Wangan and Jagalingou mark one year of occupation of Adani site

Marking a year since they reoccupied land near Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine concession, the Wangan and Jagalingou peoples of Far West Queensland held a Waddananggu, a Wirdi word for “the conversation”, which lasted five days.

“This is an important milestone for the Wangan and Jagalingou people,” Coedie McAvoy, Wangan and Jagalingou culture officer, told more than 100 activists across the country on August 22.

“We will continue to stay here because now we have come back home. Our old men were expelled from this country, and now we have come back to stay.

McAvoy said the reoccupation is a step in the struggle for First Nations land rights and that the Wangan and Jagalingou are asserting indigenous property rights to the mining area.

It was an inspiring week.

We arrived at the campsite at night, after a four hour drive from Emerald along dirt roads and culverts. We pitched our tents amid the noise of heavy machinery and a new tarmac road that was being built.

The mine is operated 24 hours a day, using huge searchlights at night. Coal began to be moved over the new railway line.

We were shocked at the size of the slag heap along the horizon and only 1.5 miles from the campsite.

McAvoy ignited a sacred fire on a stone Bora ring, ceremony on the country, under article 28 of the Human Rights Act 2019. This is the first time the law has been used to occupy land.

We have heard many stories of people trying to save sacred sites and occupy lands that most of us did not know existed. For example, last year an important stone tool site was destroyed.

Adrian Burragubba, McAvoy’s father, spoke about the 20-year struggle for land rights and against the Adani coal mine. He was bankrupted by billionaire Gautam Adani, who won a Supreme Court case forcing Burragubba to pay the costs.

The Queensland Government extinguished the Wangan and Jagalingou Native Title in 2019, allowing Bravus Mining and Resources (formerly Adani Mining) to take their land freehold.

The Guardians called on the Queensland and Federal Governments to recognize sovereignty and write treaties. “We have made our position clear,” Burragubba said on June 24. “We publicly oppose Adani’s Carmichael mine because of its devastating effects on our human rights as the original custodians of the land – rights we claim without limit.”

Josie Alec, a guardian of Kuruma Marthudhunera from Burrup in Western Australia, told us about the three-year occupation to protect five important sites, including petroglyphs, destroyed by the $4.5 billion fertilizer plant of the multinational Perdaman on the Burrup Peninsula.

Work had stopped, but Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said on August 23 that she would not stop the plant from moving forward. Three of the five Sacred Rocks are to be moved, during construction, to an unknown site. The massive boulders record the history of the last 100,000 years, as written by the First Nations peoples.

We heard from DK, a freshwater Yuggera man from Deebing Creek near Ipswich, about a site where 50 children were slaughtered despite their teacher’s efforts to save their lives. They want to prevent AV Jennings from developing 30 hectares of land into a residential site.

Alison Rose from the Queensland Bureau of Environmental Defenders spoke about advocating for the rights of First Nations to undertake cultural practices and state laws and decisions that interfere with this.

Conservationist Juliana Rechetelo spoke about the endangered black-throated finch, whose habitat is the land around Wangan and Jagalingou country.

McAvoy said Waddananggu is an extension of the historic 1972 Aboriginal embassy tent and urged the remaining 367 First Nations clans to occupy their lands under any relevant human rights law.

Michael A. Bynum