Stand with Gomeroi

Push back on Pilliga gas project

Would you want a big corporation drilling gas wells on your land? The Gomeroi people of NSW certainly don’t. Here’s what’s happening and how you can support them, writes Monica Crouch.

In 2020, energy giant Santos gained Federal Government approval for a $3.6 billion coal-seam gas project at Narrabri on the NSW North West Slopes.

It is a huge project. Up to 850 coal-seam gas wells could be drilled on 1000 hectares of land that includes some of the Pilliga Forest.

As part of the federal government’s plan for a “gas-fired recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic, this project was one of 15 slated for fast-tracked approval.

Despite the NSW Government’s initial concerns that rushing it through would “undermine public trust”, it was signed off by both state and federal governments by November 2020.

During its deliberations, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment received 23,000 submissions, the Guardian reported. Nearly 98 percent were opposed tothe project on the grounds it would polute agricultural groundwater, impact pressure in the Artesian Basin, harm biodiversity and emit greenhouse gas.

On Gomeroi land

“Your land, your choice,” Santos says in big capital letters on its website. The choice of the Gomeroi people, traditional owners of the Pilliga Forest, is to keep the forest safe. They voted overwhelmingly to reject the gas drilling.

But Santos then launched proceedings in the National Native Title Tribunal, aiming to go ahead regardless.

The Pilliga Forest is an important cultural and spiritual site, Gomeroi woman Suellyn Tighe told the National Indigenous Times in March 2022.

“We refuse to allow Santos and the Morrison government to sacrifice the Gomeroi Nation and our sites for the financial benefit of a global conglomerate,” she said.

Gomeroi man Raymond Weatherall said, “Every tree, every bird, every animal is part of that beautiful ecosystem that is so special to us. Our land is worth more than money.”

Support and solidarity

As proceedings in the National Native Title Tribunal got underway on 11 April, about 200 people demonstrated outside the Federal Court in Sydney in solidarity with the Gomeroi people.

Every tree, every bird, every animal is part of that beautiful ecosystem that is so special to us – our land is worth more than money.

Indigenous activists were joined by unions and environment groups calling for Santos to withdraw its application and respect Gomeroi rights and the environment.

Unions including the IEU, the National Tertiary Education Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the United Workers Union stand with the Gomeroi people.

“The fundamental issue here is that the rights of the Gomeroi should be respected,” said Maritime Union of Australia National Indigenous Officer and author Thomas Mayor (pictured above), addressing the School Strike for Climate on 25 March. “I was there with the Gomeroi people a couple of weeks ago, and I’m proud to say we all resoundingly said ‘no’ to Santos.

“And you know what? In the Northern Territory, Santos is doing the same thing – they’re ignoring First Nations. They want to frack our Country and they want to take away our futures. Say ‘no’ to Santos – shame, Santos, shame.”

There are other solutions to Australia’s energy needs. “A just transition away from fossil fuels through large-scale investment in renewable energy and sustainable development doesn’t require dispossession,” Mayor said. “And it provides ongoing, secure jobs.”

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Narrabri gas project: Do we need it and what’s at stake for Australia’s environment?, The Guardian, 30 September 2020

Pilliga custodians reject gas project as Santos seeks to bypass traditional owners, National Indigenous Times, 30 March 2022

Gomeroi traditional owners vote against agreement with Santos for Narrabri gas project, The Guardian, 8 April 2022

Rally at Federal Court as Gomeroi people take on Santos’s Pilliga project, National Indigenous Times, 11 April 2022