Traditional Owners protest against Whitehaven Coal’s “desecration” of sacred sites

Gomeroi Elders and Traditional Owners are holding a peaceful protest at Gunnedah today as they continue to fight against what they say is the destruction of sacred sites by Whitehaven Coal.

The group has called on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members of the community to join them at Red Chief Memorial for a “buwa buudhaa wuyugil” sacred ceremony, called by the community to “heal the recent desecration of burials and sacred sites”.

Gomeroi man Stephen Talbott says Maules Creek mine would see more than 4000 acres of "culturally significant forest, artefacts and cultural values" cleared and said it has not been properly assessed.

Speaking to Australian Mining, Talbott said the action was not about stopping the mine’s development, but rather to ensure sacred cultural areas are not destroyed.

He said some elders felt disrespected by Whitehaven.

“Calling elders a minority is just disrespectful,” Talbott said.

“We just want to protect what needs to be protected, but it seems as though Whitehaven is being protected.”

The Traditional Owners have written to Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt on more than two occasions asking for an immediate halt on the project’s work under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Heritage (Interim Protection) Act 1984 to prevent the potential desecration of burial sites.

Seeking the minister’s urgent intervention, elders say they have provided detailed documentation in relation to the areas of concern but say they have been largely “ignored and silenced by bureaucracy”, and instead of being granted an investigation to address their concerns, received a letter informing them to “work constructively with Whitehaven”.

Talbott said while the company is employing Indigenous representatives at the site, they were not elders from the local area, and this in itself had a caused a rift within the Indigenous community.

“Once these sited are destroyed you can’t get them back,” he said.

“But because we’re asking them to do the right thing we get excluded.”

Meanwhile, protests have continued at the Maules Creek site where the start of the mine’s construction has been met with direct activism by environmentalist groups.

People against the development of the mine have chained themselves to bulldozers and excavators, while a woman who had chained herself to a tree this week was treated in hospital after being cut free.

More than 10 people have been arrested since the action begun.

Activists say if the mine goes ahead it will destroy the Leard State Forest, affect water and force farmers off their land.

“We’ll be continuing to take action and remain in the forest until we can protect it,” a spokesperson for Front Line Action on Coal said.

Having lost a court case which would have prevented the $767 million project from going ahead, the group says it will continue its fight against the project.

“We have exhausted every legal and political avenue to make our voices heard. Whitehaven’s mine will destroy our community and our livelihood. We’ve seen this happen in mining areas all over the country – eventually the farmers will be forced to move out. My family has lived here for generations: we are prepared to fight for this place,” a local farmer said.

Whitehaven has said it had “worked incredibly hard with all Registered Aboriginal Parties to ensure sites of cultural significance are respected and preserved.”

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