Media Release: Traditional Owners’ anger at works across sacred waterway by Sweetpea Petroleum on Tanumbirini Cattle Station

June 28, 2022 3:32 PM

Traditional Owners of the country on Tanumbirini Station where Tamboran Resources' subsidiary, Sweetpea Petroleum, is currently conducting fracking activities have expressed anger at news that yesterday the company crossed Newcastle Creek, protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act, and went through two large stands of bullwaddy, to clear the seismic lines.

Last Friday 24 June, Tamboran’s subsidiary, Sweetpea Petroleum, controversially locked gates on Tanumbirini, blocking access to the station owners and Traditional Custodians from inspecting Newcastle Creek. Media release from Friday’s locking of gate here

Photos here. Footage here

Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, which represents native title holders and Traditional Owners from across the Beetaloo Basin, have twice requested in writing that Sweetpea not conduct works across Newcastle Creek. Nurrdalinji has also written to the Northern Land Council, expressing concern that Sweetpea’s work will traverse this significant sacred site and songline and asking them to act on their concerns.

Following a recent flyover and site visit to the area, Nurrdalinji wrote a detailed complaint to the Aboriginal Area Protection Authority (AAPA), responsible for protecting NT sacred sites. AAPA has notified Nurrdalinji it will conduct an audit of the site on 5 July 2022. Further background to Newcastle Creek below.

Peter Ellis, a Gudanji-Wambaya man who lives in Katherine, who recently flew over the site with Johnny Wilson and was involved in the original survey of the area for the purposes of protecting the sites under the NT Sacred Sites Act said, “This is upsetting and bad for us. I’m feeling very sad they’re damaging my sacred sites. The government should keep them safe.”

Chair of Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, Johnny Wilson, and Jungai (cultural lawman) for the area
, responded to the news, saying, “This shows no respect for my people, my culture or my country. My heart is broken.

“We ask Sweetpea to stop further work so we can meet and discuss the consequences of what has happened, together with custodians, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and the Northern Land Council. What we see today should never happen again as fracking operations expand across the Beetaloo Basin.”

Senior Alawa man and Nurrdalinji Member Alan Watson, from Minyerri, who recently visited his country on Tanumbirini to view one of Santos’ fracking wells there said, “Tanumbirini is a special place because there’s the songlines there and special ceremonies that happened there in the olden days. It’s a big thing in our lives.

Last month I visited Tanumbirini and saw with my own eyes what fracking by Santos looks like. I felt the heat and smelt the fuel. We don’t want hundreds of wells across our country, or for sacred sites to be destroyed to do it.

“The government should back us up and stop fracking on this country. It’s not good for us. It might pollute our water system and air. We want to keep the country the way it was through all the years with the old people. We want to keep it the same way”.

Nurrdalinji Director and Alawa man, Bradley Farrar, said, “I’m not happy the company is destroying what’s ours and has been there for thousands and thousands of years and recognised by us as our songlines. In the early days there were no fences, and we recognised our boundaries by songlines. They are not listening to us. We need to stand together, and keep talking up, to stop people doing the wrong thing to our lands and rivers”.

Alawa woman, Gillian Limmen, Director of Nurrdalinji and Jungai (cultural law woman) for the area, who lives in Minyerri and recently visited Tanumbirini and one of Santos’ fracking wells on the station said, “We’ve seen how fracking is going to kill our land and water. We are in tears when we see how the companies are destroying our sacred sites”. 

Mudburra Jingili man from Pinda, William John, who lives in Mataranka, “I got a shock and it hurts to hear that the company has taken a bulldozer through Newcastle Creek. The Northern Land Council, which is meant to represent us, don't give proper notice and have not talked to me and told me what’s happening on our country.”

Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation

The Nurrdalinji Native Title Aboriginal Corporation includes native title holders from the Amungee Mungee, Beetaloo, Hayfield, Kalala, Newcastle Waters - Murranji, Nutwood Downs, Shenandoah, Tandyidgee, Tanumbirini, Daly Waters Township, Ucharonidge native title determinations.

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 were in the NT Supreme Court last week appealing the access agreements which Sweetpea is relying on to conduct their activities.

On 7 June 2022, Senior Traditional Owners Johnny Wilson and Peter Ellis did a flyover of the area to see the clearing Sweetpea has already begun to build roads and well pads, while also viewing where the access track will cross Newcastle Creek. Last Friday, Chair Johnny Wilson walked the seismic line to ascertain where work would intersect with Newcastle Creek, allowing Nurrdalinji to provide additional information to AAPA.

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 has three gas companies with 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. This is the access agreement Rallen is currently appealing.

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 wells on the Tanumbirini station.