Western Australia is one of the last remaining frontiers of the indigenous Australians. Land grabs over the years have pushed them to this territory and now even their ancestral graveyards have to go.
Western Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier granted Woodside Petroleum permission to start bulldozing Aboriginal heritage sites, including the sand dunes area at James Price Point, in order to give way to a $40 billion LNG project. Beneath the sand dunes are the remains and fossils of Aboriginal ancestors.
The company stopped working on the 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.
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, 60km 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)
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.
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.