March 2, 2018
The Carmichael Coal Mine is a proposed development of six massive open-cut pits, five underground mines, a coal handling and processing plant, and associated infrastructure, in central Queensland, Australia. If developed as proposed, the mine would be among the largest in the world. Not only would the emissions from burning coal from this mine contribute to global climate change, which is already harming the nearby World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, but the mine would also destroy the ancestral homelands and sacred sites of the Wangan and Jagalingou. The most sacred of those sites is Doongmabulla Springs.
The project was announced in 2010 by Adani Mining Pty Ltd, part of the Indian-based Adani Group, and approved by the federal government in 2015. However, it faces complex challenges and fierce opposition within Australia and internationally, and the Adani Group has yet to obtain the significant financing required. There is still time to act.
The Land and Its People
The proposed Carmichael Coal Mine would harm around 30,000 hectares of traditional lands, the bulk of which are the traditional homelands of the Wangan and Jagalingou. This includes harming, and possibly destroying, the Wangan and Jagalingou’s most sacred site, the Doongmabulla Springs, an oasis in a dry land fed by abundant fresh water emerging from deep within the earth.
While the environmental cost of the proposed mine for the Great Barrier Reef is widely publicized, it is less known that the Wangan and Jagalingou hold Doongmabulla Springs sacred as the starting point of their life and the place through which their dreaming totem—the Mundunjudra, also known as the Rainbow Serpent—traveled and shaped the land, rivers and waterholes. The path of the Mundunjudra across the land is described in songlines, which run through the Wangan and Jagalingou’s country and upon which their culture and sacred beliefs are based, connecting them to the animals, plants, waterholes and spirits of their ancestors. Ancestral Beings like the Mundunjudra are accessed through rituals at sacred sites—and the Wangan and Jagalingou are responsible for protecting these sites. They have held this responsibility since the creation period known as the Dreamtime. The Mundunjudra also has the power to control the sites where the Wangan and Jagalingou are born into their totems, which define their clan and assign them rights and responsibilities to use and protect the land and water. Violation of the land by its people, or outsiders, is considered a grave desecration capable of harming a sacred connection.
As Wangan and Jagalingou elder Adrian Burragubba told Earthjustice, “If this mine proceeds, it will destroy every connection we have with our customs, laws and ancestors. Harming the country is harming our sacred beliefs and spiritual connections.”
Under international law—most notably the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the doctrine of “free, prior and informed consent”—the Wangan and Jagalingou have the right to practice their culture and transmit it to future generations and to give or withhold their consent to the development of significant activities that would harm their ancestral lands. The Wangan and Jagalingou are asserting these rights in their opposition to the Carmichael Coal Mine.
The Carmichael Coal Mine was announced in 2010 and approved by the Australian federal government in 2015. The development represents an approximately AUD $16.5 billion investment by the India-based Adani Group, which has faced criticism for its role in displacement and land theft at many of its power plant, port and mining projects in other parts of the world.
The Carmichael Coal Mine would consist of six open-cut pits and five underground mines. This mine complex would draw around 12 billion litres of water each year, posing a serious threat to the sacred Doongmabulla Springs and the cultural rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou.
While gaining support from federal and state governments, the proposed mine faces consistent opposition within Australia and internationally. The project also faces the fierce opposition of the Wangan and Jagalingou, who are asserting their rights under international law, including under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, both of which Australia is a party to, and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia has given its support.
The project also faces infrastructure challenges, including the need for 400 kilometres of new rail lines and an expansion of the Abbott Point port, in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. In December 2017, the Adani Group cancelled a AUD $2 billion contract with an Australian mining services company to build and manage operations. The big four Australian banks, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ Bank, have refused to finance the project. This led the federal government to pave the way for government financing. However, under pressure from voters, in December 2017 the Queensland state government vetoed federal funding and the deal fell apart.
The Adani Group has stated that it remains committed to the coal development despite these setbacks. Domestic and international pressure has prevented ground from being broken for the project so far, but there is a long road ahead to ensure the sacred lands remain protected so the Wangan and Jagalingou can practice their culture in generations to come. They need in tact sacred sites like Doongmabulla Springs to do so.
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Photo courtesy of Wangan Jagalingou Family Council
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