This weekend in Adelaide, Kaurna country, anti-nuclear campaigners from the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance will hold their annual conference to debrief and strategise for the struggles ahead.
At the core of Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) are Aboriginal people living with nuclear projects on their lands, including uranium mines and the toxic legacy of nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 60s, and others trying to stop new uranium mines or nuclear waste dumps being imposed on their country.
This year’s conference will celebrate 20 years since the network was founded in 1997 in Alice Springs, originally as the Alliance Against Uranium.
"We gotta fight for this poison, you know us Kungka Tjuta used to say ‘its poison’... Its in the manta there and nobody can’t dig it out."
The initial meeting was an initiative of Mirarr people and their organisation Gundjeihmi, who were cranking up a major campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine, along with environment groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Friends of the Earth and other Traditional Owners. At the time, the Howard government was looking to massively expand Australia’s uranium exports. There was a wealth of experience in Aboriginal communities across the country, who suffer the brunt of this industry and people wanted to come together to fight back. There were growing opportunities to connect with wider civil society groups who shared a deep concern about uranium and recognised the central importance of supporting Aboriginal struggles for country.
Over the past 20 years, the ANFA network has provided vital support to many campaigns, from the victory at Jabiluka, to the battles for compensation for victims of nuclear weapons testing, to numerous struggles against new uranium mines and exploration projects. Lessons from the successful fight to stop a nuclear waste dump in South Australia, a victory achieved in 2004 after a national campaign led by the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, inspired a decade of resistance that eventually stopped a nuclear dump been established in the Northern Territory, despite attempts at multiple sites. International solidarity with other Indigenous peoples, and all peoples, dealing with similar threats, has also been central to ANFA’s practice.
Aboriginal land continues to be in the firing line. This year’s conference will deal with new moves to establish a waste dump in South Australia, being fiercely resisted by Adnyamathanha people whose country in the Flinders Ranges is under threat. Also up for discussion is the ongoing attempt to expand existing uranium mines and establish new ones, including the recent indication by the WA Labor government that it would push ahead with uranium mines in that state, in contravention of clear election commitments and the wishes of Traditional Owners. The growing threat of nuclear war, and the urgent need to rehabilitate country already badly damaged, are also on the agenda.
Below is a collection of statements from participants in ANFA over the last twenty years, taken from a report produced to celebrate “twenty years of radioactive resistance”.
These statements all demonstrate the importance of Aboriginal connection to country as a driving force behind the network, along with the power that comes from building networks of solidarity across society.
Mitch, Aranda/Luritja, speaking at a press conference after the ANFA meeting in 2014:
“We have to leave uranium in the ground. We have to stop this political tool of digging up uranium on Aboriginal land when people are strongly saying no. This organisation is not colour based, its not gender based, its based on the future for our unborn grandchildren. We’ve beaten the government in WA, SA and four sites in the NT. This little band of warriors has beaten the federal government as well as state governments and the Territory government. They didn’t do it with selfish intentions, they didn’t do it for themselves, They did it for the future. Not only is there Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, we’ve got churches, we’ve got unions, we’ve got a whole lot of organisations standing up with us to say this is wrong and it will not happen.”
Michaela Stubbs from Friends of the Earth Melbourne writing in Chain Reaction Magazine after the 2006 national meeting:
“Since the first meeting in 1997, in response to a strong Coalition government push to further nuclear developments in Australia, the Alliance has grown significantly. The Alliance has increasingly become a place to share experiences, knowledge, skills, learn about the nuclear industry and develop strategies for dealing with it.
It is a place for communities to be heard, to express a vision of healthy country and strong culture that can be passed on with pride to future generations. It is a place for people faced with big decisions about the kind of operations that they will allow on country to ask questions and also to express frustration with continually being sidelined in decision making processes. For those who are campaigning in isolated areas of Australia, it gives hope and strength to know they are not alone and that their stories will be taken back to the cities where much of the political power for decision-making is held.”
Mrs Austin, speaking at ANFA 2015 conference:
“I’m Emily Munyungka Austin from Coober Pedy and I’m one of the last Kungkas left, you know. We travelled around to fight for the radiation. I’m the only one left now and I pass it on to the next generation you know, because our young ones are grown up, they gotta take it on now, and we gotta fight for the land, because we got the water underground. I’m back there now and I worry about our kids growing up and our great, great grandkids and I drink the water outta there too you know. We gotta fight for this poison, you know us Kungka Tjuta used to say ‘its poison’ and they’d say ‘no its not poison’ and we used to tell them ‘we know its poison because the old people told us’. Its in the manta there and nobody can’t dig it out. Them old people used to look after it, that’s the main thing, they’ve gotta listen to the elders. Go to your elders, tjilpi tjuta we call them, old people.”
Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, Arabunna Elder and peacemaker from Lake Eyre, South Australia and president of ANFA (Australian Nuclear Free Alliance).
Mindful of the human and environmental loss and damage that followed the collapse of a tailings dam operated by Samarco, a BHP subsidiary in Brazil, ANFA President Kevin Buzzacott sent the following support message in February 2015:
Letter of solidarity and support to the communities in Mariana, Southeast Brazil.
I am Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, Arabunna Elder and peacemaker from Lake Eyre, South Australia and president of ANFA (Australian Nuclear Free Alliance).
I have said so many times that we need to close BHP down. We need to close down their industries and destruction operations throughout the world as soon as possible. BHP has a lot to answer for - the crimes, the destruction they create. They need to be taken to court, to be charged for the damage they have caused.
My people and my country suffer from BHP’s operations at Olympic Dam, South Australia. We have had people sick and dying, and family fights since mining began. There have been tailings dam seepages, and millions of litres of our sacred artesian water taken daily to treat uranium. Springs have dried up, and trees have died. The tailings dams are nuclear waste dumps in open sun, blown by winds across the country. We want to close Olympic Dam down. Flying over Olympic Dam you can see different colours from the waste, and dead birds and animals in the tailings dam. Mine workers have died and their stories covered up.
Our heart goes out to all the families in Brazil. To all the sacred places, the river.
We send our support, we're fully with you in mind and spirit in the struggle. I will pass your message on to all my families and we will support however we can.
Stay strong, do not back down. Viva Brazil
Adnyamathanha Elder Enice Marsh, speaking at ANFA 2009 conference:
“I was born up near the Beverley uranium mine about 80km south at a place called Balcanoona, in 1943. My father was also born in the same area, so when I talk about the Beverley four mile area, or the Beverley mine in general, it is very near and dear to my heart because the dreamtime stories, the dreamtime legends, in that area are very special to me.
"If the sacred sites are gone our identity is gone."
The thorn in my side is the mining of Beverley four mile west, that’s the foothills area and that’s very, very strong spiritual dreamtime legend there and that place is too sacred for mining. It is also the resting place of one of our spiritual creators because Aboriginal people had their own creators before the missionary people came along and taught us about God- about God creating the heaven and the earth. We had our own creator, spiritual creator, so that’s his resting place.
I want to have my say over water. Adnyamathanha people call water ‘awi’, and that is a very precious thing for black and white. From north to south from east to west, from sunrise to sundown, this is a very special thing, water. We cannot live and survive without water. And if the sacred sites are gone our identity is gone. So we’ve got to really stand up to these mining companies and to these so-called ‘leaders’ and say take a step back and listen to the people that are trying to save these sacred sites!”
Text and photos courtesy Australian Nuclear Free Alliance report, “20 years of Radioactive Resistance”, compiled by Natalie Wasley, Beyond Nuclear Initiative convenor.