Waste dump plan splits Aborigine community

By Kathy Marks

"I want my country for the future generations, so I can teach them and they can get out there." - Pamela Brown. Photo / Paul Estcourt
"I want my country for the future generations, so I can teach them and they can get out there." - Pamela Brown. Photo / Paul Estcourt

It's a 2km-square patch of scrub in the desert, but to local Aboriginal people it's redolent with history, culture and spirituality -- and if Australia's first nuclear waste dump is located there, it will "poison" the land.

Pamela Brown, one of a number of indigenous elders who oppose the proposed dump told Federal Court judge Tony North that it would destroy their ancestral lands.

"I want my country for the future generations, so I can teach them and they can get out there," she said, adding: "The spirit people don't want any rubbish put on their country."

In a bid to resolve a seven-year controversy which has split the Aboriginal community, the court has decamped to Muckaty Station, a pastoral property in the Northern Territory, 120km north of Tennant Creek, where the federal Government wants to store intermediate- and low-grade nuclear waste.

The site was offered in 2007 by the Northern Land Council (NLC), the umbrella body for traditional landowners, with the Ngapa clan, in exchange for about A$12 million ($13 million) in compensation.

However, four other family groups who also claim ownership of the land are opposed to the dump and say they were not consulted.

It is those four extended families who have mounted the legal action, disputing the Ngapa's claim of primary ownership of the parcel of land at Muckaty, and challenging plans to store spent nuclear fuel rods and other radioactive waste there.

Brown, a Milwayi woman, told North that she initially agreed to the dump, however, her younger sister, who lives in Adelaide, reminded her of the long-term health effects suffered by Aboriginal people at Maralinga, in the South Australian desert, in the aftermath of British nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and '60s.

The court must try to disentangle the criss-crossing "songlines" of multiple clans who claim ownership of parts of Muckaty, and identify the owners of the sparsely vegetated, 2km square site.

It was Woomera, near Maralinga, which was originally designated as the location for a dump, in 2003. But South Australia successfully challenged the decision in the Federal Court, and other states subsequently passed legislation to prevent the nation's nuclear waste being dumped within their borders. With less constitutional autonomy, the Northern Territory was unable to follow suit, leading to the NLC's hotly contested offer,

Critics say the land is on or adjacent to a sacred site used for men's initiation ceremonies and other traditional business. They also fear its boundaries will expand. "The world wants to store their nuclear waste somewhere, [and] I have no doubt in my mind that parcel of land will get bigger and bigger," Marlene Bennett told the court. "We won't be able to get there any more, hunt there any more ... The songs, stories, ceremonies, culture ... everyone is dispossessed again."

One elder, 84-year-old Bunny Nabarula, said that if the dump went ahead, "I will go mad ... Me and my family ... we will block the road and let the truck run over us."

The NLC maintains that the Ngapa people have been identified as the site's primary owners, and it says the other clans raised no objections when it was first proposed.

The case is expected to run for another three weeks, with a decision expected later in the year.

- NZ Herald

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