The idea for a Cultural Heritage Management Plan for Lihir has two origins. The interest among Lihirians in maintaining strong and vital kastom practices, and attention to cultural heritage management issues arising from social impact assessments for the gold mine that is located on Aniolam, the largest island in the Lihir island group. In 1995 a ‘Special Mining Lease’ was granted for the construction of the open cut mine on Aniolam, which led to the first gold pour in May 1997. Initial social impact assessments associated with the mine identified the important role of kastom in the social and cosmological identity of Lihirians.
From the initial stages of the mining project there was a strong realisation among the Lihirian community and outside observers, that mining will produce unprecedented cultural transformation. Initial social impact assessments also highlighted the need for sustained anthropological work to document these changes. In response to these issues, a Cultural Information Office was established within Lihir Gold Limited in 1998.
A range of activities documenting and supporting kastom practice were undertaken in the 1990s and early 2000s however, no systematic approach to the management of Lihirian cultural heritage was developed. In 2007 and 2008 renewed attention was placed on the broader context of cultural heritage management, particularly though cooperative work between Lihir Gold Limited (LGL) and Dr Nick Bainton from the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM), Sustainable Minerals Institute, at The University of Queensland.
In mid 2007 the Social Impact Assessment for the planned Million Ounce Plant Upgrade provided the first real opportunity to assess the history and success of cultural heritage management in Lihir. Recommendations by Dr Chris Ballard of the Australian National University outlined the need for the development of a cultural heritage management plan that would address LGL corporate commitments and the growing concerns among the Lihirian population over rapid cultural change.
In September and October 2008 initial steps were taken to form a Lihir Cultural Heritage Committee to be responsible for the development of a cultural heritage management plan.
In December 2008 the first meeting of the interim Lihir Cultural Heritage Committee was held. There was unanimous agreement at this meeting to move ahead with the development of a cultural heritage management plan through a major workshop to be held in early 2009. LGL agreed to fund the workshop to be run in conjunction with the development of the Committee.
It was proposed that the Stepping Stones for Heritage approach would be an effective way to both achieve capacity building outcomes for the Committee at the same time as developing a cultural heritage management plan that would outline an ongoing cultural heritage management program for Lihir. A facilitation and support team for the proposed workshop was appointed consisting of expertise from Stepwise Heritage and Tourism Pty. Ltd.
The Australian National University, and CSRM. The facilitation and support team were responsible for working in cooperation with the Lihir Cultural Heritage Committee to produce the Lihir Cultural Heritage Plan. This process commenced with the Lihir Cultural Heritage Workshop held from 8 – 17 March 2009, that led directly to the development of this Plan.
Participants at a Cultural Heritage workshop session on Malie Island.