Statement From Gomeroi Elders

Gomeroi culture and heritage pays the price for bungling and cultural management failure. Gomeroi people implore Minister Hunt to declare an emergency stay of works to protect and investigate Whitehaven’s actions.

Outrage, insult, disrespect and shock poorly describe the feelings of Gomeroi Elders and community regarding Whitehaven Maules Creeks mining actions. We are angry that they try to marginalise and disparage our concerns and rights to protect ancestral burials and sacred sites on the basis of perceived Teflon coated approval and apparent community manipulation.

Our Elders and Gomeroi Traditional peoples should be shown more respect. Whitehaven infers that we are a minority – this is extremely malicious as it is an attempt of a mining company to misrepresent the truth. Yes we agree that they have some Gomeroi and other Aboriginal people who have signed off to say that the salvage program*stage one, has been completed and the bulldozers can move in.

What they fail to say is that our Elders and community – well over 70 people directly and many more others hold concerns about what is happening and so many of us signed the s9 and s10 ATSIHP Act application and stay of works appeals at both State and Commonwealth levels.

We appreciate that Senator Moore recently spoke out on ABC radio about this unethical tactic saying:

“ It’s not enough for a mining company to say it has the support of a majority of traditional owners if no one knows who’s involved. “That is the best way to create more division and more anger if a company can say, ‘We had the majority and that ends the discussion,'” she said. Senator Moore’s enquiry hits the nail on the head-­‐ “Exactly who are the majority? A majority of what? What constitutes the group? And who, indeed, are the authorised elders who can speak for that community and there does seem  to be some confusion and some concern about that.”

The question not asked is why is there a divided community? And what part have Whitehaven played in deepening this? One aspect is this-­‐The poverty levels in our community are well documented and no one would disagree that Aboriginal people should be paid to work with mines in the work undertaken to protect culture and heritage.

However, what Whitehaven fails to say is that they are paying Aboriginal people at least $600 a day to be part of a stage two process and are on roster for this stage subject to agreeing to sign off on areas of concern to enable the bulldozers to move in. It is on this basis that stage one salvage has been completed and they have sign off. The archaeological management of this process is in dispute and we are yet to have this matter resolved-­‐ however due to the bulldozers the dispute resolution which should have been afforded to us has failed by  Whitehaven’s earthworks clearances-­‐ we are angry that areas under formal dispute can be bulldozed with such disregard. This is hardly the intent of Corporations contributing to Close the Gap economic initiatives and wellbeing for communities and hardly the intent of the approval which has conditions associated with Whitehaven’s  obligations under Aboriginal cultural heritage.

We do not want the Whitehaven’s behaviour to be made into an internal community struggle to take the attention off them resulting in our culture and heritage being further destroyed. We acknowledge the hardships in our community and what economic improvements mean for families…..it’s just that this becomes when manipulated by  companies  at  the  cost  our  culture  and  heritage  and  for  some  in  our  community-­‐  the  hardships  in  our community should not be used and taken advantage of by companies like Whitehaven.

What Whitehaven fail to tell the public is that they have had repeatedly in writing from our Elders and community who are concerned about our burial sites and cultural and spiritual places of importance -­‐requests for our Elders and concerned Gomeroi people to attend the Whitehaven mine site voluntarily in order to undertake ceremony and try and protect or salvage sites and cultural materials which will be destroyed by Whitehaven mining. What they fail to tell the public is that our concerns are so great that over 20 of our more experienced people including Elders have asked and were prepared to go to work and salvage as much of our culture and heritage within the rail corroder voluntarily -­‐ forgoing $600 a day in order to protect and save what we can as  protection and salvage before the bulldozers went in.

Our requests were ignored……. dozers went in last weekend – 11 and 12 January 2014.

On Monday 13 January, our Elders and some Gomeroi members of community tried to go the entrance of Whitehaven’s mine to undertake ceremony for the desecration of our ancestor’s burials and destruction of our women’s area. We were shocked that we were denied access down a public road by Police stating that if we went any further we would need a Whitehaven escort. When one of our respected Elders Uncle Dick Talbott asked Brian Cole Whitehaven manager for access -­‐ he denied With Mr Cole saying “There is nothing down there for you.” The Police then threatened to arrest our Elders and members of the community if we went down any further from the blockade on the public road. What right does Whitehaven have to deny Traditional People access along a public road? What right does Whitehaven have to deny Traditional people the rights to ceremonial and religious practices on public lands?– These repeated denials of rights, requests and our concerns have been belittled and ignored by Whitehaven and trivialised by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure. We have been  excluded from participating because we are considered to be activists or argumentative or problematic and unconstructive and a minority voice. Yes we are angry and yes we have stood up and will continue to stand  up to what we have experienced as Corporate bullying and standover disempowering tactics when it affects our culture and heritage.

 

We ask Ministers, government officers and Whitehaven-­‐ why would our Elders who include some quite frail and unwell and why Gomeroi community members at risk of being excluded from economic benefits from  working with Whitehaven would stand so firm and be subjected to such insults and disrespect and  marginalisation if the areas and our ancestors burials were not so important to us? No one in their right  mind would willingly be subjected to the pain and insult Whitehaven have demonstrated unless we had no other choice. It was not and has never been about the Charlie (money).

 

We are deeply concerned that Whitehaven with Mr Vaile a former Deputy Prime minister of Australia as a director fails to respect and demonstrate processes which acknowledge the rights of Aboriginal people -­‐the oldest  living culture on the planet -­‐and even if this is too difficult to grasp-­‐ cannot even recognise one of the few  freedoms guaranteed by the Australian Constitution – the fundamental right of every person to enjoy their culture, heritage, religion and language, both individually and in association with others and the right to freely exercise our religion and rights to protect our culture and heritage.

 

If Mr Vaile with his experience, as a director of Whitehaven cannot lead and advise Whitehaven to operate ethically and respectfully – what hope do we have with any other foreign owned mining and gas company aiming to also destroy vast tracts of lands and waters which impact our culture and heritage? We fear for the protection and recognition of our culture and heritage and rights to protect and practice our religious spiritual lores.

 

We fear that we as Gomeroi people cannot receive justice or a fair treatment in Australia due to failed leadership and administrative mismanagement. Prime Minister Abbott says he is going to take definitive action against “red” and “green” tape to create efficiencies for businesses but what is he and his government going to do about taking definitive action for “cultural” tape to ensure our culture and heritage and our religious rights for ceremony is protected and corporations operate ethically?

 

The silence and inaction of Prime Minister Abbott and Premier O’Farrells governments is confusing and mystifying. The impact of inaction would not be so devastating for us if it didn’t result in the desecration of our ancestral burials and places so important to us. We believe the whole matter needs investigating and needs to be investigated urgently before it’s too late.

 

Our Elders and concerned Gomeroi people have not heard from Federal Minister Hunt nor State MP Hazzard which is extremely upsetting. The reason why we have taken our concerns to the media is because – our elected decision makers and their staff and Whitehaven are not listening.

 

We ask Minister Hunt to declare an emergency section 9 temporary protection stay of works until these matters and our section 10 application can be appropriately determined before it’s all too late.

 

We will be having a series of spiritual ceremonies and rolling range of protests which is building momentum until this matter is addressed.   Our message is simple-­‐ we will not be going away and we will not be silenced.   An upcoming event is being held on Friday 24 January in Gunnedah and an invitation and details will be  forwarded shortly.

 

Contact Dolly Talbott on behalf of the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians-­‐ Elders and community in Gunnedah   0413 131 983

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