As a close blood relative of former minister for the environment Greg Hunt, I am deeply ashamed that he did not do one simple thing: protect Lawler’s Well.
There were 11 sites sacred to the Gomeroi people in the part of the Leard State Forest in north-western NSW that is being cleared for Whitehaven Coal’s controversial Maules Creek Mine. Ten have already been destroyed or irrevocably damaged. The last of these Gomeroi heritage sites is Lawler’s Well.
Lawler’s Well has links to and from bora (initiation ceremony sites), dreaming and navigation stories of the day and night sky, seasonality and a unique waterhole in the forest. It is crucially important to Gomeroi traditional heritage and continuing practices.
With all other legal options to protect Lawler’s Well exhausted, Gomeroi Traditional Custodians applied to Hunt, as the minister with discretionary power to protect the sacred site, for permanent protection through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. He did nothing.
More than 20 Gomeroi have passed on since the campaign to Save Lawlers Well commenced 18 months ago, some of whom were explicitly and repeatedly denied by Whitehaven their last wish, which was to visit country and undertake ceremony one last time. I am deeply saddened that these First Nations people have not been able to perform ceremony at sacred sites before passing away. This connection is a basic human right.
Learning from the Gomeroi
Society could learn much from the Gomeroi and the detailed attention their law pays to all parts of nature. I have walked in Leard Forrest and I have seen and felt Lawler's Well. Its beauty is indisputable. We saw a blue bird. It was longer and faster than any blue wren I have ever seen. There was a lizard too. The sunlight shines on the dry earth and stones there in a way it does not in other parts of the bush.
Greg Hunt is my first cousin. His father Alan John Hunt held the same seat in parliament as Greg does now. When I was a little girl, my brother and I would play in the back yard with Greg. There were echidnas there, as well as possums, kingfishers, wombats, blue tongue lizards and drop tail lizards. At the time I did not know that this beautiful land was stolen.
When we left school, Greg and I moved in different directions and now we find ourselves 25 years later in two very different places.
I became aware of the terrible situation for the Gomeroi when my mate, Rose, took me to a fundraiser for the Leard Forest Blockade.
We participated in a group civil disobedience action. I know that there have been at least eight actions of civil disobedience to show how many people support the Gomeroi.
Then I saw a video that explained how the destruction of the sacred site made people feel. Finally I wrote an email to Greg asking him to save Lawler’s Well. I have continued writing emails, letters and texts, even though nothing happens. I didn't phone as I was so cross I couldn't speak nicely. Greg was hurt and offended that I did not support him.
After a while it seemed clear that nothing would happen, so I hit the road and got involved. I supported a woman walking her songlines and then studied the water cycle with a teacher of Landscape Repair.
Still nothing happened.
After that, I was permitted by Dolly Talbott and some wonderful young women to stand publicly in solidarity with the Gomeroi by participating in another act of civil disobedience.
And you guessed it, nothing happened.
I asked my friends what do you do if a family member is behaving badly. The advice was to have a stern chat with them. So I went to Parliament House in Canberra and had a chat with him. It seemed the application from the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians was “not in his office”. Still nothing happened, except somebody found the application and said that the applicants had done something wrong. I was not surprised by the victim blaming.
I made contact with other relatives and found there were three cousins who were prepared to stand up and be counted. His eldest niece, Josephine Hunt, an early childhood educator in Canberra said: “Greg Hunt is Minister for Environmental Destruction and Supporting Fossil Fuel Industries and I am ashamed to be related to him.
“I will support any protest movement that calls for real action on climate change and for protection of land, water and air from fossil fuel industries. And everyone that is involved in making that sort of protest happen is a hero in my opinion.
“This is a continuation of the dispossession and genocide that has been happening since Europeans invaded a continent that was not Terra Nullius.
“Lawler’s Well is a sacred site and should not be sacrificed to coal mining, which we should not be doing anyway. There should be no expansion of coal mining and no new coal mines, and those currently operating should be phased out rapidly.”
Greg’s youngest niece Abbey Hunt said: “At election time, back in 2013, I stood in line and overheard one woman's worries about how a Coalition government would handle environmental issues that were very close to her heart. I told her not to worry because my uncle Greg would become the environment minister and I knew him to be a good person, one I thought would have the best interests of the people at heart.
“I wanted to have faith because I too was deeply concerned and fearful for the protection of our natural wonders and resources. It breaks my heart to see communities railroaded and precious landmarks destroyed because of economic interests, when we all know there are better alternatives.”
Another cousin, David Hunt, wrote an open letter to Greg in which he said: “When the Abbott government was elected I had high hopes that you had learnt from your father and you would be a good minister in a portfolio you cared about and had held for a long time.
“Your university thesis did after all propose a carbon tax, indicating that before you entered parliament you cared about the environment and recognised that something had to be done to address carbon emissions and migrate to other energy sources.
“Sadly, it seems the Liberal Party has long ago been bought by the coal and petroleum industries, among others. Year after year temperature records are broken and 98% of scientists in the field say that carbon is a significant causal factor. Of the remaining 2% of scientists in the field many are funded by the carbon energy sector. Do you see any conflict of interest there?
What have you achieved, Greg?
“So, as environment minister what are your headline achievements? New coal mines, new ports cutting through the Great Barrier Reef to move said coal, coal seam gas extraction, reductions in renewable energy targets and the gutting of Australia’s capacity to develop renewable energy sources. All while the rest of the world is moving away from carbon fuels. Even Saudi Arabia is investing in, building and operating domestic solar and wind energy infrastructure.
“Not to mention that you have approved projects that will cause environmental damage to Australia’s food bowl and water table. If you haven’t done so I suggest that you read up on the environmental record of Adani.
“Safeguards are all well and good, but should we be digging up Australian farmland to provide coal for a world that is rapidly moving to other energy sources? Should we be fracturing rock to extract gas, knowing that by doing so the land becomes earthquake prone and that inevitably chemicals used in the process will end up in the water courses?
“Whether you believe in carbon caused climate change or not, the rest of the world is beginning to act. Australia will be left behind and what sort of legacy will that be for Australian innovation and future generations of business leaders, not to mention the Australian public?
“Australia has so many advantages and we should rightfully be world leaders in the adoption of new technologies in solar, tidal and wind power generation. Much of the rest of the world is headed there, yet where is Australia? Yes, your ministerial website has positive stories, but where is the balance of funding going, and what is the tenor of your decisions?
“Please Greg, I ask you to reflect on this and ask yourself this question: What will your legacy be? Will it be positive like your father? Or will it be one of complicity in causing environmental damage, while ignoring a growing catastrophe, and tying Australia to industries the world is moving away from?”
Now Hunt is no longer the minister for environment and still nothing has happened. Lawler’s Well is scheduled for destruction in January and I don't know what to do or how to make a difference now.
I do know that our Earth, our mother and our people are all crying out for something and that the way forward is together. This horrible situation has caused division, threats, intimidation and sickness in families black and white.
There is a climate emergency. If the children of humanity are to remain on this earth, the only way forward is together. #UnitedWeStand