Aboriginal remains to be removed from housing construction site

The remains of Aboriginal ancestors found at the Riverlea housing development north of Adelaide will be dug up and reburied despite concerns the mass grave is the result of a massacre.

Oct 24, 2023, updated Oct 24, 2023
An artist's impression of the Riverlea development north of Adelaide. Photo: Walker Corporation supplied via AAP

An artist's impression of the Riverlea development north of Adelaide. Photo: Walker Corporation supplied via AAP

Work at the 12,000 home development south of Two Wells was halted in July after the discovery of at least 27 ancestral remains – one of the largest finds of its kind in South Australia.

Local native title body, the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation, on Tuesday announced it would exhume the remains and rebury them at a location nearby.

“The community’s preferred position was that the ancestors remain in their burial ground and not be removed from Riverlea,” chairperson and Kaurna Elder Tim Agius said.

“However, under the circumstances and with the support of Kaurna Elders, we have made the difficult decision to respectfully exhume the remains to ensure their protection.”

Support for the development is far from unanimous, with several community leaders denouncing the “destruction” of their culture and calling for an independent assessment amid fears it is a massacre site.

Kaurna actor and community advocate Natasha Wanganeen led a rally on Sunday demanding the government halt the development.

“We’ve cared for this place for hundreds of thousands of years,” Wanganeen said.

“It is so heartbreaking to watch this go down, to be here alive today to watch the rest of my culture destroyed by these developers and the people that are supporting that.”

Premier Peter Malinauskas said an archaeological assessment of the site had ruled out that it was caused by a massacre.

“Apparently, the way that the burial has taken place is consistent with practices well before colonial times,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

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“But that does not change the fact that there is a degree of significance to the burial site.

“This is an important development but the specific area… is being treated with great respect and caution.”

Walker Corporation, the developers of the site, will now seek authorisation from the state government to resume work.

The developer and Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation said they were working together to ensure that ancestral remains were treated and handled with respect.

The native title body said it was pushing for a memorial garden and reflection centre to be built at Riverlea to honour and respect Kaurna ancestors, in line with community wishes.

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