This media statement comes from the Gomeroi who are the Traditional Owners of the country where Leard State Forest is:
Gomeroi Elders and community to undertake spiritual ceremony publically because of the desecration of burial sites and ceremonial and camping sites by Whitehaven Coal.
Gomeroi Elders and community have invited the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Community to a sacred ceremony, followed by a peaceful procession and sharing of concerns Friday 24 January at 11am at the Redchief Memorial Abbott Street Gunnedah, NSW.
Spiritual Elder Uncle Neville Sampson and son Brian will be undertaking “buwa buudhaawuyugil” which is not a ceremony often shared with the public. However, a public ceremony will be held in Gunnedah because this ceremony should be undertaken, despite repeated requests to access the sites.
This week our community have been shocked and angered that there have been threats of arrests of our Elders and Community by the NSW Police if we were to undertake ceremony outside the mine site; despite the road (Therribri Road) and access to the gate of the mine being located along a Public Road not owned nor leased by the mine. We have been told that the only way we can access the road is by permission and escort of Whitehaven staff.
Mr Brian Cole refused access telling respected Elder Uncle Dick Talbott last Monday that: “There is nothing there for him”.
The Gomeroi Elders and community believe this outrageous and abuse of Police powers on behalf of Whitehaven by the threat of arrests directed at our Elders have only just deepened the dispute and further eroded relationships between our community and Whitehaven Coal.
The Gomeroi Elders and community are outraged that Mr Cole, manager of Whitehaven Coal Maules Creek – a multinational company believes that he has the right to treat our elders in this was and deny the Traditional people of this Country our rights to religious and spiritual practices- even to areas outside of their government approved lease area where there is supposed to be public access.
The rights to religious practices are one of the few rights afforded to all Australia’s under the Constitution and with the ceremony of the cusp of the Australia Day weekend- the denial of access to our sacred sites is a retrograde step in reconciliation and example of the deep seeded disrespect, arrogance and hostility towards our culture and our people by Whitehaven Coal.
We believe the behaviour of Mr Cole is reprehensible. The pain and upset this is causing our Elders and community cuts deep into our community and brings back painful memories for many of our Elders of the behaviours of mission managers and overseers who historically inflicted so many indignities on our people. At least, despite the mining companies lobby group the Minerals Councils’ scathing comments, the support of local landholders such as Lock the Gate and the Leard State Forest Alliance provides us with examples and hope of greater steps towards reconciliation and respect and appreciation for our culture.
Our community challenged Whitehaven Coal’s CEO Mr Paul Flynn including Mr Vaile company Director and former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, and UniQuest archaeologists to a public debate in response to Whitehaven’s media statements “that their company acts in accordance with its approval conditions at all times and has worked successfully with a majority of Gomeroi traditional owners to salvage the burial and cultural sites in question.” However, yesterday Mr Paul Flynn wrote to our community and advised that they would not be available.
181 Gomeroi Elders and Gomeroi and Aboriginal community members lodged a further stop works application under section 18 ATSIHP Act emergency 48 hours stay of works application with Federal Minister Hunt two days ago in a desperate effort to stop the bulldozers from destroying the sites while the Minister considers the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians and Aboriginal communities urgent s9 and s10 ATSIHP Act protection application-now 82 days filed without a decision by the Minister.
Uncle Dick Talbott on behalf of the Gomeroi Elders sends a message to all communities in mining and gas company proposed areas – “If this can happen to our community……… this can happen to yours.”
This special day marks the commitment by Gomeroi Elders and community to continue our campaign to protect our culture and heritage.