Media Release: Tamboran locks Tanumbirini Station gate on Station Owners and Traditional Custodians seeking to inspect sacred sites at risk of fracking destruction

June 24, 2022 7:09 AM

Gas company Tamboran Resources has today locked a gate on Tanumbirini Station on the day it plans to begin seismic activities, blocking entry to station owners and Traditional Custodians from the Beetaloo Basin who were there to inspect the sacred site area of Newcastle Creek which is protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act because of fear of damage from these new works.

Photos here. Vision: Filmed statement Traditional Owner/Rallen at gate and flyover footage of works here.

Rallen is now considering its options while Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation is asking Tamboran’s subsidiary, Sweetpea Petroleum, to pause all works until a meeting with relevant custodians and authorities occurs.

Tamboran Resources has previously notified Tanumbirini Station owners, Rallen Australia, that from Friday 24 June they will start seismic activities which will involve bulldozing a significant waterhole and vegetation, including groves of bullwaddy and lancewood trees, and simultaneously then repurposing the seismic line to build an 18 metre wide access road across Newcastle Creek to facilitate their exploratory fracking activities. Newcastle Creek is a significant songline in itself, rich with sacred sites protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act. Further background below.

Chair of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, and Jungai (cultural lawman) for the area, Johnny Wilson, said: “Sweetpea has locked me out of my own country. I can’t even go in to see my sacred sites, the country where they’re going to work on Newcastle Creek, the cultural heritage, our songlines, our dreaming. We can’t see all that, because the gate’s locked.

“We understand that, according to Sweetpea’s Sacred Sites Authority Certificate, the company cannot clear or damage anything in Newcastle Creek.

“Our hearts bleed knowing that our country and all that we stand for will be destroyed. What more evidence do you need, as my people, my clan can clearly now see that Sweetpea will destroy everything we stand for?

“Our sacred sites, our cultural heritage and our songlines gone and not forgetting our water, our life, destroyed. With a heavy heart we plea for help.

“We ask Sweetpea to pause so we can meet and discuss the consequences of the work, together with custodians, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and Northern Land Council”.

Tanumbirini owner and Rallen Australia Director Pierre Langenhoven said, “Sweetpea has locked us out of our own property. This is at the boundary line of our station, it’s not even within the permit area in which Sweetpea is allowed to conduct exploratory works. We don’t believe they have a right to do this.”

“The excuse provided to me by Sweetpea was that they’re concerned about weed management. This is astounding considering Sweetpea itself has breached its own weed management plan and we have written to the company complaining about their failure to comply with their legal obligations to keep their machinery weed free.”

Tanumbirini owner and Rallen Australia Director, Luciana Ravazzotti said, “We feel a responsibility to Traditional Owners to ensure Tanumbirini is not damaged and that sacred sites remain intact, now and for the future.

“We share the frustrations of Traditional Owners over the disrespect Tamboran has shown us to date and what they’ve done today is another example of this. They have failed to properly consult and respond to our concerns.”

Background to Newcastle Creek at risk of destruction

Sweetpea has an exploration permit covering parts of Tanumbirini and the neighbouring Beetaloo Station. Owners of both stations have been in the NT Supreme Court this week appealing the access agreements which Sweetpea is relying on to conduct their activities.

Nurrdalinji, which represents native title holders and traditional owners from across the Beetaloo Basin, has twice written to Tamboran to ask the company to stop the Newcastle Creek works. It has also been in discussion with the relevant NT authority (AAPA) about a potential breach of the Sacred Sites Act and written to the Northern Land Council asking them to assist them.

Cultural significance of Newcastle Creek

Newcastle Creek runs across Tanumbirini, a 5,000 square km cattle station located near Daly Waters. It is a significant songline, which Tamboran itself notes has ‘cultural significance’.

Testimony put by local Aboriginal groups to the NT Fracking Inquiry, contained in a chapter of its final report, Aboriginal People and their Culture, explains:

“According to Aboriginal tradition, the aquifers underlying country which may give rise to springs and other naturally occurring water sources can be associated with the travels of ancestral beings and link neighbouring Aboriginal groups, connecting people across the landscape. In the area surrounding the Beetaloo Sub-basin, for example, these connections find expression in the kujika song cycles.

Kujika are central to the major ceremonies linking Aboriginal nations and language groups across the region. These songs link people with sites in the landscape and require that a broader group of Traditional Owners and custodians be consulted, not just the group associated with the land directly above the areas proposed for any shale gas wells.

The kujika reinforce the concept of mangalalgal, or “the way of the dreaming”, which is an explicit imperative to honour and maintain cultural traditions. Traditional Owners have submitted that they are connected with neighbouring Aboriginal groups by “underground culture.”

Sweetpea is the first company to force access without the consent of pastoralists since the commencement in January 2021 of new NT Petroleum Regulations, designed to provide minimum protections to landowners in negotiating land access and compensation arrangements with petroleum companies.

Rallen Australia is in legal dispute with three gas companies which have exploration rights over its Tanumbirini station - Tamboran, Origin and Santos.

In January 2022 Rallen won a NT Supreme Court battle against Santos for its failure to inform Rallen of plans to drill additional wells on its Tanumbirini property.

Following a failure to reach agreement over Sweetpea’s bid to access neighbouring cattle stations - Tanumbrini and Beetaloo Station - the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) determined an “access agreement” for Tanumbirini on 4 May 2022. Rallen has appealed this agreement in the NT Supreme Court.

About Rallen Australia/Tanumbirini cattle station

Rallen owns 1.1 million hectares of land, has six cattle stations in the NT (Tanumbirini, Kalala, Big River, Larizone, Mt McMinn and Forrest Hill) and runs over 70,000 head of cattle. Rallen estimates it has spent $200 million in the NT since 2019 and employs many Territorians in establishing a renowned Brahman cattle business.

Tanumbirini is a 5,000 square km cattle station located near Daly Waters, 600km southeast of Darwin. Tamboran has an exploration permit (EP 136) for exploratory fracking that covers parts of Tanumbirini and the neighbouring Beetaloo Station.   Tamboran Resources is also in a joint venture with Santos, which has already drilled three wells on the Tanumbirini station.