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WA man faces jail for ‘disrupting rainbow serpent’ after building bridge over creek on his property.


A WA man is facing jail time under cultural heritage laws for disrupting the rainbow serpent after building a bridge over a creek on his property.



A Western Australian man is facing a hefty fine and potential jail time under the state’s cultural heritage laws for allegedly disrupting the rainbow serpent after building a bridge over a creek on his property.


Tony Maddox, a prominent local real estate agent in the town of Toodyay, 85 kilometres northeast of Perth, was charged by the state’s Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage last year for breaching WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Act of 1972.


In August last year, the state government ditched sweeping new Aboriginal cultural heritage laws after just 39 days in operation following widespread community backlash — and fears the controversy was affecting public support for the Voice referendum.


Mr Maddox was charged under the unamended 1972 laws for building a creek crossing on his property, which the prosecution claimed had disrupted Waugul — a rainbow serpent central to mythology for Noongar people — as he removed a large amount of silt from the creek, Sky News Australia reported.


He pleaded not guilty in the Northam Magistrates Court and is set to face a two-day trial in Perth starting on Thursday February 22.


Toodyay real estate agent Tony Maddox. Picture: Sky News Australia


If found guilty he faces up to nine months behind bars and a fine of $20,000.


Speaking to Sky News Australia host Andrew Bolt on Thursday night, an emotional Mr Maddox said he had spent nearly a year fighting the charges and had no prior knowledge that the Heritage Act applied to the creek on his property.


He said local elders had not complained to him about the creek crossing.

“It’s quite unbelievable,” he said.


“I don’t understand the heavy-handedness of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage. Why wouldn’t they instead just say, ‘You’ve broken our Act, we’re aware you didn’t know anything about it, let’s educate you and tell you about it.’ I’ve had more education from our local elders than I have from the department.”


Mr Maddox broke down as he discussed the mental and financial toll over the past 12 months.


He was charged for building a creek crossing on his property. Picture: Sky News Australia


“The other outcome is a huge amount of expenditure on my part to get to this stage with a lawyer and a barrister working for me now,” he said.


“All for what outcome? All this, a year of my life is gone. I literally haven’t worked all year, I’ve been fighting this for a year. This just destroys your heart. Destroys your head, destroys your soul. It’s knocked the hell out of me as a human being. And what is the outcome? The outcome is going to be an awful lot of money piling up. For what? Even if I am found guilty, there is nothing in the Act that tells them they have the power to ask me to remove the crossing.”


A spokeswoman for the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage said, “As this matter is currently before the courts, the department is unable to provide further comment at this time.”


The Avon River including its tributaries is a site of significance to the traditional owners and is protected under the 1972 Act.


The laws require approval for activities that may impact or harm Aboriginal heritage and any person who excavates, destroys, damages or conceals or in any way alters any Aboriginal heritage site commits an offence.


Mr Maddox has been contacted for comment.


Separate to Mr Maddox’s case, the Shire of Toodyay and at least one contractor hired by the council have been charged with breaching the Aboriginal Heritage Act, in the first public test of the amended laws.


The charges, which carry a potential fine of $50,000, relate to construction work in several waterways, the ABC reported this week. Some of the work included altering a waterway to prevent erosion under a footpath, according to the report.


The Shire of Toodyay has been contacted for comment.

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