Media Release: NT Traditional Owners impacted by Santos gas projects demand Darwin Festival drops Santos sponsorship

June 16, 2022 11:43 AM

As Darwin Festival reveals its 2022 program, a delegation of NT Traditional Owners from Larrakia, Tiwi Islands and Beetaloo Basin impacted by Santos gas projects are launching a campaign to see Darwin Festival, the NT’s premiere arts and cultural institution, abandon promotional partnerships with fossil fuel companies, including major sponsor Santos.

Nearly 200 artists and creative producers have so far signed onto an open letter to Darwin Festival, which reads, in part: “In the same way that once the science on tobacco smoking harm became clear its promotion has been widely abandoned from public life, so too fossil fuel sponsorship and messages promoting its expansion has no place in our arts, culture and public institutions now that the world is all too aware of its catastrophic consequences. Alongside the clear climate impacts, the Darwin Festival must be equally alarmed at evidence of Santos’ blatant disregard for informed consultation and consent for its projects with Indigenous Traditional Owners impacted by their expansion".

Rembarranga and Tiwi Islander woman, author Marie Munkara said, “Santos is nothing more than a smiling assassin who thinks their funding of the arts and their platitudes about Indigenous culture will give them credibility and buy them the freedom to continue destroying our sacred sites, our land and our planet. We need to stop them.”

Larrakia Danggalaba traditional owner and elder, Tibby Quall, who is fighting Santos’ massive Barossa Project and recently took court action in South Korea to halt loans for the project, said: “Santos’s Barossa project will be disastrous for us, putting our sacred sites and marine life at risk. If the Darwin Festival is serious about respecting our culture then it would drop Santos today.”

Gudanji-Wambaya man and Jungai Johnny Wilson, Chair of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, whose members come from across the Beetaloo Basin where Santos is undertaking fracked gas drilling, said: “Our hearts break when we see how fracking by Santos will ruin our land, water and songlines. Where is the future for our next generation? Santos should no longer have an opportunity at the Darwin Festival to hide its true face”.

Fossil Free Arts NT spokesperson, Anna Weekes, said: “We love the Darwin Festival and feel a responsibility to make sure it's reflective of the values of its artists and audiences. Territory communities have been clear that gas fracking is unsafe and unwelcome. We can no longer afford to expand dirty gas projects if we want to keep Territorians safe from climate change.

“It’s time for Darwin Festival to break its ties with Santos. Its Chairman, Ian Kew OAM, could show real leadership by stepping away from fossil fuel sponsorship deals and adopting an ethical sponsorship platform going forward. Darwin Festival would be joining other significant cultural institutions both here and overseas. 

“Santos is using the festival as a way to buy social acceptance for continued gas mining. There’s no place in our arts for promoting a company whose operations are harming our health, natural environment and future.

“Decades ago the science on tobacco smoking harm led to abandoning cigarette sponsorship. It’s now time to make fossil fuel sponsorship history”.


Photos here. Vision here.

Santos and fossil fuel arts sponsorship

Santos is a long term (18 years), major sponsor of the Darwin Festival (4-21 August 2022), including the opening night First Nations event.  The festival rightly prides itself on its Indigenous Australian and wider First Nations programming.  Its chair, Ian Kew OAM, previously worked for oil companies Shell and Esso.

If Darwin Festival withdrew from its Santos sponsorship deal it would join other major festivals and cultural institutions such as the Perth Fringe Festival, Woodford Folk Festival and the National Portrait Gallery in London which have gone fossil fuel sponsorship free.

In January 2022, Tennis Australia took an important stand against Santos, ending their sponsorship agreement one year in, citing the companies’ continuing risk to our global climate. Santos also faced a campaign to get Santos out of the 2022 Tour Down Under festival of cycling. Perth Festival was urged to break ties with Woodside Energy and Chevron in 2022.

Santos operations in the NT and Australia-wide

Santos has Australia-wide gas operations and claims itself to be the NT’s leading Australian oil and gas exploration and production company. The vast scale of Santos’ oil and gas projects in the Territory, including gas fracking in the Beetaloo Basin and the Barossa mega-gas project, and others across Australia such as Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project in NSW, will release greenhouse emissions with significant global climate consequences.

The Barossa Project. The $4.7 billion Barossa offshore development includes a pipeline from a gas field in the Timor Sea to an existing LNG facility on Darwin Harbour. The project would put pristine marine life at grave risk, with the pipeline running through a protected marine park and along the entire length of one of the Tiwi Islands – Bathurst Island. Read more here.

The Beetaloo Basin. The Beetaloo sub-basin is located around 500 kilometres south-east of Darwin. It embraces Aboriginal land, pastoral leases, cattle stations and remote Aboriginal communities. Santos and a number of other companies are currently undertaking fracked gas drilling in the region, with most of the NT covered by exploration permits. Read more here.

Territorians’ concerns about gas mining

Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo Basin, Darwin, the Tiwi Islands and the Narrabri area cite similar concerns in relation to Santos projects: a failure to properly consult with them and gain their consent, risks to sacred sites, damage to country, plants and animals and the impact of projects on future generations.

The NT Government's own inquiry into gas fracking found ‘for a significant majority of Territorians … the overwhelming consensus was that hydraulic fracturing for onshore shale gas in the NT is not safe, is not trusted and is not wanted.’  NT polling confirms this.  For Indigenous communities, whose Country stands to be directly impacted by fracking, the Inquiry found that opposition was ‘almost universal’.