Coal Contradicts Community and Culture

Proving once again that Whitehaven Coal either know something that the rest of the world don’t or just have a ‘put trust in blind faith’ approach to business, the scandal plagued coal miner is expanding its production despite coal being at historically low prices.

In an interview on ABC last night, Whitehaven Coal CEO Paul Flynn acknowledged the ‘contradiction’ of growth in what renowned investment bank Goldman Sachs are describing as a structural decline in coal prices, but in a more surprising contradiction he claimed to have the support of many indigenous people – or at least those he is working with – despite the Gomeroi’s long, vocal opposition to the Maules Creek mine in the Leard State Forest.

When faced with cultural vandalism and even the destruction of burial grounds, the Gomeroi prosecuted a formidable campaign of legal challenges and political appeals to protect land, water and culture. Currently, the Gomeroi traditional custodians are demanding protection of one of the 38 sacred sites that be destroyed or irrevocably damaged by Whitehaven under section 9 and 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.

“We need Lawlers’ Well,” Gomeroi/Kamilaroi elder Uncle Neville Sampson said, “if we don’t teach the next generation, we are going to lose everything.”

Uncle Neville’s fear refers to ceremony and ritual that can only be performed at the Lawlers Well site located inside the project boundary of the Maules Creek mine in the Leard State Forest. The Gomeroi, after a long and bitter battle with Whitehaven were eventually granted access to the site to perform ceremony – possibly for a last time – earlier this year. Whitehaven attempted to play the Gomeroi off against environmentalists and farmers in a typical display of mining company strategy to divide and conquer communities.

Local voices were united in their call to stop the project before it began – as evidenced by the signing of a protection treaty between the Gomeroi and the farming community led alliance of groups and individuals who Flynn describes, once again contradictingly, as ‘not reflective of local voice.’ Whitehaven’s divide and conquer tactics have failed and the protection treaty between the Leard Forest Alliance and the Gomeroi stands still today.

One thing a majority of people in the local community can most certainly agree on is that agriculture just can’t afford to lose another drop of water to the mining industry – especially with El Nino on the way and its drought like conditions. Mining industry water use is a threat to the local economy and jobs – which rode on the back of agriculture for over a century before the haul-packs and super-diggers arrived.

This is the sound of the local voices. Protection of land, water and culture. Paul Flynn and Whitehaven’s contradictions extend beyond their business acumen and into their reading of community sentiment.

**Uncle Neville and other Elders have issued a call for assistance, asking that people write to Environment Minister Greg Hunt with letters of support for the permanent protection of the sacred site. Details can be found at

Phil Evans lived at the Leard Blockade for 12 months and is now in Melbourne.