Goolarabooloo law bosses lift the ante in battle with Woodside over gas hub

Gerry Georgatos - Story
Damien Kelly - Photo - Goolarabooloo Law Bosses, Phillip Roe and Richard Hunter with Eric Hunter in traditional pelican head dress - the pelican is the head dress of their particular Goolarabooloo group and symbolic of Walmandan (James Price Point) country.

Traditional custodians, Goolarabooloo Law Bosses Phillip Roe and Richard Hunter have responded to State Government authorisation of sacred site trespass with anger and the will to fight them in the Courts and at Walmandan in standing their ground. Last week Department of Indigenous Affairs Chief Heritage Officer Aaron Raynor said that the State Minister for Indigenous Affairs Peter Collier authorised Woodside access and the right to commence work on sacred sites as part of its exploration and assessment at the controversial James Price Point proposed gas hub site.

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Mr Roe said Goolarabooloo Law Bosses had not been forewarned of the Government’s decision and learned of it from the news media.

“This shows an outrageous disregard for the profound impacts of such a decision on our proven and substantial culture and heritage. This decision is an insulting joke,” said Mr Roe from his home on the Kimberley coast near Walmandan.

Mr Roe called on WA’s “alternative Premier”, Labor leader Mark McGowan to declare his commitment “to better protect Indigenous heritage and culture.” The State election is looming - March 9. He has also called upon federal environment minister, Tony Burke, to intervene under the Federal Aboriginal Heritage Review.

“Why do we have to hear on the radio that Woodside has been given permission to destroy our Country, Law and Culture . It’s not right” said Mr Roe.

“The evidence from our old people and from us about this Country is clear and has just been ignored. So has the decision in 1991 about the exact same area of land by the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC ) with the help of the Kimberley Land Council to stop this kind of disturbance.”

“All that has changed since 1991 is that the Government is now hell bent on putting the gas hub here. They are trying to rewrite the history of this Country and of the Government’s own decisions.”.

“My Grandfather Lulu opened up this special area for all people, everyone as an important part of reconciliation and to preserve our Culture and Living Heritage. How can anyone agree to the destruction of another person’s culture?”

“Furthermore, the people likely to be entrusted with the job of overseeing these works by Woodside are Traditional owners but they are not cultural custodians deeply versed in the stories and sites of the country.”

“Myself, Joseph Roe and Richard Hunter – none of us have been asked to assist but we are the senior law men for the site.”

Mr Roe spoke to the National Indigenous Times of the historical significance of the region and the dunes system, including the song lines. “The dune system is called Lurajarri, and the red cliff system is Yarnijarri Lurujarri. The entire coastal area is the integral part of the song cycle.”

“Walmandan, Inballal, Kundundu, Muurjal are important song cycle locations. Walmandan is situated at the highest dunes at the southern end of Yarnijarri. This has always been a large camping area with fresh water we call Jilla.”

“The entire Lurujarri has many different seasonal camping grounds through the six seasons.” He explained there are different camping places during Bargana (cold time) within the proposed gas hub precinct and during Mangala (hot time) camping places are on top of the dune system.

“Close to the camping places are the burial sites which are spread out along the entire Lurujarri dune system,” said Mr Roe.

“At Walmandan there is a recorded massacre site and burial ground. There is a great presence of the spirit world known as Rayi and who inhabit the song cycle… These Rayi are a fundamental part of our culture,” he said.

Another massacre is looming in the gas hub. “The destruction of this system will destroy the Law and Culture of the Goolarabooloo people.” He said the dune system and the cultural trails are vital to the lifestyles of the Goolarabooloo.

Woodside is pressing ahead with measures that on the surface indicate that the gas hub venture may get the official nod come May. One of the Woodside led venture contractors, Decmil Group (in partnership with Nyimarr) has applied for approvals to build a massive camp, Skuthorpe Accommodation Camp near Broome for 857 transient workers. A building application has been lodged with the Shire of Broome.

For quite some time insiders have been quoted that the gas hub precinct may not occur and instead an offshore gas plant would be more likely. The insiders were correct that Chevron would pull out of the venture however this latest building application indicates Woodside and its venture partners may have changed their minds.

“The camp will minimise the use of established tourist accommodation during the Broome’s tourist peak season,” said a Woodside spokeswoman. However Woodside said that the camp intended for up to 5 years is subject to a final investment decision on the LNG development.

“Should the proposed Browse LNG development proceed there will be a requirement for an accommodation facility to house the initial workforce needed to undertake works at the State Government’s LNG precinct, including the construction of Woodside’s main workers’ accommodation village,” said the Woodside spokeswoman.

WA Greens member for Mining and Aboriginal Affairs, Robin Chapple lashed out in response to the State Government’s recent go ahead for what he said is Aboriginal site destruction by the Woodside-led venture partners.

“The Section 18 approval of ground disturbing works flies in the face of previous recommendations and Court decisions not to allow mining in the area due to its cultural and environmental significance,” said Mr Chapple.

“I am appalled at the ACMC’s recommendations to permit the works to go ahead. In 1991, the ACMC recommended that no exploration activity should occur in the areas defined at the song cycle path and nothing has occurred to diminish this significance.”

“The ACMC is a toothless tiger that consistently fails to protect sites, and the Aboriginal Affairs Minister (Peter Collier) should be ashamed.” He said the Aboriginal Heritage Act is only “a thin veneer of protection” further weakened since a review last year.

The Law Bosses Mr Roe and Mr Hunter have separate legal fights in the Courts to protect their Country. Mr Hunter is arguing inadequate environmental approvals which if upheld would mean the whole Environmental Protection Authority approval process would have to start from scratch. If Mr Roe’s court battle is won by him then there may well arise the cause for the Native Title claim to the site to be heard before any works commence.

A Woodside spokeswoman said that they could not comment on matters before the Courts. “Woodside is working closely with Traditional Owners to identify and carefully manage Aboriginal culture and heritage at the site.”

“Comprehensive ethnographic and archaeological surveys conducted by Traditional Owners have been completed to identify the location and nature of Aboriginal heritage sites.”

“Woodside welcomes the Minister’s approval under Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act to undertake a limited range of engineering and environmental studies in a small area south of James Price Point that is known to contain Indigenous heritage sites. In executing this work Woodside will avoid sites where possible, or minimise any disturbance to them.” She said all activities in the area will be monitored by Traditional Owners.

However Mr Roe and Mr Hunter argue they are the bona fide Custodians, and the others are not.

The Goolarabooloo and Jabirr Jabirr peoples are increasingly divided and it has been complicated by the anger generated that many of them voted for the gas hub because of the compulsory acquisition threats by Premier Colin Barnett if they did not vote for it. Nearly 40 per cent voted against it, that is of those that voted.

However Jabirr Jabirr Elder Rita Augustine continues to support the gas hub proposal as a possible ticket out of abject poverty for many of her people who the State Government and mining companies will not otherwise assist despite her own concerns about what will happen to cultural sites. For a while Mrs Augustine wanted to remove herself as a named applicant to the region. “My hope is to see my grandchildren grow up in better conditions, better education, better housing, better health without all the (negative) social impacts we have today.”

“We might be able to do something about all these suicide cases.”

Insiders within Woodside and its venture partners, and one inside State Government, continue to confide to The National Indigenous Times that Premier Barnett’s dream of the gas hub precinct will not happen – and that many are arguing against it because they do not want the nation’s consciousness to have to witness the huge protests and confrontations that are guaranteed to eventuate if the May go-ahead is given, and which will “damage our reputations and make a mess of our good work in Aboriginal communities” – the whole social responsibility tag down the drain.



We all should support the Goolarabooloo, who are only trying to protect their own land from Barnhead and his greedy developer mates. What's the betting that if one of them owned the sun, and could charge for its heat, we'd already have sloar power all over the state!