Tag Archives: Paddy Roe

West Side Story – Kimberley Under Threat.

The following is taken from my colleague’s article published in The Big Issue magazine (Edition #426). Read the unedited version below.

West Side Story

With a state election looming in Western Australia on 9 March, Charlie Sublet travels to an area of The Kimberley that is under threat from a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas processing plant.

 This article contains references to Indigenous Australians who have died.

It’s 6am and I’m sitting on the dunes overlooking the vast Indian Ocean as it continues its ceaseless roll to shore. Morrning Glory, a wild vine with medicinal properties winds across the earth. Jagged rocks, burning amber under the rising sun, litter the beach. Welcome to Walmadan, an ancient and special place lined up for imminent destruction.

The Cliffs at Walmadan (James Price Point)

The Cliffs at Walmadan (James Price Point)

Walmadan (aka James Price Point) is a sacred Aboriginal area on Australia’s north-west coast, 50km north of Broome. It makes up part of the vast and pristine Kimberley region, one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. Named after the warrior, Walmadany, who fiercely protected his people against invaders, Walmadan is home to the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr Aboriginal peoples, the area’s traditional custodians. It sits on a songline – a continuous source of spiritual, cultural and physical sustenance.

Sixty-three days living in a van and 8460 km via a rambling route from Melbourne leave me here in this critically endangered place. I came because I had to, struck by a profound realisation that left me sleepless for five nights. The realisation was more ‘felt’ than rational, what some aboriginal people refer to as ‘lian’ (gut feeling). And perhaps it also reflected their belief that one’s relationship to the earth is reciprocal.

There is, however, a proposal by WA Premier Colin Barnett to build Browse LNG, the world’s largest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) processing plant, which will destroy this songline and affect the entire Kimberley region. The plant (a joint venture involving, among others, Shell, BP and PetroChina) would cover approximately 25 square kilometres, require dredging of 34 million tonnes of seabed in a humpback whale calving area, involve 8000 workers and increase the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. It will tear apart the environmental, cultural, and social fabric of the region. Even so, Barnett has described the plant as simply “a giant refrigerator” (Q&A, ABC TV, 5 Nov 2012) and he has made his long-term intentions clear: the Kimberley will become the state’s mining hub for the next 50 years.

The Kimberley Metals Group Loading Yard at Wyndham. Inappropriately set in a sensitive mangrove and mudflat ecosystem.

The Kimberley Metals Group Loading Yard at Wyndham. Inappropriately set in a sensitive mangrove and mudflat ecosystem.

A recent New York Times article listed the Kimberley as one of the world’s top destinations, while also noting the grave threat from mining. If this proposal is passed, the resulting port will provide a massive incentive to mining corporations to enter the region. In the past decade there has already been a 500% increase in mining applications here.

This is a matter of international significance, like the ‘No Dams’ Franklin campaign of the 80’s which fortunately resulted in that hidden gem being saved and listed as a United Nations World Heritage Area.

The Kimberley is extremely rich in environmental and cultural elements, including geological wonders such as the Bungle Bungle, wild rivers, rainforests, pristine coastline, extensive rock art and incredible wildlife. In the northern Kimberley, unlike anywhere else in Australia, there are no recorded mammal extinctions, and new species of flora and fauna are continually being discovered.

The Kimberley’s beauty and significance go way beyond the visual and verbal. It is profound. It contains a space that enables one to fully relax and to experience a connection to something far, far greater than any of us. There exists a deep sense of belonging and calm in its wildness.

South Central Kimberley

South Central Kimberley

Twenty-five years ago, Aboriginal elder Paddy Roe created the 82 km Lurujarri Heritage Trail, which runs through Walmadan. It was Roe’s vision to share his culture and heritage with non-Aboriginals to foster understanding and reconciliation. Thousands of people have since walked this trail. Roe, now deceased, received an Order of Australia Medal, yet his legacy and many of his ancestors’ graves are at serious risk of being desecrated. Woodside were recently given approval to “excavate, destroy, damage, conceal or in any way alter” the area despite it being recognised under the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Imagine a similar activity at sacred graves of Anglo-Australians – war hero Weary Dunlop, perhaps, or sporting legend Don Bradman. It wouldn’t happen.

If the project goes ahead, the trail, Walmadan and the songline will be destroyed. A songline is a continuous living cycle that cannot exist in divided physical parts. 40,000 – 60000 years of sustainable and ongoing existence, and millions of years of environmental creation, would be destroyed for Barnett’s grand FIFTY-YEAR VISION – to see The Kimberley region become the industrial backbone of WA.

Camping at Walmadan for a week, I discovered it is not the “unremarkable piece of coastline” that Barnett claims it to be. His description stinks of cynicism and ignorance. He’s trying to pull the wool over the Australian public’s collective eye by exploiting the fact that the area is relatively unknown due to its remote location. It is reminiscent of the past Tasmanian Premier, Robin Grey, who described The Franklin River as a “leech-ridden ditch”. NB. Post his political career, Grey became director of Gunns Ltd (famous for wood-chipping Tasmania’s old-growth forests).

Walmadan is overflowing with life and culture. I encountered white-bellied sea eagles, goannas, snakes, petrified trees, infant coral reefs, dinosaur footprints, and a plethora of intertidal sea-life. I walked with traditional owner and law boss Phillip Roe (grandson of Paddy), who pointed out remnant grinding stones, axe heads, red ochre, sea turtle bones, human bones, ancestral graves, middens, and numerous plants providing bush tucker and medicine that helped sustain the world’s oldest living culture for aeons. The environmental and cultural wealth at Walmadan is anything but unremarkable.

Remnant Stone Axehead. Walmadan

Remnant Stone Axehead. Walmadan

There are two alternative options that would save the environment, culture, community AND money. A Citigroup analysis stated it would be $15 billion cheaper to pipe the gas to existing infrastructure in the Pilbara. And the option of offshore processing on a floating LNG plant would save $9 billion. Yet Premier Barnett continues to demand that it go ahead at Walmadan and is now actively campaigning against the floating facility. There is a seeping stench of an unrestrained ego desperate to be remembered for industrialising The Kimberley.

In addition to these issues, there exists a growing list of unethical and possibly illegal practices. Of major concern is the action taken by the WA Environment Protection Authority to change a regulation to enable the EPA Board to make decisions even if only one board member is eligible. When Woodside’s proposal was then submitted, four of the five board members withdrew due to conflicts of interest, and the one remaining member approved the proposal last July. Traditional owner Richard Hunter and the Wilderness Society of WA are challenging this in the courts.

With the state election approaching, the main parties have detailed their positions: Barnett’s Liberal Party is steadfast in his mission; Labor wants Walmadan to be the development site but is willing for the gas to be piped to the Pilbara; the Greens are the only party entirely opposed to the Walmadan option. Woodside is obliged to make a final decision by 30 June.

Walmadany the Warrior once protected his people and the songline. Now it is up to the people of Waldaman, and beyond, to safeguard the Kimberley from the exploitative hand of new invaders.

Lightning Strikes, Cambridge Gulf, Wyndham

Lightning Strikes, Cambridge Gulf, Wyndham

Charlie Sublet, photographer and writer, is a regular contributor to The Big Issue. For more of Charlie’s work, and for information, visit charliesublet.com, environskimberley.org.au, broomenogas.org and goolarabooloo.org.au.

While concerned by some significant editorial changes, the author is grateful to The Big Issue for publishing this piece at such short notice. Charlie Sublet has always chosen to supply his images and text to The Big Issue instead of any other magazines/newspapers because of The Big Issue‘s focus on social issues and its relative lack of offensive commercial advertising which can be found all through most magazines, newspapers, TV and radio stations.

Images and Text, Copyright Charlie Sublet and Hunter G, 2013

In Your Bones – Paddy Roe

“We don’t go to what is in our bones – that feeling. In order to experience this, we have to walk the land. Then we wake up to feeling, what we call ‘le-an’. We become more alive, we start feeling, we become more sensitive. And that’s the time you start to experience, when the land pulls you and takes over.”

Paddy Roe – Goolarabooloo Elder, Law Boss, Traditional Custodian, OAM, – the man whose vision it was to create the Lurujarri Heritage Trail, an 82 km trail following part of a Songline along the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, Western Australia. Paddy’s aim was to share aboriginal knowledge, bring two very different cultures closer together and to get young aboriginal kids back ‘out bush’ to reconnect.

nb. ‘le-an’ can roughly be translated as ‘gut-feeling’ – exactly what brought me here from the other corner of this vast country. No logic, no reasoning, just profound le-an that stayed with me for five sleepless nights and days – during which time I felt intensely alive and deeply ‘connected’… to The Kimberley specifically, but also to everything and nothing.

Aboriginal Flag, Walmadan

Aboriginal Flag, Walmadan

Law Boss, Phillip Roe leads an anthopologist, marine biologist and protectors through the Dunes at Walmadan.

Law Boss, Phillip Roe leads an anthropologist, marine biologist and protectors through the Dunes at Walmadan.

Turtle Shell, Walmadan Dunes.

Turtle Shell, Walmadan Dunes.

Traditional Custodian and Law Boss, Phillip Roe (Paddy's Grandson) walking in Country

Traditional Custodian and Law Boss, Phillip Roe (Paddy’s Grandson) walking in Country

I am currently at Walmadan (James Price Point), one of the ‘stops’ on the Lurujarri Heritage Trail, about 50 km north of Broome. It is here, atop a Songline and sacred sites (including burial grounds), that Colin Barnett (WA Premier) and a joint venture led by Woodside Petroleum, want to build the world’s biggest Liquefied Natural Gas Processing Plant.

Walmadan and Distant Storm Cloud at Dusk

Walmadan and Distant Storm Cloud at Dusk

The Cliffs at Walmadan (James Price Point)

The Cliffs at Walmadan (James Price Point)

The proposed plant would initially cover approximately 2500 hectares (approximately 21 times the size of Melbourne’s CBD), require dredging of 34 million tonnes of reef and seabed in a humpback whale calving area, involve 8000 workers and increase the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. But the overall amount of land ‘acquired’ by Woodside is apparently approximately 100 000 hectares (plenty of room for expansion as time goes by).

IF it goes ahead, it will destroy the songline, Walmadan and the Lurujarri Trail. It will tear apart the social, cultural and environmental fabric of the immediate surroundings. And in a short time (perhaps three decades) it’s flow on effects will devastate the entire Kimberley region.

Enough said. Save The Kimberley. Please.

Hunter G, reporting from Walmadan (named after the Aboriginal warrior, Walmadany).

nb. for a more detailed overview, keep your eyes out for the story by writer/photographer, Charlie Sublet, in the upcoming edition of The Big Issue magazine. Available at all good street corners in capital cities (and Broome!!) around Australia from approximately Feb 21.

Images and Text Copyright Hunter G, 2013 and available for sale (FREE for not-for-profit activities – so spread the word widely – just include a link to this blog). All profits from sales will be re-invested in Save The Kimberley activities.

Background Info and Ways to Help:

The Goolarabooloo People, Paddy Roe Story and Lurujarri Trail

Broome Community’s ‘No Gas’ Website

Environs Kimberley

Wilderness Society’s Kimberley Link