By Iris Ray Nunn
An historical event in the East Pilliga forest on the weekend saw farmers, environmentalists and overseas visitors come together with local Gomeroi Elders and their descendants to learn about the sacred significance of the Leard and Pilliga (Billiga) forests, and why it is of vital importance to protect these sites from further destruction caused by coal and coal seam gas mining.
Elders united on Saturday to take a stand about coal seam gas mining in the Pilliga (Billiga), and to plant powerful seeds in the minds of the people present about how, when they deliberately focus on respecting and understanding Gomeroi culture – story – dance and song – the overall goal of making the Pilliga (Billiga) coal seam gas-free will be achieved.
Success for the forests requires listening to the true Elders.
It is not about just brushing off their knowledge and stories as mystical children’s tales, but recognising their ancient stories have been passed down for thousands of years as intelligent directive teachings.
It is about non-indigenous people learning from the culture, even if they are farmers who know a lot about the land, and taking that wisdom into every intention in regards to protecting the forests and the farmlands. And it is about asking the Elders what they need and how their culture and people can be supported.
The movement away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy in Australia has resulted in an unprecedented phenomenon: people from all walks of life are uniting in the common cause to protect the country from known dangerous impacts to air, soil, water, human, plant and animal health from uranium, coal and coal seam gas mining.
One thing is for certain. The issue of over-mining the country’s resources inevitably leads to the question of land ownership. And the tracing of land ownership rights leads back to the harsh truth that the original people of Australia had their land taken from them in the very beginning by the British Government. An issue that has never been resolved fairly.
And even if it appears that measures have been taken over the years to set ‘wrongs’ to ‘right’ through Native Title legislation and saying “sorry” to stolen generation for example, Australians should not be lulled into any false understanding that these steps have given aboriginal people any real human rights.
Out at the ‘coal face’, in rural Australia, the land continues to be taken from the indigenous people, causing ongoing heartbreak, desecration, devastation, division and death in our indigenous communities. The land is their Spirit. Their heart-soul connection. Their Dhuyi Gii.
The Gomeroi are a proud and powerful people.
The Leard and the Billiga represent the heart and the lungs of their people. Right now, their people are dying at an alarming rate of heart and lung disease. The Leard is being mined for coal, the Billiga for coal seam gas.
Their ancient creation stories of the Billiga Forest tell about how to live and survive in balance with each other and the natural world. This is their law.
These stories are teachings that also warn of the death and destruction that will occur if these laws are not followed and adhered to. Similar to the Kokatha people of South Australia, who warn of wide scale destruction if their ancestral being, a massive sleeping lizard, is disturbed (as it has been with uranium mining), the Gomeroi also have a Being from their dreaming stories who will wreak havoc if he is disturbed from under the ground in the Billiga. This dreaming ancestor is called Gurrea, the crocodile.
“He is the one to watch out for,” says Paul.
“Right now Gurrea has been trapped by Waraba the Sword Shell Turtle, or Bells Turtle, who created our aquifers and our law. Gurrea was greedy and caused trouble. He was stopped and banished into an underground lagoon that has no tributaries so he cannot escape. But if they keep digging up the earth and the underground waterways, they risk releasing this dangerous energy which will cause indiscriminate harm to all.”
Locals have reported information directly from one contractor operating a water drill who describes what happens to the underground streams and rivers when the drill pierces through the base of the aquifer 30 feet down.
“It is literally like a plug hole gets created and the water in the underground stream just runs right down the hole into the aquifer below,” said the drill operator.
One wonders if Santos has already drilled down to Gurrea’s lagoon? There is already so much stress amongst the people of the north-west, who are desperate to stop Santos’ plans.
Right now the world is meeting an uncontrollable catastrophe coming out of Fukushima. Uranium that was mined from Kokatha country, dug out of the back of their sleeping lizard, fuelled the Fukushima reactors and is now poisoning the Pacific Ocean and threatening the life of millions of people who rely on fish as their staple diet.
Kokatha Elders tried to warn BHP Billiton, but they did not listen.
Santos Mining is also being warned about what will happen to families and communities and the state of the nation, if they continue their plans to drill for coal seam gas in the Pilliga.
But it is not just mining companies that are being warned.
“Some of our own people are signing off on Country,” says Gomeroi man Paul Spearim.
“They are doing it under the guise of Native Title. They are using the tribal name Gomeroi disrespectfully. They are signing over our sacred lands for the dollar, not for the culture. Their actions are having a social effect on the health of our people. Some of these people have sons and daughters that are working in mines in other parts of the country who are coming back sick. Some of them are young, in their 40s, and are dropping dead from heart attacks. How do they think they can go and dig up other people’s countries and survive? Many of the Gomeroi are dying sad.”
Even though it appears that sacred law has already been broken, all is not lost.
“Sacred law isn’t dying,” said Paul.
“It is coming back through the land itself, through reactivation of our cultural connection to the trees, to the land, to the birds, to the water, through the story, songs and dances of our ancestors.
“Through Waraba, who laid out the law for us to follow in order to live in harmony with one another and Mother Nature for thousands of years to come.
“What we are doing here in the Billiga right now is vital for the survival of all people in this country. So all people are invited to come here to learn, listen and thrive.”
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