Hit the road 'brother' - Bruce Woodley, chairman of the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
By National Indigenous Times reporter Gerry Georgatos - courtesy of the National Indigenous Times - http://www.nit.com.au/news/2299-hit-the-road-twiggy.html - Wednesday 28, November 2012
In a suite of staggering admissions the Chairman of the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, Bruce Woodley, has confirmed allegations by Perth based lawyer Kerry Savas, to the National Indigenous Times on October 31, that the Wirlu-murra were a "quickly formed front" to enable the Fortescue Metals Group to circumvent negotiations with the federally prescribed Native Title body, the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, to secure mining rights on Yindjibarndi lands in the Pilbara worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
So incensed at the way he and his committee members have been treated and stage-managed by FMG operatives in negotiations to access their iron ore rich lands Mr Woodley has told the National Indigenous Times that he will take a public stand against FMG to unite his people and he will ask his Board to end what he said is FMG's hand in guiding litigation against their fellow Yindjibarndi.
I was welcomed by Mr Woodley, twice, while he is in Royal Perth Hospital for dialysis – he endures renal and liver failure – and for a broken collarbone and shoulder sustained in a fall – arriving from Roebourne with the Royal Flying Doctor. We spent 5 and half hours together. Mr Woodley is the uncle of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) Chief Executive Officer, Michael Woodley.
Our first interview, three hours long, took place last Friday morning however I felt it necessary because of the significance of the allegations and the reputations at stake that Mr Bruce Woodley should have the opportunity to read the story and be allowed to recant, to ask me to withdraw the story, or to make changes or stand by it. I was welcomed by him once again the next day where we spent another two half and hours together, and during this time I read out the story and we went through it item by item and quote by quote. Both meetings were witnessed by a lawyer.
As a result of exclusive interviews to the National Indigenous Times in recent weeks by Mr Savas, who represented the Wirlu-murra for 18 months, allegations of FMG trying to rig a land use deal have reverberated around the nation with major news programs running Mr Savas' claims and at every turn FMG's representatives rejecting them. However in what will surely be a shock to FMG, the highest ranking officer of the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, Mr Bruce Woodley, has supported the litany of allegations by Mr Savas.
Mr Bruce Woodley has laid bare as false claims by FMG it was not directly and actively involved in the formation of the Wirlu-murra breakaway group for the purpose of circumventing the legally constituted Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation so the mining company could obtain access to mining rights to the rich Yindjibarndi iron ore lands for a much lower price than the Yindjibarndi people had demanded.
In a series of damaging allegations against the conduct of FMG in its dealing with the Yindjibarndi people Mr Bruce Woodley has claimed many of the promises by FMG to the Wirlu-murra for initiatives such as employment and funds to improve housing conditions for the Wirlu-murra people have not happened.
The Wirlu-murra were told by a former FMG employee, Michael Gallagher, who now works for the Wirlu-murra to stop discussions with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation in trying to find a settlement between the two groups. The Wirlu-murra group was told by this same former FMG employee not to accept an invitation from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation to join in discussions with another mining company - Rio Tinto - for a Land Use Agreement worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to their Yindjibarndi people.
That agreement they chose not to attend on the advice of Gallagher is now reaching final stages of negotiation. Earlier this year the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation offered the Wirlu-murra as an act of goodwill, half of an advanced preliminary negotiation phase payment worth $1 million but again Gallagher told them not to accept. Mr Woodley said the Wirlu-murra group have been told not to enter into discussions with other mining groups because "it would upset Fortescue."
Much of Bruce Woodley's claims verify the claims made by the lawyer, Kerry Savas who has revealed over the last several weeks the actions of FMG in the creation of the Wirlu-murra organisation. Mr Woodley said he holds Mr Savas in high regard and maintains a close friendship with him from his time as their legal representative.
Mr Bruce Woodley confirmed there had been increasing dissent among some members of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation when years passed in their failing to secure a land use agreement with FMG while Yindjibarndis languished impoverished. He said FMG personnel organised one on one meetings with certain Yindjibarndi to discuss 'options'. "The meeting at the beach (Palm Beach on the Dampier on Saturday 28 August 2010) did happen. I was there, it was organised by FMG for us to form Wirlu-murra corporation. There was a great barbecue by Nina (White) and we agreed to start the new group and let FMG negotiate with us. FMG promised this but has given us nothing yet; very little, no education, training, jobs, no upgrades and no fixing of services. We don't want their handouts."
The Wirlu-murra website does refer to 16 Wirlu-murras who completed 'VTEC traineeships' from FMG and are now employed within FMG enterprises.
Mr Bruce Woodley said FMG controls the Wirlu-murra through Michael Gallagher. Mr Gallagher terminated his employment with Fortescue to undertake consultancy roles with the Wirlu-murra. Mr Savas who worked alongside Gallagher and lived with him for four months at a $2,000 a week rental paid by FMG at Port Samson, 18km from Roebourne said "Michael Gallagher is their 'inside man'." According to Mr Bruce Woodley, Mr Gallagher is now Wirlu-murra's 'Native Title Manager'. "I am frustrated by Michael (Gallagher) because he manipulates our Board. The Board has one agenda and Michael has another agenda, and Michael gets his way."
According to the Wirlu-murra website under 'Land Access Agreement with FMG' a Wirlu-murra "management team is negotiating a land access agreement with Fortescue Metals Group to provide the economic foundation for an extensive contracting and consultancy business. At the same time, the Board will begin the development of housing and community support programs. Our Directors are ensuring that our heritage is respected by conducting comprehensive heritage surveys at the FMG Solomon mine."
Mr Bruce Woodley spoke freely about his concerns.
"Earlier this year when we tried to make peace between Yindjibarndi people (YAC and Wirlu-murra) ... we met at the basketball courts without white fellas there but Bruce (Thomas) kept on driving by and calling out to us if we were alright and for the women to leave and come back," said Mr Bruce Woodley. Mr Thomas is the Wirlu-murra's Business Manager, a non-Aboriginal person.
"It is nearly two years since (FMG) promised us many things but we have no programs yet, we have no funds from Fortescue but only the money they pay the lawyers with," said Mr Bruce Woodley. Mr Savas has said that FMG has paid legal bills for the Wirlu-murra in excess of $1.5 million however the majority of Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi continue to live in poverty and many in dilapidated homes.
Mr Bruce Woodley said that FMG does pay sitting fees of a few hundred dollars for Wirlu-murra who attend various public meetings and events, and that the more senior Wirlu-murra Elders are paid 'Christmas money' of a few thousand dollars at the end of year however he said "We are not after handouts, we after the promises to help our people and our communities."
"Michael (Gallagher) stands in the way of all our ideas and opportunities. When a mining company that is not FMG comes to us, or we go to them, for a joint venture it doesn't matter how much they will pay ... Michael stops it."
"On my land I want to start an earthworks business, and my land is next to Solomon (FMG mine), Pannawonica and Rio Tinto (mines) but FMG has not done anything for me and my family and Michael (Gallagher) said I shouldn't do anything with Rio and Pannawonica. This is my land, my country and he should not tell me. I am the Elder of the land and my father is buried on this land."
Mr Woodley said that most of the Wirlu-murra were keen to bridge the divide between themselves and the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, however he said Mr Gallagher opposes this.
"Michael (Gallagher) manipulates some of our members and has a couple of them doing his miserable work arguing us down even if we are the majority of the Board in favour of a resolution or proposition."
"One of them (minority Board member) says to me, 'shut up old man and sit down'."
Mr Bruce Woodley said the Wirlu-murra approached Rio Tinto to negotiate mining rights with them however Rio Tinto representatives said that they could not do this and that they would only negotiate through the federally prescribed body which was and remains at this time YAC. However, they said that they wanted to see all Yindjibarndi peoples benefit from any land use agreement. YAC CEO Michael Woodley invited the Wirlu-murra to make up 50 per cent of the delegation to the Rio Tinto meetings. Bruce Woodley accepted and wanted to attend however he said Mr Gallagher forbade him from attending. "Michael (Gallagher) would not let us go, he said we shouldn't and that FMG would not be happy and no longer deal with us," said Mr Bruce Woodley.
Rio Tinto is settling on a $15 million advance payment to the YAC with $2 million already paid to the YAC. Michael Woodley offered half of the preliminary payment - $1 million to the Wirlu-murra. "It was the right thing to do," said Mr Michael Woodley.
"Yes, Michael offered us the $1 million, and FMG has given us nothing in all this time. I thought this was good from YAC and the money would help our people, so I agreed with Michael and for us to live and work in peace but Michael Gallagher he said 'no'," said Bruce Woodley.
The National Indigenous Times is in possession of a hand written letter from 'Uncle Bruce Woodley' to Michael Woodley in which Bruce Woodley writes that Mr Gallagher 'said no' to convening a meeting to settle the peace deal.
The YAC sent two letters to the Wirlu-murra pursuing 'peace' – and offering half the first payment with the condition that all court litigation ceases. The peace deal recognises the Wirlu-murra association. "Michael's deal was good for all of us. We are family and friends and community and I agreed." The YAC also offered that heritage work would be split between both groups. "There is great knowledge in the people on both sides, and YAC said the heritage and survey work could be split," said Mr Savas.
"But Michael (Gallagher) said 'no'. I think he wants us to stay poor, to have nothing, to need FMG," said Mr Bruce Woodley.
"FMG wants to keep us poor. They want us to need them all the time," he said while undergoing hours of dialysis.
"(Michael Gallagher) never explains the reasons why he doesn't let us have joint ventures with other companies, why we can't take the $1 million except that FMG would not be happy." The Wirlu-murra website under 'Joint Ventures and Contracting' reports "WMYAC has started discussions with several major mining contractors with a view to forming profitable joint venture agreements. Further details will be announced in the near future."
An Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) is being negotiated between YAC and Rio Tinto for mining rights on Yindjibarndi Country which includes uncapped rail tariffs and uncapped mining royalties which were stumbling blocks with Fortescue and YAC.
To put this into perspective, Michael Woodley, YAC CEO told the National Indigenous Times the difference in business dealings between the two mining giants: "The royalty from Rio for all iron mined is not capped and will be 0.5 per cent but FMG is offering only the $4 million per year capped for the life of all FMG mining projects. To understand this better, if for example Rio were mining FMG's Solomon at 60 million tonnes per year, then at $140 per tonne, the royalty at Rio's 0.5 per cent rate would be $42 million per year."
The Deputy Chairman of the Wirlu-murra Paul Aubrey has said that the Rio Tinto deal secured by Michael Woodley was a very good one for the Yindjibarndi. Bruce Woodley said it was impressive and better than anything that could be expected from Fortescue. "Michael (Woodley) showed that he can get a fair deal for our people from Rio Tinto but FMG say that they will not deal with Michael, maybe because they don't want to be fair to us."
Bruce Woodley is furious with "broken promises from Andrew Forrest". White goods sought for families with them have never eventuated – families continue without fridges and air-conditioning and irreparable stoves. "I wrote to Andrew Forrest, as chairman of Wirlu-murra and Alexa Morecombe (FMG Land Access Manager) got angry and told me I upset Andrew Forrest, and that he is a very important man, and I should not write to him again."
"I am not scared of him (Forrest), he is only a human like all of us, he is not different to you or me, he is not more important," said Mr Woodley.
"They have not revived our community as promised, they have not provided vehicles for us to get to our lands, they have not upgraded our school, they have done nothing for us but divide us," said Bruce Woodley.
The revelations are many but one interesting one was in reference to several sets of emailed questions from the National Indigenous Times intended for the Board of the Wirlu-murra and chairman Bruce Woodley. "I have never seen these, they haven't come to our Board," said Mr Bruce Woodley. A non-Aboriginal representative of the Wirlu-murra wrote to the National Indigenous Times that the questions were forwarded to the Board. The same representative returned a statement 'from the Wirlu-murra Board' and this was published in the National Indigenous Times. "I never saw this, I never wrote this and I never signed it," said Mr Bruce Woodley.
As it happened, and by sheer coincidence, Mr Gallagher visited Mr Woodley at hospital after our Friday interview. Mr Gallagher did not know about the interview. During the Saturday meeting between Mr Woodley and I, and with two others present, including a lawyer, Mr Woodley said he asked Mr Gallagher why he was not informed about the suite of questions and why a statement was sent to us purportedly from the Wirlu-murra Board. "He told me there wasn't a Board meeting and that they had to write it." During our Saturday meeting I showed Mr Woodley the statement from 'the Board' and he read it for the first time.
Mr Woodley, the senior most officer and traditional owner of the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation said he had known nothing of major news reports in our newspaper, nor in The Australian in recent weeks by journalist Paul Cleary, or of the ABC 7:30 Report coverage of Mr Savas' claims last Tuesday. He first learned of them from myself. He said Mr Gallagher and Mr Thomas had never made any contact with him about any of it despite him being the chair of the Board.
During the Saturday interview, and proofing of this story, Mr Woodley added, "It is time for our Board to take control of Wirlu-murra... No-one from Wirlu-murra, not me, no-one, goes to any negotiations with any company, just Mr Thomas (Business Manager)... I think Wirlu-murra should go to meetings, to negotiations about us... When I go back to Roebourne I will talk to the Board and I will stand up to Michael (Gallagher). I think it is time for him to move on – to hit the road Jack, FMG too."
"This is what I think."
The 60 year old Senior Elder said "It is time for us to make peace, to not fight in court, to not listen to the white fellas who divide us and who do not keep their promises. It is time for our heart to be one, our people together, and for our Board to stand up against FMG," said Mr Bruce Woodley (see letter this page).
After the Friday interview I relayed some of Bruce Woodley's comments to his nephew Michael Woodley, a usually larger than life figure, quite charismatic and stoic, however I noted that he choked back emotion when he said, "When you see my uncle in the morning Gerry, please tell him from me I love him and I look forward to his coming home soon."
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Bronwyn Herbert
Fortescue Metals Group has had its East Pilbara iron ore operations caught in disputes over conflicting information, conflicts of interest and the authority of traditional owners.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: One of Australia's richest iron ore miners, Andrew "Twiggy Forrest", is embroiled in a bitter dispute with local land owners over a multibillion dollar project in Western Australia's Pilbara region. Mr Forrest's company, Fortescue Metals Group, has long boasted of providing jobs, training and opportunities to Indigenous people. But now it's accused of exploiting divisions in Aboriginal communities, buying the support of traditional owners, and pressuring consultants to write favourable reports. Tonight, an insider who worked with Fortescue for more than a year gives his account of what went on. Bronwyn Herbert reports from Perth.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Bronwyn Herbert
The Chairman of a breakaway group of Pilbara land owners says Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group created and funding his organisation but he now feels frustrated and wants to see changes.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: A long-running Native Title dispute involving one of Australia's richest miners took a dramatic turn today.
After years of silence, the highest ranking officer of an Indigenous group has conceded the group was created and funded by Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group.
FMG stands accused of setting up the group in an attempt to secure a cheaper Native Title deal.
Bronwyn Herbert reports from Perth.
BRONWYN HERBERT, REPORTER: This man has been a big part of negotiations with Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest's company, FMG, to mine billions of dollars of iron ore. But he feels betrayed by the billionaire miner.
BRUCE WOODLEY, CHAIRMAN, WIRLU-MURRA ABORIGINAL CORPORATION: Andrew Forrest came to (inaudible) and said that - that he loved all Aboriginal people. He said that on 16th March. Ya know. Everyone took a bite at that and thought, "Oh, he's a good man here talking to us. He's gonna do - qualify our life up a bit, you know." But nothing has come forward yet.
Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) CEO Michael Woodley said peace with Fortescue Metals Groups is possible – he said peace is only a "fair deal away". He has been able to secure a "fair deal" with an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with Rio Tinto for his people.
Mr Woodley is prepared to negotiate with Fortescue despite the whistleblower claims by lawyer Kerry Savas of Fortescue...
The National Native Title Tribunal and West Australian State Government may be left with no option but to launch a full inquiry into Fortescue Metals Group's relationship with the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation following claims an...
Fortescue Metals Group has embarked upon a "war of attrition" using the legal system against the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and initiating 25 separate actions through the courts and tribunals of Australia and engaging seven firms of solicitors and seven barristers in a strategy designed to destroy the Yindjibarndi's ability to...
A lawyer who spent more than a year representing the interests of the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation has claimed the organisation was a "quickly formed front" to enable the Fortescue Metals Group to circumvent negotiations with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation to secure mining rights on Yindjibarndi lands in the Pilbara worth...
A lawyer who spent more than a year representing the interests of the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation has claimed the organisation was a "quickly formed front" to enable the Fortescue Metals Group to circumvent negotiations with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation to secure mining rights on Yindjibarndi lands in the Pilbara worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The allegations are serious and point to the multi-billion dollar mining conglomerate trying to use its almost limitless source of funds to create an alternate Aboriginal group that would comply with Fortescue's wishes because it would give them access to rich mining resources for a fraction of the cost they would normally be required to pay to an Aboriginal organisation for permission to mine on its land.
SBS Living Black Michelle Lovegrove interviews Gerry Georgatos on stark contrasts between Yindjibarndi poverty and the wealth nearby, and then Michelle continues on with an interview with Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Michael Woodley.