A crowd outside the Federal Court on August 10 stood in solidarity with Gomeroi people who are appealing a Native Title Tribunal (NTT) decision last December to reject native title, allowing Santos to frack 850 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga Forest.
The Gomeroi people are asserting their native title and they oppose fracking. The Pilliga is a unique and fragile ecosystem, dominated by Cypress pines rather than the otherwise ubiquitous eucalypts and wattles. Its sandy soil is unsuitable for modern intensive agriculture and it remains a largely undisturbed haven for many native species.
Erin O’Leary, a Dunghutti woman, gave the Acknowledgement and spoke about the connection between First Nations people and the land: “We are the land.”
Paddy Gibson from the Sydney Climate Coalition (SCC) read a statement from Gomeroi elder Suellyn Tighe, reaffirming the Gomeroi’s commitment to protecting country and opposing fracking.
Gomeroi man Matty Shields, a nurse, spoke of his early life in Walgett. He said health and wellbeing depends on many factors, including connection to land and the health of the land itself. He described how fracking produces a toxic waste which is difficult to contain and in the Pilliga would threaten Australia’s main water reservoir — the Great Artesian Basin.
Owen Magee, a year 10 student, climate activist and organiser with School Strike for Climate, said: “There is no climate justice without First Nations justice. We need climate justice now, but we must have First Nations justice first.”
Natalie Wasley, representing the Maritime Union of Australia, said: “We are fighting for clean air, clean water, land rights, justice.”
Sue Higginson, Greens Member of the Legislative Council, said the NSW Premier and the Minister for Energy and Climate Change had the power protect the Pilliga and urged people to continue the struggle.
Gibson criticised the NSW government for “sitting next to Santos and opposing the application of the Gomeroi people”. “When the Gomeroi say no fracking in the Pilliga, we must accept their decision.”