A group of Traditional Owners have travelled almost 3,000 kilometres from the Northern Territory to Sydney for a protest over Origin Energy’s plans to frack their land.
The Northern Territory overturned its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in April and the energy company aims to resume drilling next year in the Beetaloo basin – the vast oil and gas shale fields 500km south-east of Darwin.
Several Elders gathered with Protect Country Alliance protesters outside the Origin’s annual general meeting to voice concerns that shale gas mining could contaminate waterways.
They say the company has failed to adequately consult landholders about mining and completely excluded others from public consultation.
It follows a report released last month by the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research that most exploration permits issued in the NT for fracking were issued without “free, prior and informed consent”.
Alawa grandmother May August fears that fracking gasfields could threaten traditional bush medicine plants and the community-run cattle business.
“The water might get poisoned,” she told NITV News.
“We got our bush tucker growing from the ground and bush medicine that keeps us alive. And little kids. We got plenty of small kids.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique which involves drilling into the earth before injecting a high pressure water and chemical mixture to fracture rock layers and release the oil and gas inside.
With gas prices rising and Australian production falling, a fracking boom could stem the territory’s ballooning debt levels and boost the outback economy south of Katherine, but there are concerns potentially carcinogenic chemicals may contaminate groundwater.
Stephanie Roberts, a Traditional Owner from Minyerri community, was hoping to present a letter signed by 200 complainants to Origin Energy executives.
“It’s to make them understand that we don’t want mining on our land,” she said.
“It’s like poisoning your whole area.”
Stuart Nuggett, who lives in the remote NT township of Elliot, said Indigenous communities like his haven’t been given enough information about what Origin is planning.
He is worried about the effects fracking could have on the environment.
“It’s just not right what they’re doing. It’s destroying country,” he said.
“They’re saying it’s safe and it’s good for us but it’s not.”
Mr Nuggett travelled halfway across the country – taking his first trip on a plane – to attend the AGM on behalf of his community.
“Coming up here and having in mind that you’re doing something important for your people and for your tribe. It’s a journey for me … knowing that I’m doing something important for my family and for the future generations.”