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Issue #1761      December 14, 2016

Stand with the land

For more than two years, Yawuru man Micklo Corpus has monitored the comings and goings of work crews at a remote gas exploration site called Yulleroo on the outskirts of Roebuck Plains in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

From a campsite beside the front gate, he’s made a stand for the land – as Corpus puts it – and its creatures, the water and for future generations.

Last week, his commitment and leadership were formally recognised by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), with Corpus being named alongside Adnymathanha anti-nuclear campaigner Regina McKenzie as the joint recipient of the 2016 Rawlinson Award at that organisation’s annual meeting in Melbourne.

Corpus’ vigil began in August 2014 after Buru Energy, the Perth-based company behind multiple gas exploration sites at Yulleroo, started seismic mapping after receiving approvals to frack (a controversial mining practice that blasts toxic chemicals into rock seams) within the environmentally-sensitive Canning Basin.

“They do sonar readings so they can get a reading of what the formation looks like under the ground, 3 km deep,” Corpus says. “When they do these activities our goannas are under the ground. And our goannas will come up when it’s thunder and lightning and they feel the vibration, that’s when they come out.

“But because (the sonar) is making the similar kind of vibrations it’s disturbing their life. When we go hunting it’s skinny now. We gotta throw it away. For us that’s wasting. They’ve also bulldozed these seismic lines in the area where we got bilbies. We had a healthy population in that area.

“When the bulldozer comes it’s in the day and this little creature is three metres under the ground. So when he comes up at night, his hole is blocked. He can’t get out. The company say these little creatures are good diggers. But they only dig one way: down.”

Preparing the exploratory sites at Yulleroo to extract the gas also threatens underground water reserves, says Corpus. Like the one nearby Broome relies on for its drinking water, as well as surface waterways like the Fitzroy River and Roebuck Bay, a wetland identified by the Ramsar Convention as being of international importance.

“It’s our water,” says Corpus. “We should be zero tolerance. Nobody should be able to tamper with that water.”

Energy resource development in the Canning Basin is set to be a major environmental issue in the lead-up to the 2017 WA election, with polls suggesting the results could go either way.

When company vehicles arrive, Corpus stops them and asks if the Yawuru Native Title Holders Aboriginal Corporation has been notified they’re on the site. Buru Energy volunteered to consult closely with the prescribed body corporate when the company first set up on Yulleroo, says Corpus. That undertaking followed strong opposition to the venture, with 96 percent of Yawuru traditional owners unhappy with the arrangement, but without any native title provisions to veto the exploration permit.

“The company said that they would talk to the people. They’ve been at the gate 33 times since I’ve been there. The Yawuru people were only made aware of them on three occasions,” he said. Corpus records the time of entry, the number of people in each work crew, the type of work intended and the time they plan to leave.

“They hate me,” he laughs. “Sometimes they’re argy-bargy with me, but everybody’s armed with cameras.”

If Corpus refuses access to the site, the police are notified and everybody waits a couple of hours for the time it takes to drive to Yulleroo from Broome. The police will then issue Corpus a 24-hour “move-on” notice, which he says he lawfully complies with, before returning to his camp once the order has lapsed.

The Broome Shire Council has also sought to move him on, firstly claiming Corpus was camping on a stock route and more recently issuing an order to remove a shelter constructed without council approval. Estimated cost for the professional removal of the structure was quoted at $26,000.

“I thought the approach that they’d have was to come and see me. I’m from the town and I vote there,” says Corpus.

“But they waited until I went into town, then they stuck a building order on it.”

The building order also prevented Corpus from personally taking down the shelter, meaning he would have to foot the $26,000 bill. That order is currently being appealed at the State Administrative Tribunal.

“I think there’s a move for me to be off the gate there and it comes from people upstairs there. I really feel that,” says Corpus.

There is also mounting pressure on Buru Energy’s $30 million Canning Basin fracking scheme to produce a gas flow in the kinds of quantities that will reassure investors, as the company’s share price continues to fall from a 2012 high of $3.59 to about 20c at present.

Koori Mail

Next article – Editorial – The fight to come

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