Protest action has again ramped up at Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine ahead of tree clearing expected to start in the next few days.
Gomeroi people held a traditional emu ceremony outside the entrance to the mine yesterday, with about 20 Elders among those in attendance.
The ceremony was held to highlight concerns about Lawler’s Well, an area the protesters say is a sacred site.
It was staged on the first day of Whitehaven’s approved vegetation clearing period.
Gomeroi woman Dolly Talbot said Lawler’s Well was the last of 11 sites the group had sought to save from development by the mine.
A determination about whether Lawler’s Well is a sacred site will be made by Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
Whitehaven issued a statement that said Whitehaven was “in the process of compiling information to assist Minister Hunt’s consideration of this claim”, and the minister would determine whether the site had “any Indigenous cultural significance”.
“This site is outside of the area of disturbance for clearance operations for the remainder of the year,” the statement said.
“As with the previous questions of cultural heritage at Maules Creek, Whitehaven is working with Gomeroi Native Title Applicants and is committed to ensuring this claim is treated seriously and will be resolved before any clearance takes place near the site.
“To date, Whitehaven have completed all cultural heritage work in accordance to the relevant legislation during both construction and operations of the Maules Creek project.”
The protesters are not among the Gomeroi Native Title Applicants who have been working with Whitehaven.
Ms Talbot said the Gomeroi people had applied to have the site protected under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act more than a year ago.
“If we don’t get a decision soon, Lawler’s Well will get bulldozed as well,” she said.
“The minister has the protection act, all he has to do is administer it.
“Aboriginals always seem to have to jump through these hoops over and over again – well, we’ve jumped through the hoops, now give us the result.”
The protesters said they had originally planned to hold the ceremony at Lawler’s Well, but had not been allowed access to the site.
Whitehaven has been approved to clear land in Leard Forest between February 15 and April 30 each year.
Ecologists have said the forest is home to 30 threatened species.
The clearing date has also sparked renewed protests from the Front Line Action on Coal group who have called for people to join a six-week “community creative action protest”.
“With Whitehaven’s share price well under $1, we can make some noise and weaken them massively with some creative resistance,” the group’s website says.
“Let’s stop this forest clearing and win this.”
Whitehaven’s statement said a team of 28 ecologists would monitor and supervise the clearing to ensure compliance.
“The BMP [biodiversity management plan], which is approved by the NSW Department of Planning and the Environment (DP&E), provides a consolidated plan for the management of flora and fauna at Maules Creek, including the management and conservation of Whitehaven’s offset properties,” the statement said.
“This next phase of clearing is fully approved and will be conducted with the on site participation of the relevant NSW government authorities.
“Whitehaven Coal takes its environmental obligations very seriously and the company will continue to work closely with the DP&E to ensure compliance with its licence requirements and uphold the very high environmental standards that are set for mine operators in NSW more generally.”
Maules Creek started operations in December 2014 and currently employs about 330 people, with 77 per cent of the workforce living locally.