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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Royce Kurmelovs

WA police raid home of Indigenous woman campaigning to protect sacred rock art

Paleolithic rock on the Burrup peninsula
The campaign Save Our Songlines aims to protect Indigenous rock art from industrial activity on the Burrup peninsula in far-north Western Australia. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Western Australian police have raided the home of an Indigenous woman campaigning to protect ancient rock art while she was giving evidence as an expert witness in a case involving climate change protesters on Thursday.

Raelene Cooper is a Mardudhunera woman and the former chair of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation who has been campaigning to protect sacred rock art on the Burrup peninsula in far-north Western Australia.

The campaign, Save Our Songlines, says the cumulative impact from industrial activity on the peninsula is erasing ancient Indigenous rock art in the area, thought to be more than 60,000 years old.

Cooper is also the lead applicant on a Section 10 cultural assessment application under the federal government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act which is currently under way.

Police raided the property at 11.45am on Thursday morning while Cooper was giving evidence as an expert witness during the trial of three climate change protesters who blockaded the Burrup peninsula in November 2021.

The protesters cut off the peninsula by chaining themselves to vehicles along the only road in for 16 hours to protest Woodside Energy’s efforts to develop the $16.5bn Scarborough gas project.

Twelve officers in six cars carried out a search of her Karratha home in what Cooper believed was a “political motivated” exercise in “intimidation tactics”.

Though there were multiple children staying with Cooper, no one was present at the time and police broke the door to get inside.

“While I shared my cultural knowledge and authority as a traditional custodian, a dozen cops kicked down my unlocked door, locked up my dogs and went through my house,” she said.

“The police found nothing and charged me with no crime.”

Cooper was not involved in planning or carrying out the protest.

According to a police interim property receipt seen by Guardian Australia, the only items removed from the property during the search were two “smoking implements”.

A spokesperson for Western Australian police said in a statement the search was not related to Cooper’s activism or Indigenous cultural heritage work but was carried out as part of an investigation into offences involving four other people.

“On Thursday 1 December, Karratha detectives conducted several search warrants under the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1981,” they said.

“This was a day-of-action, responding to several community reports received in recent weeks. These reports described antisocial behaviour, and drug related activity on Miles Loop in Baynton.”

Four people were charged with seven offences.

Cooper was not among them and said “to the best of her knowledge” no one in her household had been charged any offence.

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