Gomeroi elders pull no punches on Whitehaven coal

From Gomeroi Traditional Owners

Gomeroi people protest at Whitehaven Coal office

Gomeroi Traditional Owners will this morning hold a protest at the Whitehaven Coal office in Boggabri after what the Elders describe as Whitehaven’s failure to respect burial sites and allow them to salvage cultural heritage artefacts at the controversial Maules Creek coal mine project.

The Traditional Owners have written to Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt asking for an immediate stop work order under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Heritage (Interim Protection) Act 1984 to prevent the desecration of burial sites.

Traditional Owner, Dolly Talbot said, “Ancestors of mine are buried in this area. Whitehaven Coal won’t even allow our Elders and community to access our burial sites for ceremony and to collect cultural materials of importance. We are being treated with disrespect and contempt.

“We are not trying to stop the mine: we just want to protect our culture. But we will fight for it, and today’s protest will not be the last if our people cannot take care of these sites.”

The Traditional owners will be at the Boggabri office of Whitehaven Coal 121 Merton Street Boggabri at 10:30am on Friday 10 January 2014.

A full statement of the grievances of the Gomeroi people, and the damage being done to cultural heritage for the Maules Creek coal project is attached, and can be viewed here.

Further comment: Dolly Talbot: 0413131983

Whitehaven denies Elders and Gomeroi people’s rights to care for their ancestors burials and salvage cultural materials

Destruction of culture and heritage continues

Whitehaven Coal

Whitehaven Maules Creek Coal have had a rocky history with community challenges by local landholders, environmentalists and Aboriginal community. Their ongoing corporate response is concerning.

Their approach to undertaking works and their relationships with Aboriginal communities which respect Elders and traditional people has plummeted to an all-time low.

–  Elders and Aboriginal people are being denied access to sites and participation in decisions about their culture

–  Desecration of sites including burials and ignoring of Elders concerns are continuing.

We have been seeking State Minister urgent intervention and provided on more than two occasions now lengthy and detailed documentation in  relation to areas of potential breaches requesting urgent investigation.

To date our Elders and community are being ignored and silenced by buaeocracy receiving instead of a serious investigation to address our concerns – a letter informing us to “work constructively with Whitehaven.”

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plan is being implemented under the guidance of archaeologists UniQuest a branch of the University of Queensland.  We do not believe the management plan is being implemented adequately and as a result a formal dispute process has been requested by Elders and community to have an independent review of UniQuest practices and Whitehaven’s obligations under the management plan and conditions of approval.

Whitehaven Coal won’t even allow our Elders and community to access our burial sites for ceremony and to collect cultural materials of importance for us even though we have offered to do so at no cost to the company.  And we are told by government that we are not working constructively with Whitehaven despite our attempts to have these concerns addressed….


Communication has broken down completely with Whitehaven Coal with Brian Cole as their primary contact.

Despite our repeated approaches to Whitehaven the culture within the company we feel this does not allow for collaborative, respectful dialogue and joint decision making.

We are continually labelled marginalised and profiled as dysfunctional and aggressive…… yes we are angry, frustrated and sick with worry about our culture ….. but not without cause.

It would be easier to work with toxic waste…… at least you know its hazardous to the environment and to the wellbeing of people and it would be taken seriously and actions put into place to know deal with it….  The way we are treated now and the failure of  Whitehaven and the silence of government to protect and investigate our issues properly is a disgrace. We feel that we are treated with disrespect and contempt

We also ask -What role is Warren Mundine taking with Whitehaven CoalWhitehaven Coal engaged Warren Mundine to come into this community in August 2013 and was asked by our Elders and community to leave. Warren Mundine is indigenous affairs advisor to the Prime minister and needs to declare any conflicts of interest. Rumour has it that Warren Mundine has been back in our community- if this is the case- what role if any  is he taking with Whitehaven now?

Section 9 and 10 application lodged against Whitehaven

As a final resort Gomeroi Traditional Custodians on behalf of Gomeroi Elders and other Aboriginal families in the community are seeking Commonwealth government intervention to protect specific areas of importance.   A Section 9 immediate protection and section 10 permanent protection application under the ATSHIP Act has been lodged

We are still awaiting an outcome from the Federal Government to protect our sites and ancestors burials and we are calling for Environment Minister Greg Hunt to protect our places and sites of cultural importance in accordance with the ATSHIP Act. Vegetation clearance works have commenced and the impending impact and threat is imminent.

We stress that we are not seeking to stop the mine …we are only seeking to protect sacred and cultural areas which are very important to us as a people.

We remain concerned and fearful that political and government and corporate self-interests may impact on our community receiving justice and our burials and culture protected.

Boggabri Coal

Unfortunately the positive relationship our community has had with Boggabri Coal local representatives is now becoming affected by Idemitsu Australia Resources Pty Ltd and Whitehaven joint partnership interests influencing the cultural values and archaeological salvage program approach.

This week has been a particularly disheartening one with Boggabri Coal adopting stand over tactics and ignoring our concerns and our rights to have our cultural values recorded in a way in which we feel comfortable.  Instead we experienced a dominating and dictatorship role has been adopted

The relationship between our Elders and community and Boggabri Coal is now in crisis.  .

Our Elders and other Aboriginal parties within our community are particularly concerned that despite repeated requests for an urgent meeting with Boggabri Coal executives.- Boggabri Coal executives have chosen to ignore our requests nor address our concerns.

Unfortunately Boggabri Coal will now be receiving the brunt of this relationships breakdown and we as a people will take all measures available to us to have our culture and heritage protected and the dignity of our people and rights to share our knowledge appropriately respected.

A review of all of Boggabri Coals practices is currently being scrutinised in order to work through a more positive way forward.

We don’t want to be a community in conflict with mines but if Boggabri Coal do not change their approach and choose instead to adopt the practices of Whitehaven Coal then we will  have no other choice.

Boggabri Coal Executive have a serious immediate decision to make to avert deepening conflict.

If Boggabri Coal want a war on culture …….a war on culture is what they will get as fundamentally we need to protect our culture and heritage.  And will take all steps necessary to protect our ancestors’ footprints. We will have no other choice.

Our Elders, our rights and our culture need to be protected.    We have been here since millennium and are not going anywhere.

 Fears  of Government Failure and call for enquiry

We believe that the community needs to have greater confidence in our Ministers and government agencies who are supposed to protect culture and heritage not destroy it.

We also should be able to have the support of archaeologists to ensure our culture and heritage is protected.  Once it’s gone its gone forever.

We call for a broad-ranging inquiry into the management of coal and coal seam gas mining in NSW, after Mineral Resources Minister Chris Hartcher resigned from Cabinet in December 2013, following reports of an ICAC raid on his office.

We believe that Whitehaven should be one of the first companies to be ‘the first cab off the rank’ for enquiry.

We simply do not understand how their assessment met adequacy- we find burials. Women’s areas and sacred ceremonial materials within the mine site that were not identified and assessed.

AECOM undertook the assessment supported by Hansen Bailey- and here we are in 2014 in conflict with Whitehaven trying to save the important areas we have been concerned about since the project concept begun.  The assessment process is a farce-  we fear that the Department of Planning and Infrastructure and its Minister has simply  failed our people and continue to do so.

We also fear that The Office of Environment and Heritage and its Minister have also failed our people- their role is to advise Department of Planning about assessment adequacy- how can they justify adequacy and compliance against their own policies and Act?

We have tried:

–        raising our concerns,

–        protesting,

–        meeting with executive

–        meeting with government representatives

–        working with the company to try and get better outcomes….all to no avail.

We fear that the system and our government will fail us and we fear that they will fail our children and our culture. We have the oldest living culture on the planet!  Our ancestors are buried out at Maules Creek mine site and mining simply do not care.  We appeal to the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community for support to have our concerns seriously addressed

We have tried to use the system available to us and we fear that government will not apply their own policies and conditions of approval and protect that areas so important to us.

Additional information

The cultural destruction-Whitehaven fails Aboriginal people

Gomeroi Elders, concerned Aboriginal Traditional Owners and local Aboriginal people weep that sacred place including burial sites will be destroyed as a result of the approved Whitehaven Coal Maules Creek project.

In July 2013 Aboriginal parties walked off site because of concerns that cultural and spiritual sites and objects were not being appropriately protected and conserved.

Elders and others who have actively sought to protect sites and places of importance and challenged the failed management plan have been labelled ‘the difficult group, the problem group and the bad Black group” in an attempt to marginalise our voice, our concerns and our rights.

In recent weeks there has been continuing and escalating tensions and anxieties as the realisation of the intended areas of destruction have become obvious.  Elders are particularly shocked, upset and distressed at Whitehaven’s approach to consultation and feel disrespected and gagged from the archaeological and cultural program.

“We have been asking for access to specific sites of importance and Whitehaven appear to ignore our requests. We have asked to be able to undertake a cultural retrieval of materials important to us before they are to be destroyed even seeking to do this voluntarily and we have been ignored”.  Gomeroi Elders

“We have been trying to protect our sacred sites – our burials women’s sites and special places such as Lawlers well and Valyama.  The approved destruction of the Leard State forests our cultural resources the aquifers and plants and animals is a disgrace our culture is used and abused and treated as a worthless commodity. Our Elders and others in our community are devastated.” Gomeroi people

The State Government appear to have failed to protect places important to our people. They approved the project without understanding our cultural values. They appear to have failed their own policy to include values assessment which then places Mining and community in direct conflict.

The mine then aggressively impacts on our culture and heritage and divides our people- Aboriginal culture is the oldest culture on the planet. Gomeroi people especially our Elders deserve respect and our places and footprints of our ancestors should not be destroyed.

“We will fight generationally to save our places of importance” Gomeroi Traditional Owner

We fear that there is little to no accounting or public reporting of the cumulative impact of the destruction of Aboriginal heritage.  We fear that  our cultural landscape look like this image below and for some this is the landscape that will be our legacy to our children.

We refuse to let our lands and waters and our sacred sites be destroyed and become the landscape of Gomeroi Country.

The current approvals process is a disgrace and affords the Aboriginal community little to no scope of saving cultural places and objects of importance.  The system simply fails to protect and sacred sites and cultural objects are being destroyed.

It is also a disgrace- “the State Government have custodial obligations developed using their LAWS yet they approve the destruction and this results in a fail to protect … For mines it’s all about money not about the wellbeing of communities and the future for our children and our rights to protect important cultural and spiritual sites.“ Gomeroi Elders-

 “Our families and culture go back more than 40,0000 years, we have had to survive dispossession, practices to try and destroy our cultural and spiritual practices and rights to ceremony and cultural places of importance, the scarred experiences of the stolen generations, deaths in custody and lack of recognition for our men and women who died and fought for this country. We have also survived generational failed policies.” Gomeroi Elders

“For our people…..Not a lot has changed…. Corporates like Whitehaven are conducting cultural destruction under the disguise of policy and approvals. They are trying to legitimatise the destruction and desecration of our culture and heritage.” Gomeroi Elders and Traditional Owner community members.

“But we are not going anywhere and we will continue to fight for our rights, our culture, our ancestors and our children.

Our message is simple………….we are not going anywhere and our families we will continue to work towards having our concerns heard and taken seriously. “ Gomeroi Elders

“We want respect, we want our ceremonial rights protected and supported and we want to save specific sites important to us. We also want a positive relationship with government and corporations that is honest, transparent and respects our custodial rights and needs.  We also demand that our Elders are treated appropriately ……to date this is not the experience….” Gomeroi Elders

There has been recent desecration of our burial sites because we have been denied access to the area to conduct ceremony before ground penetrating radar is used.

We were told that we could only have two elder men and two elder females attend site. This is completely against our lores and customs. Our people should be able to attend and undertake cultural practices in accordance with out lores and customs and anyone in our community who feel they need to be there should be allowed to do so- we even sought to do so in a voluntary basis and have been ignored. Our ancestors’ burial site has been disturbed using western science as the excuse.  It’s just disgusting. its cultural genocide by a corporate culture that does not care.  Once it’s gone it’s gone forever………..Gomeroi Elders

Our Elders and members of our community will not give in. We will not turn a blind eye to our culture and heritage and dishonour our ancestors.  We will continue to seek protection of our ancestors and of our culture and heritage.

Whitehaven Coal Maules Creek project- is little more than the cultural destruction. Gomeroi Elders and Traditional Owner communities

“We may be old and some of us frail but we will fight the destruction of our culture and heritage  …What else can we do- they (Whitehaven and beaurocrasy) are not listening?  It’s not question of should we fight ……..it’s a matter that we have no other choice.” Gomeroi Elders

media information 09012014.docx



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