A highly respected Aboriginal woman who became the face of the pro-James Price Point gas hub lobby feels betrayed by Woodside, her own people and protesters who waged war on the project.
Jabirr Jabirr elder Rita Augustine, 78, was in tears yesterday as she spoke of feeling let down and deeply saddened that $1.5 billion in benefits from the project appeared lost to her people.
In 2011, Ms Augustine became an indigenous figurehead for the development when she signed an agreement on behalf of traditional owners with the State Government and Woodside after years of talks.Last year she wrote to The West Australian and then Greens leader Bob Brown saying he was putting “dinosaur prints” above people by opposing the project.
She also appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program last year to question Dr Brown about his position.
“I feel betrayed by Woodside,” Ms Augustine said.
“We had an agreement with Woodside but I don’t know if that still stands.
“I also feel let down by some of my people here in Broome and the outsiders who came in the protest against us. It really hurt me.
“We are only a small group of people and yet we had just about the whole world against us and I can’t believe how this came about.”
The State Government negotiated with the Jabirr Jabirr and Goolarabooloo people as part of a joint claim but a bitter division split the groups and each filed competing native title bids.
The Goolarabooloo remain fiercely opposed to the project.
Speaking with Yawuru and Jabbir Jabbir elder Cissy Djiagween, Ms Augustine spoke softly but was visibly upset as she detailed the plight of Kimberley Aboriginals.
She said the suicide rate among their young people was an epidemic and the money could have saved lives.
The money would not have gone “into our back pockets” but used to save people’s lives and culture through education, jobs, better health and housing.
“Is that too much to ask for? I know you care about the whales and dinosaur footprints, but what about us?”Ms Augustine said she wanted to look after the Dampier Peninsula and Kimberley people.
“There is a lot of conflict in this town and everybody, including the Jabirr Jabirr, are pointing the finger at us,” she said. “I can’t see how this came about.”
Ms Djiagween was less critical of Woodside but took aim at her own people and “stranger” protesters.
With tears rolling down her cheek, she said it should have been a decision for the Jabirr Jabirr people but “everyone seemed to say that was their country”.
“I feel betrayed by my people,” she said. “Woodside had got our spirit up. It was our country and this was a way we could work the country to benefit us, our children and generations to come with health, education and jobs.
“These people who were protesting were selfish towards our people, even the protesters that came from overseas. It had nothing to do with them. It is not their country.
“We were called all kinds of names by these people when we used to visit (James Price Point) by all those protesters standing out there on the road just because we were fighting for the good of our people.”
She believed the project would have gone ahead if the bickering had stopped and people united.
A Woodside spokeswoman said the company recognised many indigenous people would be disappointed the development would not proceed.
She said the company would review the benefits package as part of its valuation of Browse resources but most of it was subject to the development proceeding.“Woodside has already made $3.7 million in milestone payments in accordance with the agreement and delivered on some of the indigenous employment and training initiatives," she said.