used as a stabling yard for light rail vehicles 
[Credit: Christopher Pearce]
Alec Brown, head of stakeholder engagement for construction company ALTRAC, which is owned by the government and Spanish infrastructure giant Acciona SA, said builders would work with aboriginal consultants to decide what to do with the discovery.

"We've worked with our aboriginal stakeholders every step of the way," he said, noting that excavators were hand-digging the artifacts. He said the objects appeared to be stone and tool chippings.

"What we've got to do is put together the pieces of the puzzle to find out what exactly did happen on this site. We've got to do some more research to determine that."

Author: Byron Kaye | Source: Reuters [March 31, 2016]

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