NITV: The NT Traditional Owners standing staunch in the face of an international gas giant

August 30, 2022 2:04 PM

Traditional Custodians say they are hurting with the ongoing battle against gas companies wanting drill on their Country, in Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin 500km south east of Darwin. But they won’t give up. By Keira Jenkins

Uncle Samuel Sandy watches the flames shoot up in front of him.

He’s shocked, and struggles to comprehend the scene.

“I have a crunch in my stomach, my tummy is really upset, crying for this Country,” he tells NITV’s The Point program.

He’s sitting in a van in red dirt country, on a Northern Territory cattle station he used to visit as boy.

There’s a searing heat and a whooshing like the sound of fierce winds, from flames consuming excess gas from exploration wells, owned by gas giant Santos.

“Right now I feel sorry for this Country, my family,” said Uncle Samuel, visibly distressed.

Samuel Sandy Beetaloo Fracking

Uncle Samuel Sandy looks at a photo of Tanumbrini Station. Source: Supplied

He is one of a number of Traditional Custodians to make the long journey to Tanumbrini Station - the first time in years for many.

They formed the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation two years ago amid growing fears their voices weren’t being heard in the emotional debate about fracking in the Beetaloo.

Santos and Sweetpea Petroleum, a subsidiary of Tamboran Resources, are both exploring for gas on the cattle station, after the Northern Territory government lifted its ban on fracking in 2018.

The companies want to build more wells, with Sweetpea Petroleum gaining environmental approval this month to begin drilling and fracking up to seven wells nearby.

Neither company responded to NITV's requests for comment.

'Hook line and sinker'

Traditional Custodians are worried about the possible impact to water, sacred sites and songlines.

“Nobody come and consulted with us, nobody told us anything that’s happening”, Uncle Samuel said.

Johnny Wilson can see the flames at night and smell the gas from his home, even though it is some distance away.

“Back in 2014 when my people were first told about fracking they said these holes are going to be the size of billy cans, one hole and that’s it, we’re just going to look over your Country, just sign this paper,” said Mr Wilson, the chair of the Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation.

“Little did they know they were signing a document that was a hook line and sinker situation."

Flaring gas wells on Tanumbrini Station in the Beetaloo.

Flaring gas wells on Tanumbrini Station in the Beetaloo. Source: NITV

Loris Hume is also worried about the future of her Country and what the final impact of the fracking will be.

“When I see that gas out there it makes me very sad, I want to cry,” she said.

“We worry if something goes wrong and the gas will leak out and into the countryside.”

Aunty Loris was born at the old homestead, what’s left of it sits crumbling amid termite mounds.

“This is a special place,” she said.

“We used to go this way fishing with my grandfather and grandma and this is where we’d come back and camp here.”

It has been a long time since Aunty Loris was back here - the old homestead hasn’t been used since the 1960s.

'All connected'

Samuel Sandy is a Jingili man from Elliot and believes any impact to the water would cause damage to sacred songlines.

“Water is like a bloodline,” he said.

“It’s all connected, it’s connected to the heart. Once that water gets poisoned, where are people going to live?

“We only have one earth and all walks of life need suitable drinking water. I’m really worried about this company now overruling everything, the Traditional Owners, the decisions they make."

Tanumbrini cattle station

The entrance to the sweeping Tanumbrini cattle station. Source: NITV

Jingili woman Janet Gregory said the debate had fractured families and communities, with some supportive of the development.

“It will affect not only our Country but our songlines, our dreaming and it’s creating a division within our family lines.”

Johnny Wilson worries about what will be left for future generations.

“It really hurts, it’s really emotional for me because I have to think about the future of my grandchildren and this is our Country to live on, to run our own programs, our own self-determination,” he said.

“ I live in great fear when I look at that thing.

“We will go on and we will keep fighting because we have a right to our Country, we have a right to say over our Country, we have a right to say what we want to happen on our Country and fracking is not one of them.”