The Beyond Coal Gas Conference held over April 9 to 11 at Myuna Bay invited many Aboriginal leaders involved in the struggle against fracking or coalmining on their country to share their stories and promote solidarity with their campaigns.
Speakers over the three days included Kylie Sambo from SEED, the Indigenous youth climate network; Gadrian Hooson from the NT campaign against fracking in Borroloola and other Aboriginal communities; Paul Spearim from the Gamilaraay People and Clan Groups against CSG and Coalmining; and Balai elder Mabel Quakawoot.
Adrian Burragubba, from the Babinburra Clan of the Wangan people of the Wiirdi language group of Central Queensland, spoke about the intensification of the struggle against the Adani-Carmichael mega coalmine that the Queensland government has just given final approval for. A skilled didgeridoo player, he also moved the conference to a standing ovation with this speech, abridged below.
The major totem for my country is the eel. The eels flourish in the Carmichael River and the river draws water from the Great Artesian Basin through the Doongmabulla Springs. There are about 10 springs that are located about 10 kilometres from where the mine is expected to be. The watertable is 400 metres down so the mine will affect all the aquifers, the waterways and all the water that comes from the Doongmabulla Springs.
These springs have been drawing water and feeding it into the river since the beginning of time. You can imagine how sacred it is to our people.
In the area around the springs there are many birthing trees. In Aboriginal culture these are sacred places for women's business. It's where life begins and it's where we get our totem at birth, so those birthing trees are very, very important to us. If they cease to exist, then the history of the Wangan and Jagalingou people will be annihilated. So I am very serious when I say that this mine will totally destroy our cultural heritage and the memory of our people forever.
Our strategy for the campaign against the Adani-Carmichael mine is a campaign in defence of country. We are defending what cannot speak — the plants and the trees, animals and birds. They speak to us as people who originally come from that land but they cannot speak to the government.
When the government goes out there they look at the land and say there's nothing here. But we see all the tracks and all the stories and we see our ancestors there. So it's an insult to us for Greg Hunt to go to our country and say there's nothing out there.
The second part of our strategy is about the big picture — where we as First Nations people confront the dispossession and injustice that are met by Traditional Owners all across the country every day. It is a long-running political challenge that has been going on since colonisation in 1788.
If we are successful in stopping this mine, then our country and our culture will be saved from destruction. So this is serious business for us.
While it will benefit people in general and the environment more widely, this is not an environmental campaign. The Wangan and Jagalingou people have joined with the environmental movement but we are running our own campaign, based on the singular act of self-determination and our right to say “no” as the Traditional Owners and custodians of our ancestral lands where our ancestors still reside.
It is possible to succeed in getting rid of this mining company. Even the economics of global energy alone could stop it. But for us it is about self-determination. If we lose this battle we lose our right to defend our law and custom and culture. It will mean disaster for our people but we will continue to fight.
We need the support and encouragement of many people across many fields of endeavour, many parts of society and many countries. But this is our fight for the future of our people and our culture and our lands and waters and plants and animals and our sacred sites and the stories that connect our homelands together to our spiritual home.
We have mounted a significant legal and political challenge to the system that enables governments and corporations to override our rights. We are taking on the Native Title Act and its racist legacy and its failure to measure up to international laws that declare the rights of Indigenous people. We have sent a complaint through the UN Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights complaining about what they are doing to Indigenous people in this country.
We have to throw everything at this mining company. At one point it was just us in defence of country but it's become a political argument now because the state government ignores us. But we've also taken action against the Native Title Tribunal and we have a case in the Federal Court. We have four Senior Council barristers working with us on a Constitutional challenge and we're prepared to take it all the way to the High Court. We'll keep this thing tied up forever.