Beetaloo Traditional Owners speak out on Tamboran fracking pollution

May 23, 2023
Rallen pastoralists and Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation on Tanumbirini station want to protect land, water and sacred sites. Photo: Original Power

Traditional Owners continue to oppose fracking for shale gas in the Beetaloo Basin, in particular in the Newcastle Creek which runs across the basin and which has sites protected under the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act.

Johnny Wilson, Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (NNTAC) chair and Jungai (cultural lawman) for the area, said 7.30’s May 22 report on pollution incidents from Tamboran’s exploration well (EP136) on Tanumbirini cattle station in the Beetaloo Basin was a major concern.

“This reflects what Traditional Owners have long feared — that fracking will damage our water, country and songlines which mean absolutely everything to us and were passed down for us to care for,” he said.

Newcastle Creek also runs across a part of Tanumbirini, a 5000-square-kilometre cattle station near Daly Waters. Tamboran’s exploratory fracking permit covers parts of Tanumbirini Station.

The incidents uncovered by the ABC report are: drill water used to manage dust; a break in a bund wall which spilled sediment and potentially toxic chemicals towards a sacred waterway; and what appears to be the pumping of toxic wastewater, containing heavy metals including lead and barium, into a cattle breeding paddock.

NNTAC, which represents native title holder across the Beetaloo Basin, has been working with Rallen Australia, which runs Tanumbirini Station, to protect the country. They share concerns about fracking risks to land, water and sacred sites.

“This is my grandfather’s country which I have a responsibility to look after. It tears at my heart to imagine how fracking by Tamboran might be damaging what I have been asked to protect,” Wilson said.

Janet Sandy Gregory, Djingili Elder and cultural advisor to Nurrdalinji, said they wanted the NT government to “take action against Tamboran” because “we fear for our country”.

“This shows us once again why we do not want fracking, which will poison our water, our animals and upset the songlines that run across our country.”

Djingili Senior Traditional Owner Mark Raymond said: “These incidents at Tanumbirini Station make me sad. I have two totems up that way. I don’t want any fracking anywhere. I don’t want that to be my legacy for my grandchildren, I want them to know the country and protect it.”

Testimony by local Aboriginal groups to Justice Pepper’s fracking inquiry explained that Traditional Owners say they are connected with neighbouring Aboriginal groups by “underground culture”.

The aquifers underlying country which may give rise to springs and other naturally occurring water sources “can be associated with the travels of ancestral beings and link neighbouring Aboriginal groups, connecting people across the landscape”, they wrote.

“In the area surrounding the Beetaloo Sub-basin, for example, these connections find expression in the kujika song cycles.”

They explained that kujika are “central to the major ceremonies linking Aboriginal nations and language groups across the region”.

“These songs link people with sites in the landscape and require that a broader group of Traditional Owners and custodians be consulted, not just the group associated with the land directly above the areas proposed for any shale gas wells.”

Further, they explained that the kujika reinforce the concept of “mangalalgal”, or “the way of the dreaming”, an explicit imperative to honour and maintain cultural traditions.

The NT government told the Pepper inquiry it estimates that more than 6000 fracking wells could be drilled in the Beetaloo.

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