Kimberley’s sacred sites destroyed for a large-scale gas venture

Western Australia is one of the last remaining frontiers of the Indigenous Australians. Series of land grabs pushed them to this territory. But now, even their ancestral graveyards have to go.

Western Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier approved Woodside Petroleum to start bulldozing Aboriginal heritage sites, including the sand dunes area at James Price Point, in order to give way to a $30-40 billion  LNG project. Below the sand dunes are the remains and fossils of Aboriginal ancestors.

The company stopped working in sand dunes last year pending application of a clearance under the Heritage Act. The clearance would allow holders to work at sites registered by local Aboriginal people. The lack of earlier approvals underpinned protesters’ claims the project is illegal.

The State Government fancies this sacred land to emerge as the “Saudi Arabia of Gas,” the world’s largest gas hub. And this could be the ultimate act of Aboriginal dispossession.

Tracks on James Price Point (Photo: Kimberley Media)

James Price Point, originally named Walmadany, is located at the apex of the Lurujarri Heritage trail, the sacred place where several of the revered Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr men and women were buried, including the highly respected traditional custodian Walmadany.

Woodside claims a Native Title Agreement was executed on 30 June 2011 to enable the establishment of the Browse LNG Precinct near James Price Point, 60 km north of Broome. The Indigenous people, however, said the agreement was based on fraud.

When the Colin Barnett Government approved the multi-billion gas project, the Traditional Owner Taskforce (TOTF) was not consulted. The TOTF drew on the best practices in traditional governance and decision-making structures. It incorporates procedures in contemporary meeting, decision-making and information transfer practices to “create a unique, culturally appropriate, consistent and comprehensive consultation and engagement process.” (p.41)

Protests continue to oppose the gas hub. (Photo: nationalunitygovernment.org)

The principle of Indigenous Free Prior Informed Consent (IFPIC) was ignored. It also reinforces the decision of West Australian Supreme Court Chief Justice Martin that the process of compulsorily acquiring land from Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr traditional owners was unlawful.

The Wilderness Society said allowing Woodside to start work in the sand dunes at James Price Point is like sanctioning the bulldozing of St George’s Cathedral in Perth or St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney and all of the grave sites associated with these religious institutions.

The Society joins the Traditional Custodians in condemning the approval of Woodside’s request to enter and destroy thousands of years of Indigenous Heritage in the area to pursue its proposed gas processing complex.

Wilderness Society WA Campaign Manager Peter Robertson said,

This approval by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs yet again demonstrates the willingness of the WA Government to put unnecessary and unwanted development ahead of the people of the region and the values of the community. We call on the other Browse joint-venture partners to make it clear whether they support the destruction of these ancient burial grounds.

He added it is worth noting that the proponent for the James Price Point gas processing complex is Premier Colin Barnett in his role as Minister for State Development, and that Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier is also the Minister for Energy.

Heritage trail in Broome, WA (Photo: Kimberley Media)

The Society further accused the Government of  incompetence and multiple conflicts of interest in pursuing the project from its botched attempts at compulsory acquisition through to the environmental approval process and now the approval for Woodside to destroy sand dunes of the highest cultural and religious significance.

James Price Point is one of the fiercest battlegrounds between the Indigenous people and the Australian Government in contemporary times. With the support of the local communities, Green and civic groups, the Indigenous people are fighting to protect the “Law Below the Top Soil” – the law handed down from many generations to another that governs their ancestral rights.

Barricades, clashes between police and civilians, and arrests are expected to continue in the course of the project.

“I can feel the pain coming through this ground. This country is screaming from hurt.” –Albert Wiggan’s powerful monologue from OLD COUNTRY NEW COUNTRY on Woodside Energy’s proposed gas plant at James Price Point.

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The Silent Victims of Bushfires

Australian summer is the peak season of bushfires. The CSIRO, a leading scientific body, said bushfire is a natural phenomenon no less than the sun and rain, and it occurs frequently all-year-round. When the mercury hits over 40 degrees Celsius (140 F), heat ignites wildfires that spread extensively engulfing farms, forests,  and communities,  including sanctuaries of wildlife. While many animals can survive, bushfires put pressure on many species to the verge of extinction. Plant and trees, however, have more power to regenerate.

A kangaroo hops through a burnt paddock in Melbourne West. (Photo: AAP)

Fire authorities across states have issued fire warnings , maps, and  precautions. Three states were under red alert early this week: Tasmania, New South Wales, and Victoria.  But temperatures dipped on Wednesday easing total the fire ban in threatened areas.

Fire brigades, community workers, and volunteers help in rescue operations while authorities assess the extent of damage.

Beyond the ashes are the silent victims of the catastrophe–  animals and endangered species.

The past bushfires had left many animals dead, their habitats destroyed. In Victoria, among the endangered species are the state bird emblem, the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeaters Possums. According to Zoo Victoria, the Healesville Sanctuary is still reeling from the effects of Black Saturday in 2009. The Sanctuary itself was under threat and many animals were evacuated. The Vet team worked around the clock treating fire- affected animals in the wildlife hospital and in rescue centres in the community.

Threatened by bushfires (Photo: Supplied)

In Western Australia, many species of native animals and birds are feared to have been completely wiped out, according to Australian Geographic. Conservationists and animal carers note that populations of highly endangered possums, black cockatoos and other native species may now be locally extinct in the Margaret River, Nannup and Augusta regions. About 90 percent of wildlife in these areas are already presumed extinct.

Another endangered bird is the Red-tailed black cockatoo especially those the endangered Baudin’s red-tailed black cockatoos which are only found WA’s southwest. The number is estimated to be less than 10,000.

The ground parrot used to be a common bird seen in Australia, but the specie is disappearing. (Photo: Supplied)

The Wilderness Society has listed top five endangered species which could become extinct in the coming few years. These species are considered the most threatened by the fires: the Leadbeater’s Possum, Sooty Owl, Barred Galaxias, Ground Parrot. and Spotted Tree Frog.

Bushfires are wiping out the Spotted Tree Frog. (Photo: Supplied)

Koalas, kangaroos, sheep, and cattle are not spared from pain and suffering. The Department of Environment and Sustainability works with qualified and experienced wildlife care organisations and rehabilitators to assist with the recovery, treatment, rehabilitation and release of wildlife affected by fire.

This photo of CFA firefighter David Tree and Sam the koala became a bushfire icon of the Black Saturday in 2009. (Photo:Reuters)

Mobile animals, such as birds, kangaroos and wallabies, may be able to move out of burning areas to safer grounds. Other wildlife can take refuge underground, in tree hollows and logs, unburnt patches of vegetation, wet gullies, rocky areas and on leeward slopes.

Many perish in the fires while some badly burnt animals await DSE ‘s advice for their immediate ‘destuction’. Survivors are treated in vet clinics.

Plant species usually regenerate a few seasons after a bushfire. From the charred tree trunks and ashes from the earth, new life re-emerge–more resilent to face the evolutionary changes in the environment.

Many plant species resprout from protected buds, at or below ground level, and many others regenerate from soil-stored seed even if the adult plants were killed by the fires.

A wildfire near Deans Gap, New South Wales, Australia, crosses the Princes Highway. Pic: AP.

Links to Animal Rescue:

Department of Environment and Sustainability

Wildlife Victoria

Blog Link : Asian Correspondent