An open letter to the Browse Joint Venture Partners, BHP Billiton, Chevron, Shell and BP from Walmadan, near James Price Point, north of Broome in the Kimberley, West Australia.
I am an Australian Aboriginal man and Traditional Custodian. I write to inform you of what is happening on our Country as the senior Law Boss for the land and sea on which the Browse joint venture is proposing to build an industrial complex. I write on behalf of my Countrymen and Women and the many community members who support our fight to protect our future.
My traditional Country at Walmadan, near James Price Point (JPP) about 40km north of Broome, West Australia, is under threat and you and your company have the power to prevent the destruction of our culture and environmental heritage.
As I write, hundreds of people are joining me and my family at Walmadan. We wish to prevent the clearing of land, the removal of historical artefacts and the desecration of important cultural sites. Woodside contractors, acting on behalf of the Browse joint venture, are not being allowed to clear my country. A strong and resolute Kimberley community is being joined by others from across the country and the world.
I have met with representatives from your company before. I now write with urgency as there are bulldozers on my doorstep. We are in a position where I see no other option but to take non-violent, direct action to defend our Country.
As you are already aware there are viable alternatives to the processing of Browse gas on the Kimberley coast. These options, I believe, appear to be attractive alternatives to partners in this development. From an outsiders view, BHP Billiton, Shell, Chevron and BP seem to have been railroaded toward the JPP processing option by Woodside and the Federal and Western Australian Governments.
I need you to know this issue has divided our community and caused much dissent. The threat of compulsory acquisition of our land still hangs over our head and the validity of that notice is currently being challenged in court. No Government has given final environmental approval for this development. I know your companies are yet to consider final investment decisions for this project. It is not too late for you to make the right decision and be responsible corporate citizens and avert a social and economic disaster for the people and wildlife of the Kimberley as well as your company’s reputation and profits.
I attach (below) photographic evidence of the damage done in recent weeks by teams who are driving over dunes and sensitive plant communities and removing ancient artefacts on our traditional country. I also attach images of myself and other community members on Country standing strong to stop the bulldozing of our land for a controversial gas hub proposal we think should never be built. This is how it has begun; you can help decide where it ends.
The Law for this Country was passed to me by my grandfather, the late Paddy Roe (AO). Paddy was highly respected and put many other current senior Law Bosses (e.g. Pat Dodson and Peter Yu) through the Law, earning the honour of Order of Australia for his community work in promoting the Lurujarri Trail as a cultural place for all races to experience. It is my responsibility to protect this area. I also wish to share my land and culture with all who respect and learn about it.
For many years I have annually guided people from all cultures of the world along the Lurujarri heritage trail, which follows the ancient Songline of my people handed down since the Buddriagah (Dreaming) time. The Songline runs from South of Broome through JPP north to One Arm Point on the top of the Dampier Peninsula. The Lurujarri Trail was created with advice from the Heritage Council of WA and later won awards from the Council. The trail is open to non-indigenous tourists who wish to understand aboriginal culture and the importance of Songlines such as the one which connects the indigenous heritage of the coastal area.
Recently, in your Courts, I was removed as an applicant from a Native Title claim for this Country. I had been a claimant for 14 years. It is important you understand that my removal as a claimant does not change my responsibilities as law boss of this Country and the songline that continues north beyond my Country.
Your white man’s law has not yet said yes to this gas hub. Even if you do not respect aboriginal law, I appeal for you to respect your own laws and the standards of decency of Australian society.
Some of the cultural heritage sites in my Country have been publicly identified by the Department of Indigenous affairs (DIA). Others are culturally sensitive and known only to the initiated. The fossilized dinosaur and human footprints that run through this country are globally significant historical heritage and form part of our ancient cultural landscape. If a gas processing plant is built at JPP our Song Cycle would be cut, our history broken and our faith in a shared future destroyed. Australian Indigenous and Non-indigenous people can walk hand in hand, but we will not be walked over.
I have been informed in writing that works currently being attempted are expected to cause disturbance to native vegetation, terrestrial fauna and cause aquifer drawdown during pump-testing (potentially drying up traditional water sources and killing wildlife). I am also informed works will cause disturbance offshore to benthic habitats and marine fauna, increase risk of the introduction/transfer of weeds and other pests and cause pollution/contamination from routine discharges; and from unplanned discharges.
I find these impacts on the environment, our historical artefacts and cultural landscape unacceptable. This project has no final investment approval, final environmental approvals, and is proposed for an area that has just been announced as being considered for National Heritage listing.
I put it to you that your company needs to understand the storm it is headed toward here and pay more attention to the alternative options for Browse gas processing that do not include the Kimberley coast. I invite you to visit and see for yourself what is happening on Country. Your joint venture has no social or moral license to operate here. It is not too late to change direction.
I ask you to explain to me, and the world, clearly and plainly what your position is on the damage I see happening to my Country and Culture?
Why is it that your companies are allowing yourself to be channelled down a single path to JPP gas processing when there are clearly other, more culturally and environmentally preferable options? Are your shareholders also aware of the drastic implications of this project and that there are viable alternative processing options?
Will your board and senior executives come to meet with the families and community who are on ground seeing the first stages of the proposed damage to culture and wildlife occurring on my traditional Country?
I provide specific detail on the activities currently being undertaken that I am concerned about below, while reaffirming my broader concerns about the location of this proposal.
I conclude by restating that the LNG Gas Precinct Proposal is a dangerous and frightening prospect for the Traditional Owners and Custodians. Without Country, there can be no Culture. Law cannot be practised. Nor can the Country be “kept quiet” and safe. Culture cannot exist without Country, nor Country without Culture.
Senior Law Boss and Traditional Custodian for the land and sea on and around James Price Point, Kimberley, Western Australia. 15th June 2011