Dolly Talbott, 13 August 2014
“If it is not bad enough that Whitehaven Maules Creek have failed to allow access to Gomeroi burial sites and sacred sites important to our elders and community; they have now brought access to other sacred sites for ceremony at sites managed by the Idemitzu Boggabri Coal to an abrupt halt and days proposed have had to be cancelled.” Gomeroi Elders combined statement
A hurtful turn of events by Whitehaven has placed access to two sacred sites at an abrupt halt because Whitehaven are joint venture partners with Idemitzu Boggabri Coal and 'landholders' of lands at specific sacred sites. Idemitzu Coal have been working collaboratively with the Elders and Gomeroi Traditional Custodians community to enable access to our sacred sites and have found themselves hogtied by their co-landholder Whitehaven Coal resulting in the cancellation of proposed access days.
What makes this approach of Whitehaven so distressing and shameful is that while our Elders and community were reeling from the cancellation of multiple sites access for ceremony because of Whitehaven’s apparent ‘inability to even respond to the simplest of enquiries’ for permission by their joint venture partner - Whitehaven’s CEO Paul Flynn is quoted on the radio Wednesday 13 August 2014 promoting himself and Whitehaven as respectful and committed to the needs of Aboriginal people and promoting themselves as having provided access opportunities to our burial sites and sacred sites for our people.
We were simply shocked and disturbed that these outrageous and disgraceful statements were made by Whitehaven’s CEO on ABC radio. We are not sure what the definition of “misleading the public” or “misrepresentation of the truth” means to the average Australian or how it is defined by Whitehaven’s CEO. When we heard the interview of Mr Flynn, we were simply taken aback and confused at his statements as this is not the painful, lived experience of our Elders and community trying to gain access through his company.
We have spent over 4140 hours by more than 181 Elders and community over the last 9 months and more than 35 letters of request and media releases and appeals for Department of Planning and Infrastructure intervention to secure access to our burial sites and sacred sites for ceremony.
To date we are still being refused access to our burial site and sacred sites at Whitehaven Maules Creek instead being offered to go elsewhere. We cannot understand why a ceremony so important to us cannot be scheduled into Whitehaven’s construction schedule. We are only asking for about 60 to 90 minutes at any particular sacred site to undertake ceremony. Surely the rostered days off and lunch breaks of staff could be managed to allow for access.
The Gomeroi Traditional Custodians have been negotiating with Idemitzu Boggabri Coal for several months to have access to sites of significance for the purposes of ceremony. Three of five sites have been agreed with two ceremonies taking place Today and another one on Friday. Two other sites requiring ceremony have been cancelled and have resulted in a significant setback.
This set back is because the sites are unfortunately located on joint leased lands by both Idemitzu Boggabri Coal and Whitehaven. As a result despite contact by Boggabri who have advised our Elders in writing that they do not identify any un-mitigateable impediments to accessing these sites have stated that Whitehaven have failed to respond to their request for access therefore permission to access these sites cannot proceed.
We were very upset and troubled to find that Whitehaven have any involvement let alone ‘ownership’ of these two sites as the experience of accessing other sites on identified project leases of Whitehaven have been denied.
We fear the most basic of human rights are being violated. If Whitehaven have a scheduled date claimer of when we are to be able to access our sacred burials and sites we certainly want to see it. Otherwise Mr Flynn’s comments just feel like (yet again) the Hans Christian Anderson fable of The Emperor’s new clothes…… We simply ask…when will this company be made accountable? Does the Australian and NSW government believe this is reasonable? Does the average Australian believe this is not discrimination and corporate bullyboy tactics at its most shameful?
As a last resort we have lodged a formal complaint to the NSW Antidiscrimination Board with 155 complainants signing the complaint against both Whitehaven Maules Creek and their construction contractor Leighton’s Holdings for discrimination against our people being able to undertake spiritual ceremonies on the basis of Ethno religious discrimination. We believe the conciliation and tribunal determination of human rights violations process is the only way that Whitehaven will be made accountable.