A hand-stencil painting discovered in caves near Lithgow in April, which was cited as evidence of aboriginal art under threat by a coal mine extension and potential subsidence, has been found to be no older than three and a half years.
Miner Coalpac has sought extensions to the Invincible Colliery and Cullen Valley Mine, in the face of environmental group opposition fearing damage to the Gardens of Stone National Park, part of the Greater Blue Mountains Area World Heritage Site.
The stencil was discovered by Lithgow Environment Group (LEG) vice-president Chris Jonkers, in a cave in the Ben Bullen forest.
The stencil was not discovered by an archaeological survey conducted in December 2010, which led environmental groups including LEG to question the veracity of the survey, which was commissioned by Coalpac.
LEG said there were “serious concerns that mine subsidence induced by highwall mining beneath this escarpment will destabilise the cliffs and collapse this cave, resulting in the permanent loss of irreplaceable cave art and potentially other yet to be reported/recorded habitation sites, cave art sites, and Aboriginal artefacts”.
This led LEG to formally request an independent assessment, which was carried out by engineering consultancy Aecom Australia.
The Australian reported that the principal archaeologist for Aecom compared the painting to another aboriginal heritage site in the area, which had more than 20 hand-stencils in red ochre, while the single painting was done in white-grey pigment which was “easily observed” from the cave entrance.
Coalpac applied for a consolidation project in 2010 which would have merged the Cullen Valley and Invincible operations, and cleared nearly 900 hectares of forest.
The Planning Assessment Commission made recommendations against the project, leading to a smaller application which was refused by the Planning Department due to potential biodiversity and rock formation impacts.
Coalpac is presently in voluntary administration, however if the project is granted planning approval the company may be bought by EnergyAustralia.