Day 6 – Federal Court comes to Muckaty
By Padraic Gibson
The nuclear waste dump trial traveled to the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust on Monday June 9, to hear testimony from Traditional Owners opposed to the nomination of their land.
First, a convoy of ten vehicles traveled out to the nominated site. The site is located about 12 kms west of the Stuart Highway, on the southern boundary of the Land Trust. It can be reached along a bituman “haulage road”, built to cart manganese from the Bootu mine out to the Adelaide – Darwin railway line. Having the dump on this well developed road, with access to two major transportation routes – the highway and the railway line – would be perfect for the government, helping explain why they are fighting so hard to defend the Muckaty nomination.
Senior Warlmanpa man Dick Foster, one of the applicants challenging the waste dump, gave the court (and a throng of journalists) a short explanation of the dreaming stories that are significant to the nominated site and how these impact on the rights and responsibilities of different clan groups. His account is in sharp contradiction with the anthropology relied upon by the NLC to justify the waste dump nomination. His traditional knowledge and cultural authority is respected by all sides of this dispute. Mr Foster will give detailed evidence next week.
The convoy then proceeded further north into the Land Trust, stopping at an outstation about 5kms from the Stuart Highway to set up properly to hear evidence.
There was only time to hear the start of evidence from Bunny Nabarula, an 84 year old Warlmanpa Elder who has been a leading spokesperson in the campaign against the dump for 7 years now.
Bunny told wide-ranging stories about her history in the region. The court heard how she worked long hours as a domestic on Muckaty Station, heading home each night to breast-feed babies in the nearby camp. They heard about the many children stolen from Aboriginal families by “welfare”, while working on stations in the region. They heard about the long struggle to win back Aboriginal ownership of Muckaty under the Land Rights Act, and how Bunny danced along with many others from the Milywayi group at the hand-back ceremony in the 1990s.
The court then heard about the frustration and pain she has felt through the whole nuclear dump ordeal. Bunny alleged that the NLC have strongly supported the small family group who nominated the dump, the “Lauder branch of the Ngapa clan”, while attempting to exclude those opposed to waste dump from access to some consultation meetings. Bunny is very strong that her clan the Milwayi have primary responsibility for the nominated site, but also that numerous clans have overlapping dreamings and responsibilities in the area, meaning that they would all need to be involved in major decisions such as the introduction of a nuclear waste dump.
Throughout her presentation, Bunny shared songs related to sections of the Milwayi dreaming track to reinforce her cultural knowledge of the area.
When asked what would happen to the land if the waste dump went ahead, Bunny became very upset, jumping out of her chair and threatening to finish her testimony. She said no one had listened to the cries of Traditional Owners and that if the dump did go ahead, she would stand in front of road trains with her children and grandchildren to block access to Muckaty. She said she would rather be run down by these road trains than have a dump imposed on her land.
Evidence from more Traditional Owners opposed to the dump will be given in the court house at Tennant Creek for the rest of this week. For many people, who feel they have been pushed aside and ignored through this whole process, they are eager to put their case to the court. It’s important to note that both the Commonwealth and the NLC argued strongly against the Court coming to the NT. Both parties strongly defend their consultation process. But they also argue that whether or not this nomination was put forward with genuine consent should not actually matter legally, due to draconian provisions in the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act passed in 2005.