Sattler and Sacred Sites

More than any other media personality, Sattler is responsible for legitimating the most hostile and ethnocentric attitudes towards the struggle by many Aboriginal people to protect areas of cultural significance from encroaching property and mining development. The destruction of Aboriginal sacred sites has been one of the severest tests of the political status of Aboriginal people within Western Australia and a hotly debated issue since the Noonkanbah controversy in 1980. Powerful mining industry propaganda campaigns in the mid-1980s contributed to the defeat of Labor's State and Federal plans to legislate Aboriginal land rights, and had the effect of creating widespread public animosity, not only to land rights, but to the concept of any political or legal concession to Aboriginal people on the basis of their claimed separate rights as indigenous owners and occupiers of the continent. One of these is the right to preserve areas of land that have special spiritual and cultural significance, popularly known as 'sacred sites'. Public opponents of Aboriginal people struggling to protect such sites, whether they be politicians, miners, pastoralists, property developers, white heritage activists or populist media commentators, have all contributed to a common stock of arguments. These are:

sacred sites claims are political tools used by 'activists' to hold up economic development or to make 'defacto land claims'.

Aboriginal culture is in the past; jobs and development are the future.

spiritual beings such as the Waugle [Rainbow Serpent] 'pop up' only where and when developments are planned or about to go ahead.

legally protecting a sacred site means 'your back yard could be next'.

sacred sites are 'popping up' everywhere; 'when will it stop?'

Aboriginal people living in the city are not 'real' Aboriginal people, 'they have no culture left', how can they have sacred sites?

because Aboriginal people often do not reveal more details about a site this means the claim is not genuine.

Aboriginal people should not get special rights over sites; they should share them 'with all/other Australians'.

'I've never seen an Aborigine around there so how could it be sacred?'

Aboriginal people can't even agree with each other about which sites are sacred.

Typical of Sattler's treatment of sacred sites issues is a segment of The Sattler File from 5 May 1989, in which he interviewed Old Swan Brewery redevelopment proponent Jack Marks. The interview is literally loaded with such ignorant, cynical and discriminatory arguments as those listed above, all of which either went uncontested or were openly supported by Sattler. Sattler's line in this matter coincides exactly with that of the WA Government -- the ultimate owner, through the TAB, of Radio 6PR. (The full transcript is given as Appendix 1, together with an analysis by then Australian National University researcher and film-maker Martha Ansara, from whose book it has been excerpted.30)

The Jack Marks interview was not an isolated example. A Sattler interview on 4 May 1989 with then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Carmen Lawrence, demonstrates his determination to propound to his listeners the most bigoted, ethnocentric and ignorant conceptions about Aboriginal cultural matters. The Lawrence interview became the subject of an unsuccessful defamation action by Fringedweller spokesperson Robert Bropho against Sattler. (A transcript appears as Appendix 2.)

Sattler's treatment of the sacred site dispute in mid-1991 at the proposed site of a nickel mine at Yakabindie, north of Kalgoorlie, was similar. In a highly controversial move, the WA Government gave approval for Dominion Mines to develop a new operation in an area which local Aboriginal people, represented by the Ngalia Aboriginal Heritage Research Council, maintained was highly important spiritually and culturally. Some other Aboriginal people disputed this, contending the mine should go ahead, resulting in a bitter conflict. Anthropological reports on the site varied in their conclusion as to the nature of the site, but the WA Government, acceding to mining industry power, paid attention only to those reports that were favourable to the development [see footnote 24]. In early 1991, Perth Aboriginal rights leader Robert Bropho was asked by the Ngalia people to assist them in the struggle to protect the site.

Sattler: Eighteen past nine. Earlier on you may have heard me interview the Dominion Mining chief executive Peter Walker who like a lot of mining chiefs is becoming increasingly frustrated with the deliberate attempts to stop mine projects going ahead, like Yakabindie nickel mine. The project there worth an estimated $350 million to this country and will provide many hundreds of jobs, including jobs for Aboriginal people. We talked with people from both sides of that issue. We've had a man called Peter Muir on yesterday who represents the Ngalia community who are organising... or the Ngalia Heritage Research Council they call themselves. They and Robert Bropho's Aboriginal group down here are trying to encourage their supporters to go to Wiluna this weekend to stage a big, I guess high profile protest, it will be interesting to see what media go there, at Wiluna, they want to show publicly that there are a large number of Aboriginal people apart from them, against this mine. On the line I have anthropologist Rory O'Connor who has identified the actual anthropological sacred sites in the area. Good Morning Rory, how are you?31

Here Sattler has tried to cast doubt on the legitimacy of those opposing the mine. Firstly, the mining chiefs' frustration, millions of dollars and jobs are positioned as more important than the cultural interests of the Aboriginal people opposed to this mine. Secondly, Sattler uses the word 'deliberate' in a sinister sense, to imply that Aboriginal people are practising economic sabotage. Thirdly, the statement that Rory O'Connor has 'identified the actual anthropological sacred sites' privileges O'Connor's account of the dispute as being 'the truth' and hides the fact that O'Connor's report on the Yakabindie area, carried out in late 1990, was heavily challenged by a later report by anthropologists with the Centre for Prehistory at the University of Western Australia, who, commissioned by Dominion Nickel Mines, and working with the Ngalia people, concluded, unlike O'Connor, that the mine-site contained highly important sacred areas that should be protected under the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act.32

The segment continues:

O'Connor: Good Morning Howard, I'm well thank you.
Sattler: Do you think they will get many people to the meeting at Wiluna on the weekend?
O'Connor: Well I've got terribly bad news for poor Robert Bropho and Clarrie Isaacs.
Sattler: Oh no.
O'Connor: Yes. Their Wiluna meeting its shaping up a bit like their underwater corroboree ground in Bunbury.
Sattler: Oh no.
O'Connor: Yes, I'd like to read you a letter, it's an informal official letter from the Ngaanganawili Community Incorporated which is the Aboriginal incorporated body which represents all the Aboriginal people at Wiluna.
Sattler: Are they people who are some of them custodians of the area around Yakabindie?
O'Connor: Yes indeed, some of them are. And also one of the people who Robert Bropho has been talking to Mr. Dusty Stevens is on this letter, so obviously he's changed his mind about Robert.
Sattler: Please read the letter then Rory.
O'Connor: Certainly. It's addressed to Aubrey Lynch who's a gentleman, an Aboriginal gentleman in Kalgoorlie. Um, basically the letter is asking Aubrey to help them stop Robert going up sticking his nose into their business and Aubrey has asked me to broadcast it around so that it can become public.
Sattler: I don't know whether Robert's listening, he does attend TAB shops that I am aware of and may well be listening at one of them.
O'Connor: That's true, I'd like to make a comment about that in a minute. First of all I'll read the letter....

Sattler's utterance of 'Oh no' twice in relation to the mention of two Aboriginal rights activists is sheer editorialising, letting listeners know he views them with contempt and disbelief, as if to say, 'Oh no, not these trouble-makers again'. Sattler's comment about Robert Bropho at the TAB makes a petty gambler out of a public figure who has fought for decades to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage from being destroyed by mining and property development -- and this from 6PR, which is owned by the TAB [Totalisator Agency Board] and owes its survival to racing revenues.

In finishing this segment, and after allowing O'Connor, in a defamatory way, to imply that funds raised by Robert Bropho to assist the campaign to stop the mine were being used for other purposes, such as betting at the TAB, Sattler says:

Sattler: That's Rory O'Connor, he's an anthropologist and an interesting letter which Aboriginal people down here may like to take notice of. They don't want you in Wiluna this weekend, get the message?

Thus we can see that Sattler's comment in the introduction to the segment 'We talked with people from both sides of that issue' is simply another bogus claim to balance and fairness in his treatment of the issue. What listeners do hear is the 'side' Sattler endorses and promotes, and his constant framing of the 'other side', when they do get a chance to say something, as discreditable, mischievous and contemptible.


Gambling on the First Race HomeIndigenous Issues