6500-year-old heritage junked

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Artefacts found at the KFC site during the dig included blades, an anvil and scrapers.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Artefacts found at the KFC site during the dig included blades, an anvil and scrapers.

AUSTRALIA’S largest KFC restaurant stands above one of the country’s most significant Aboriginal heritage sites in Newcastle West, a new archaeological report has revealed.

The former Palais night spot site contains carbon-dated evidence of Aboriginal occupation dating back between 6716 and 6502 years – the oldest evidence of human settlement in Newcastle.

But the final excavation report, which rates the site as having ‘‘high to exceptional cultural and scientific significance’’ was only completed this month, even though the KFC building was built about a year ago.

‘‘Are we just documenting these sites so we can destroy them later?’’ University of Newcastle Coal River Working Party chairman Gionni DiGravio said yesterday.

‘‘Aboriginal archaeology is not given any importance, which I find amazing. This material is as significant as anything you would find in Europe.’’

The Hunter Street site was excavated following the demolition of the Palais in 2008.

Items found at the site include more than 5700 stone tools and campsite remains.

‘‘Few open sites in the local, regional or national contexts retain a large artefactual assemblage within a well-dated chronological soil profile,’’ the report says.

The Newcastle Herald has previously reported that the site also contains a treasure trove of colonial-era artefacts.

The $2.5 million development was approved on the basis that it met all necessary heritage assessments.

‘‘We have been engaging with the Awabakal people for over a year in regards to the site and how to honour the people and the artefacts,’’ a KFC Australia spokesman said yesterday.

But Awabakal clan descendants said yesterday the report highlighted the lack of rigour in the state government’s assessment of Aboriginal heritage.

‘‘There’s not much you can do about it now, but where are the regulations that protect culture and heritage?’’ Shane Frost said.

‘‘No one would have guessed that amount of cultural heritage items would be found there.’’

Kerrie Brauer said the approval was disappointing.

‘‘It doesn’t give us much confidence with future developments in Newcastle,’’ she said.

‘‘The medical centre next door didn’t have an investigation because they said there was nothing there.’’

The KFC Australia spokesman said a representation of the indigenous connection to the site would be incorporated into the restaurant.

‘‘We are working towards having a graphic representation of the Awabakal people in the restaurant as well as donating recovered artefacts to a university.’’