Perhaps they were caused by the spring equinox or the looming referendum. Perhaps there was another invasion of mind-snatchers from inner space during last Friday’s full moon; or perhaps it was that old bogeyman, “climate change”, the default cause of everything unpredictable today. Whatever the case, there does seem to have been a recent surge in extreme language across the nation, indeed the world.
More people seem to be claiming other people are – or have been – doing something wrong, something that has made them unhappy, or at least something that has been – or is being – done without their permission. The Age of Reason has become the Age of Entitlement. The rhetoric of “consultation” and “conversation” has become just another pit-stop on the road to reparations.
The issue came to mind again on September 30, 2023, when this headline appeared on the front of my suburban newspaper: Borer tree cull ‘cultural genocide’. Worse still, it was in nearby suburb. According to reporter Bonnie Christian:
An Aboriginal custodian has stopped the removal of stumps of borer-infected moreton bay fig trees at Lake Claremont because permission was not granted to alter a sacred site. Traditional owner Iva Hayward-Jackson described as “cultural genocide” the removal of trees riddled with polyphagous shot-hole borer.
In an open letter on April 24, Mr Hayward-Jackson complained the tree removal was a “clear breach” of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972. “It’s come to my attention that borer infestation of mature trees is happening and a sacred registered site Galbamaanup (Lake Claremont) is under immediate threat,” he said. “Myself and Bella Bropho and Violet Bodney would like to be fully and properly consulted and the laws of the Aboriginal Heritage Act is abided by.”
“No amount of money can stop this cultural genocide. The system is a joke…This is nothing but smoke and mirrors by the McGowan Government and Aboriginal heritage places will continue to be ‘altered’ and or ‘destroyed’ in the ‘public interest’. What a crock of crap.”
I confess to having some sympathy with Mr Hayward-Jackson, who explains at some length in this clip how Aborigines made peroxide by mixing emu fat with white ochre and other neat tricks of “indigenous science”.The place where I live is also a “sacred site”, at least for me and my birds. It too was visited by WA Biosecurity this year and declared an “infected premise” despite my pleading. The dinner party invitations soon dried up. Neighbours began to treat me as if I had a new variant of COVID when told I had been served with a Pest Control Notice (s31) issued under the WA Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007. It remains in place until March 24 next year.
Meanwhile, pursuant to section 30(2) of the BAM Act, I “must take prescribed measures to control the declared pest”, the “tree-killing” polyphagous shot-hole borer .The PBSB (right), alas, did not respect my sacred site or my dreaming. Like many other borers around today, they just went on day and night without my consent until they bored me and my Lady of the Night (Cestrum nocturnum) to tears. But that’s another story.
Meanwhile, over a thousand kilometres to the north and over many tens of kilometres of ocean, now described as “sea country” by folk who call themselves – but not their lawyers – “traditional custodians”, a much bigger drama of entitlement is playing out.
The latest act began on September 28 with a decision in the Federal Court of Australia by Justice Colvin on the case of Cooper v National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Woodside Energy Scarborough Pty Ltd, second respondent, and Woodside Energy (Australia) Pty Ltd third respondent. Angela Macdonald-Smith, a senior resources writer at The Australian Financial Review, described the outcome as an “indigenous win on Woodside’s Scarborough testing approvals”.
Woodside Energy’s Scarborough gas project could be delayed after the Federal Court found the regulator wrongly provided approval before the company had adequately consulted a traditional custodian who was concerned seismic testing could harm her cultural heritage.
In a decision that could spell trouble for other offshore projects, Federal Court judge Craig Colvin determined that the offshore petroleum regulator did not have the statutory power to grant an approval that was conditional on further consultation. The approval is one of several Woodside needs to advance the huge LNG project which is already at risk of delay. — AFR, September 28, 2023
The AFR included a photograph with the story. It was taken by Nancye Miles-Tweedie outside the Federal Court’s Melbourne office. The caption read: “traditional custodian Raelene Cooper successfully challenged an approval for seismic testing at Woodside’s Scarborough gas project in WA.” Ms Cooper, dressed in a black shirt emblazoned with the words: “SAVE OUR SONGLINES” and “Save the Burrup”, was giving a thumb-up sign with her right hand.
According to Macdonald Smith, Ms Cooper argued that Woodside’s “seismic work – a precursor to the drilling of wells for the project – could have harmful impacts on her sea country and songlines, including on whales and turtles, which are of high cultural importance.”
Ms Cooper said she was “elated” by the decision, which was important for her people and their history. “Woodside just came and told us what was happening,” she said. “They never bothered to sit down and listen to Murujuga traditional custodians about the full impacts of their Burrup Hub operations on our culture and our sacred songlines.”
Readers interested in hearing more about Ms Cooper’s take on whales, turtles and songlines should visit this SKY News episode: Aboriginal woman’s mystical views halt seismic testing. (9 min.)
So this is why a major gas project of importance to all Australians is being halted – because one woman, with mixed heritage, has mystical views which she claims come from Aboriginal culture.
I may be too cynical, but I often wonder how many Aborigines today sincerely believe such stories and how many just use them for leverage, for one reason or another. — Andrew Bolt, SKY News, September 28, 2023
Ms Cooper, incidentally, was represented by the Environmental Defenders Office: “We work with you and the law to protect wildlife, culture, community and climate”. It was allocated funding in the Albanese government’s October budget. One analyst said at the time that it was an intriguing decision: one that went against the government’s own petroleum regulator, against regional jobs and against ensuring secure energy supply to Asian allies. Susan McDonald, the Coalition’s resources spokeswoman, said the decision was “another example of Labor’s funding for green activists undermining Australia’s future prosperity”. So it goes in La-la Land.
Last year the High Court ruled that Santos had not adequately consulted with traditional owners over its proposed $5.8bn Barossa project in the Timor Sea. An editorial in The Australian commented: “The irony is that tough environmental laws for offshore exploration of oil and gas are being exploited to block tens of billions of dollars’ worth of investment.”
So I find myself reluctantly agreeing with Iva Hayward-Jackson: “The system is a joke … What a crock of crap.” Indeed.
Perhaps sooner or later you too will bow your head with me and Michael Leunig: