Aunty Dolly Talbott is a Gomeroi woman who is celebrating.
For 13 years Aunty Dolly, her Elders and community have been fighting against the Shenhua Watermark open-cut coal mine, planned for development near the tiny town of Breeza, in northern New South Wales.
In April this year, Shenhua walked away from the proposal after the NSW government paid $100 million to buy back Shenhua’s exploration licence.
The mine was projected to last 30 years and produce 290 million tonnes of coal but it would have destroyed a sacred Gomeroi area on the Baiame Dreaming Creation track that starts in Victoria, crosses NSW and runs into QLD.
It would also have ruined some of Australia’s richest farmland and the largest underground water system in the Murray Darling basin.
Aunty Dolly's father, Uncle Dick Talbott began the campaign against coal mining on country and now Aunty Dolly is a spokesperson for the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians.
Fight them in the courts and on the streets
While we organised heaps of protests in our local area and in the NSW capital in Sydney, it wasn't enough.
We decided we had to take the mining company on, under state and federal legislation, fighting them using their own laws. It was the only way to get them to take us seriously, even though, their laws are set up to fail our peoples.
We were determined that under our LORE we had to fulfil our obligations to our Elders and our ancestors.
When they run you down, you are winning!
Criticism becomes water off a duck's back and, if they are trying to discredit you, then you must be getting somewhere.
The tactics to discredit me and my family have been ongoing, designed to stop us from reaching our goals.
It was painful sometimes but we made promises to our Elders, some of whom are no longer with us, that we wouldn't give up, that we would fight to the end to protect those sacred places.
From foes to allies
Historically the relationship between our mob and farmers has been bloody and violent. For some, the scars are still evident. However, those relationships are slowly evolving.
I believe that the farmers now have a deeper understanding of what it feels like to lose "your" land and connection to country. I hope the farmers can relate to our broken spirit, that our people must have felt and are still feeling today.
The need to unite against a bigger threat to our sacred lands such as mining, has bought together farmers and Aboriginal people as a force to be reckoned with.
This protest movement has turned us into formidable allies. We’ve come away from this battle with some lasting friendships which we hope to carry on into the future.
We've been fortunate to have the help (mostly pro-bono) of great solicitors and an independent archaeologist. We didn't have money, we did it with lots of determination, love of country and true grit.
Resist the carrots
Mining companies will make a lot of promises and single out those they can manipulate as they try to divide and conquer communities.
In our case they set families against families and neighbour against neighbour. My advice is to surround yourself with like-minded people who are culturally connected and not slaves to money. We realise people have to put food on the table but at what cost? For us there was nothing more valuable than protecting what is sacred and there is no price on culture.
We started and ended this fight for protection with the voices of our Elders. Every strategy was discussed with them and nothing was done without their approval.
We encouraged inclusion, inviting anyone who cared for country to join us, anyone with connection to the Liverpool Plains who shared our song lines or our concerns for what is sacred, our water and our land, all were welcomed to join our fight.
Keeping the mob united
It was difficult at times but then, when we were reminded of what was at stake and the promises made to our old people, it spurred us on, the alternative was not an option.
For me and our family, those promises to those old people, especially our Dad, were our driving force, we didn’t want to let any of them down.
To see more, watch Living Black on NITV at 8:30pm on Monday 12th July 2021.
The episode will be repeated on SBS Tuesday 13th July 2021 at 3pm. Or you can view the program on SBS On Demand.
Aunty Dolly Talbott is a retired care worker and a proud mother, grandmother and now great grandmother.