Mick Daley © 2015
Gomeroi traditional owner Mitchum Neave says he’s prepared to join the new Liverpool Plains Alliance in a blockade to stop the Shenhua Watermark mine in NSW. Traditional lands and a rich agricultural sector are soon to be obliterated if final approvals are granted by federal environment minister Greg Hunt for a 35km square open cut mine in the heart of the Liverpool Plains.
“I won’t speak for other people, but I’ll join a blockade,” Mitchum said, in disgust at federal government inaction over alleged breaches of Shenhua’s Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP).
The Gomeroi of Red Chief Local Aboriginal Land Council in Gunnedah say that Sections 9 and 10 of the CHMP have been siting on Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s desk for two years. They say that breaches of these two sections will clearly show that mining cannot commence on their traditional lands.
Yet Minister Hunt gave approval for the mine to proceed in June 2015, without consideration of the CHMP breaches.
“We’ve had a gutful of the destruction of our culture, we’ll rally together and march on Canberra,” said Mitchum.
Mitchum is a TO from the Breeza township, who was born and bred in nearby Gunnedah. He’s also a senior deputy captain in the Regional Fire Service. He had been a consultant to the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) when they ordered Shenhua to conduct cultural heritage surveys of the proposed mine site. The Liverpool Plains hide many relics as well as massacre sites, according to Mitchum. But the Grinding Grooves represent spiritual values unfathomable to white culture – not to mention their patent historical value.
“The grinding grooves are a war memorial site. I told them at the Planning Assessment Commission meeting, this is our Gallipoli site,” Mitchum explains.
“You wouldn’t like it if I went to your war memorial and destroyed it. I’d be locked up.”
In their CHRMP, Shenhua had recognized 55 Aboriginal archaeological sites, but determined that only 26 of them would be conserved. The grinding grooves, despite being identified as having high cultural value, would be moved.
“That’s just ridiculous,” snorts Mitchum. “You can’t move them. Some of those sites are the size of a double decker bus. There’s natural spring water runs through the sandstone. If you take it out of that wet environment it’ll dry out and disintegrate.
“I don’t care what rock doctor they get, as soon as they move it you can’t put it back together.”
The Grooves are deeply scored into clumps of sandstone rock. They were rallying points for Gomeroi warriors prior to white settlement. Strategically placed along the ridgeline above the plains facing south, they look out to where marauding bands of Wiradjuri or Casuli tribesmen – or for that matter white settlers would appear.
These were focal points for the Gomeroi culture – sacred space where life is so close to the veil, where death and the unknown come close to this world. Today they are the last hope for the survivors of the Gomeroi people as they seek to preserve their heritage and the land that is as dear to them as life itself.
But this close to final approvals, it seems that sections 9 and 10 of the CHMP will most certainly be ignored.
Sue Higginson, principal litigator for the Environmental Defender’s Office, is pursuing a case against Shenhua Watermark mine on behalf of a Landcare group protecting the large koala population there. But she says she has examined the Gomeroi people’s case and sees little hope for legal action on their behalf.
“Our cultural heritage laws are in bad shape. The tragedy is that there aren’t very many options when it comes to cultural heritage. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
It’s a sorry business indeed.
If Shenhua had conducted more thorough surveys of the sites, Mitchum says, they would have turned up hundreds of artifacts and sites.
Mitchum had accompanied their surveys as a consultant.
“When you do these surveys the transects are supposed to be done on foot. They done it in a four wheel drive, but the grass is three foot high – you can’t see anything.
“One of the criteria for their approvals here was they had to survey 17 percent of the country, but they only ended up doing two percent of it. But the mine people will just shop around till they find an archeologist who writes what they want.”
Like the other Gomeroi, Mitchum is utterly disillusioned with this process.
“I was told when I grew up, keep it to yourself. Two things the white man will do, they’ll sell it or destroy it.”
Fed up with following normal channels, the Gomeroi people have now joined the Liverpool Plains Alliance. It’s a group that’s uniting farmers, townspeople, Lock The Gate and environmental groups including The Wilderness Society and 350.org.
The Alliance is exerting considerable political pressure on both State and Federal governments. Legal actions are shortly to commence.
With the price of thermal coal plummeting and pressure mounting against extractive fossil fuel industries to curtail their global warming emissions, new coal mines are increasingly seen as very dangerous propositions.
Australia’s conservative state and federal governments are resisting mounting international pressure to dramatically reduce carbon output. Their determination to subsidise and promote coal over renewables has made this mine seem inevitable.
But if all else fails, the farmers of the Liverpool Plains and many members of the Alliance have pledged to blockade the mine site and refuse to allow construction to commence. Mitchum, Aunty Dolly Talbot and the Gomeroi elders are all for it. They’ve had enough of this sorry business.
“We don’t want to break the law, ‘cos they’ll paint you as the bad person, but we were trying to do the right thing and the government has failed us,” said Mitchum.
“It’s time now to stand up for our culture.”
The Liverpool Plains Alliance is holding an awareness and activist training weekend, the ‘Harvest Festival Against Shenhua’ on the Liverpool Plains, next to the proposed mine site, on November 6-8, 2015. See the Facebook site http://on.fb.me/1KzCizu for more details.