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Farmer is charged with ‘harming Aboriginal heritage’ for removing stones he says were part of a settler-built sheep pen

Kooyang Stone Arrangement

A farmer in Victoria has been charged with “harming Aboriginal heritage” for allegedly removing part of a stone arrangement he claims is actually a White settler-built sheep pen.

In April 2021 Adrian McMaster allegedly removed a 60-metre section of a structure from his land at Lake Bolac which the state government claims is a 1,500-year-old stone arrangement representing a southern shortfin eel.

The basalt rocks are located on private farmland which has been in Mr McMaster’s family for 120 years, but he faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if found guilty of moving them.

He originally filed a defamation case against Ballarat newspaper The Courier and Neil Murray over coverage of the alleged removal in 2022, but the matter was settled of out court.

First Peoples – State Relations continued to investigate and a spokesperson from the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet told ABC News charges have now been laid.

Mr McMaster’s legal advisor Alan Flint said the stones were not of Aboriginal origin and his client would defend the charges on that basis.

“The stones that were [allegedly] disturbed were not marked as being within the protected area of Aboriginal cultural heritage,” he said.

“[They] were believed from family history and official publications including the Shire of Ararat centenary yearbook 1966, revised in 1996 without change, to be remnants of an early settler’s sheepfold.”

In a report prepared for the defamation case titled “Sheep Fold or Stone Alignment? – An Investigation into the Aboriginal Heritage Classification of the Lake Bolac ‘Ceremonial Stone Arrangement’” Mr Flint questioned a 1980 Victorian archaeological survey that was the basis for the original claim.

There is no direct evidence the site was ceremonial, and there was “clear evidence of European construction”, according to Mr Flint’s report.

At the time the stones were allegedly removed the CEO of the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation claimed he and other local Indigenous people were “traumatised” and “devastated”.

Maximum penalties for some “harming Aboriginal heritage” offences can be as high as $346,158 for an individual, according to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.

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