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.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Greens, Sea Shepherd intensify anti-Woodside gas campaign

Former Senator Bob Brown will be the star celebrity on Fathers’ Day when he gathers a throng of supporters to see the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin ship docked onto the Circular Quay in Sydney, Sept 2.

Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin sail for Ganthueme Point to launch Operation Kimberley Miinimbi. (Photo: Anabelle Sandes)

The ship has just arrived from its voyage to the remote coast of Kimberley in Western Australia to intervene on behalf of 10,000 or so humpback whales said to be threatened by Woodside’s Petroleum’s gas factory in the Browse Basin off western Kimberley.

Sea Shepherd is known as the champion-defender of marine animals. It goes against man-made predators including the well-known Japanese whalers in the southern oceans. In July, the Goolarabooloo people invited the marine group to help drive away Woodside and its partners from the Kimberley region.

The Browse Basin off western Kimberley is home to the Humpback Whale (Photo: Paul Souders/National Geographic)

In the letter to Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australian director, the “Senior Law Bosses” said the industrialisation project located 50km north off Broome will destroy 30 sq km of land and 50 sq km of seabed. It will destroy the Law of Culture and songcycle which provides health and vitality of the people.

Hansen responded positively, and with Brown, the Operation Kimberly Miinimbi was launched. Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin left the port of Melbourne in early August and sailed for Ganthueme Point to assess the area.

The Kimberley region is home to the world’s largest population of humpback whales. The Wilderness Society estimates the Kimberley whale population to stand at an estimate of 16,000 to 20,000 individuals. Every year the whales congregate along the Kimberley coast, an arc stretching from Broome and the Dampier Peninsula to Camden Sound where they mate, give birth and nurture and train their young. The whales then migrate south from their ‘home base’ in the Kimberley region, along the Western Australian coast, until they reach their Antarctic summer feeding grounds.

Former Senator Bob Brown, Melissa Park – Federal MP for Fremantle, and Jeff Hansen – Sea Shepherd Australia director flash a banner on the rocks of Ganthueme Point (Photo: seashepherd.org)

Other marine wildlife in area include dolphins, penguins, whale sharks, and turtles.

Brown admitted that whales are the only larger species to ever move on the planet along with the now extinct dinosaurs. The Kimberley coastline is home to the world’s biggest humpback whale nursery, the so-called Group IV humpback population.

The Sea Shepherd claims that since 1 July this year, more than 259 whales have already been recorded by scientific survey just a few kilometers south of James Price Point and 23 calf and cow (mother and baby) pairs have been sighted already, with over 70% found within 5 kilometers of the coast.

The Browse Basin lies entirely offshore north of Broome and covers about 140 000 sq km. The basin is bounded by the Leveque Shelf in the south, the Kimberley Block to the east, and the Ashmore Platform and Scott Plateau in the north, and grades into the offshore Canning Basin to the southwest. The area can be serviced from Broome, which has adequate port and air facilities. The Browse Basin is one of Australia’s most hydrocarbon-rich basins. The most significant hydrocarbon fields of the Browse Basin occur in the Caswell Sub-basin.

The breeding ground for humpback whales is under threat from the massive LNG gas development project. (Photo: wilderness.org.au)

Gas exploration in the area began in 1970. However, the Woodside’s LNG Development marks the largest ever with an investment of $45 billion within the next 30 years. The LNG development seeks to process $200 billion worth of gas and 360 million barrels of condensate from three fields in the Browse Basin, approximately 400km north of Broome off the Western Australian coast.

Woodside has the largest interest in the Browse permit areas held by the Browse LNG Development joint venture, with approximately 46 per cent working interest. The other joint venture participants are Shell Developments Australia Pty Ltd, BP Developments Australia Pty Ltd, and BHP Billiton (North West Shelf) Pty Ltd. Chevron Australia Pty Ltd, however, recently withdrew its interest in the Browse project for a swap deal with Shell.

The gas would be shipped to Asia. James Price Point will become a transmogrified industrial precinct fed by a new highway from Broome. Hundreds of tanker ships will take the processed gas to China, Japan and elsewhere.

Woodside Petroleum unveils its $45 billion LNG plan (Photo: woodside.com.au)

The Goolarabooloo people, traditional owners of the James Price Point (Walmadan) coastline, oppose Woodside’s project. However, the Kimberley Land Council, in a split vote, endorsed it after Woodside committed to paying the council $1.3 billion over 30 years, Brown told Crikey.

The Conservation Council of Western Australia warned that exploitation of this gas field will bring a major environmental impacts from drilling in sensitive marine environments, dredging and blasting of coral reefs and other sensitive marine environments for pipeline construction and construction of new ports.

The massive scale project with offshore emission facilities will produce formation water containing hydrocarbons and heavy metals and flared gas. Over 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year is also in place.

The area, to be transformed into a megaport, will significantly increase shipping movements that will potentially interfere with the migration and breeding of humpback whales and other marine life, and risking the introduction of marine invasive species.

If it go head, the Bowse Basin will cost irrepairable damage which include:

4 gas pipelines coming ashore at James Price Point; 4 oil pipelines coming ashore at James Price Point; 4 export pipelines (2 with monoethylene glycol—anti-freeze— going to Scott Reef, 2 with carbon dioxide (if Woodside decides it wants to ‘geo-sequester’ it); 8 huge LNG tanks, 4 LPG storage tanks, 4 oil tanks;  Construction camp for 3,500 – 6,000 workers;  1,000 permanent onsite staff; Desalination plant; 1000 – 1,500 LNG tanker movements year

Whales are natural attractions of Kimberley (Photo: Anabelle Sandes)

The Conservation Council of Western Australia noted that EPA Chairman Dr Paul Vogel even admitted “that turbidity from dredging, oil spills, industrial discharges, noise, light and vessel strikes could adversely affect whales, dolphins, turtles, dugong and fish. Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett is pushing ahead with gas factories at James Price Point, just north of Broome, on one of the world’s most unspoiled coastlines, even though whale deaths are inevitable.”

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Kimberly gas hub sparks nationwide protests

The dream of Western Australia to transform Broome into a dazzling New Dubai faces no paved road. The multi-billion Woodside Petroleum’s gas hub has ignited intermittent tensions between local residents and the police.

Premiere Barnett dispatches police to support Woodside, Shell, Chevron, BP, BHP-Billiton, Mitsubishi and Matsui on the road to James Price Point. (Photo: Damian Kelly)

The State Government dispatched a strong 140-200 police to James Price Point this week alerting  Green activists nationwide to join forces with Broome residents in opposing the $40 billion gas deal. Local residents say the sight of police presence has become too scary. Others call it a State Government’s “bullying”.

Whether there is a government-business collusion in return for a huge kickback, it is yet to be known. One thing is evident though– West Australian Premier Colin Barnett denied he ordered the police dispatch. He said it was the “operational decision” made by Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan.

Protest camp spokeswoman Vivienne O’Shea describes it as “unnecessary” adding that it the State Government is “spending such a colossal amount of taxpayer money to basically frighten the Broome community.”

Broome residents are against gas on Mothers’ Day (Photo:Glen Klatovsky)

Wilderness Society Kimberley campaign manager Glen Klatovsky said it was a waste of police resources and taxpayer money to send police “to crush the Broome community” which had already been traumatised by last year’s heavy-handed use of police and Woodside’s own private security force.

Today, Tasmania has also joined the action. Led by the Huon Valley Environmental Center and The Last Stand, a vigil at Pier 1 of Macquarie Wharf, Salamanca from 5 pm was held as a gesture of support to Broome residents. Video on Kimberly is likewise featured.

In a press release, Jenny Weber, a spokesperson of the HVEC said Tasmania is joining other citizens from other cities across the nation including Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, to support the people of Broome in their fight to protect one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Ula Majewski of The Last Stand also said, “Tonight, the people of southern Tasmania will be standing strong in spirit with this inspiring community in the far north west of the country. We are demonstrating our absolute support for these outstanding citizens who are taking a stand for the Kimberley, one of our most ecologically and spiritually significant landscapes.”

One of the idyllic beaches of Kimberly (Photo:ACF)

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the Kimberley is too precious to lose with its rich mineral deposits along with its historical and cultural value.

ACF believes the proposed location of the Browse Basin gas hub at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula will have a significant environmental impact. The peninsula’s western intertidal zone has been included under National Heritage in recognition of its extensive dinosaur trackways, but it remains in threat by the development of the gas hub.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Australia’s largest living treasure at risk

Forgive the few seconds of ad. This is the most spectacular video shot I have ever found on Australia’s largest living structure– the Great Barrier Reef– which spans more than 1,200 miles (2,000 km) of islands and submerged reefs.

It is a massive water kingdom containing thousands of marine species. It became a national park in 1975 and after six years, it was named as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. About 33 percent of the area is banned from fishing.

But this heritage site has been at risk — not with natural causes such as climate change but threatened by man-made disaster. Gas exploration and dedging on the sea floor has been going on.

A team from the UNESCO has embarked on a mission to Australia this week to re-assess the outstanding value of the Great Barrier Reef.

Stay tuned for more updates!