‘Hurt and humiliation’: Tensions simmer during five-week Adani standoff

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

Tensions are brewing as a standoff continues between a small Indigenous group and Indian mining giant Adani.

A flag has been raised by the Wangan and Jagalingou people, and traditional huts are being built to serve as “embassies” for representatives of the other Aboriginal nations who are expected to join them.

For 36 days, through rain, wind and heat, at least one Wangan and Jagalingou man has sat in the middle of a traditional ‘bora’ stone circle, as a signal to outsiders to come and and talk.

An image showing the Wangan and Jagalingou from a distance, on top of a mound.
Wangan and Jagalingou people have established a camp on Adani's lease. Source: Leah Light

Coedie McAvoy, whose ancestors occupied the region for generations before white settlement, argues the Queensland Government “stole” the land from his people and gave it to a foreign company.

“We have to remember that this is just another day in the colony for an Aboriginal person,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“It’s just another day being told that you're trespassing on someone else's property when you’re on your own country.

“My grandparents weren't able to fight back, but now I have the ability… to get my voice heard.”

Police respond to miner's complaints about occupation

Bravus, the Australian arm of Adani, say they are “dedicated to continuing to work in partnership” with Traditional Owners, guided by Indigenous Land Use Agreements, but have said Coedie McAvoy and his father Adrian Burragubba are part of a “minority faction”.

“(They) do not represent the majority Wangan and Jagalingou Native Title claimants and they are not authorised representatives of the majority of Native Title claimants,” a Bravus spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia in May.

Police and mining vehicles in the distance.
Queensland Police have visited the camp following a complaint from Bravus. Source: Leah Light

Following a complaint from Bravus, authorities evicted Wangan and Jagalingou people from the leasehold in 2020, however police later issued a “public statement of regret” to Mr McAvoy’s father Adrian Burragubba in relation to the incident.

"We acknowledge Mr Burragubba represents a group of Wangan and Jagalingou people aggrieved by Adani's occupation on the land," it read.

"We acknowledge the incident... was traumatic for Mr Burragubba and his extended family and caused embarrassment, hurt and humiliation." 

Left - a picture of coal mining equipment. Right - Indigenous people practicing culture at the camp.
Bravus have called the occupation "a last ditch attempt" to stop their mine. Source: Getty / File / Leah Light

Those currently occupying the site say they have the right to do so under the Queensland Human Rights Act and Mr McAvoy said his discussions with police have led him to believe they accept this.

In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, police said their investigations into the camp are ongoing and a complaint has been received from Bravus who have alleged it is unauthorised.

“A police command team, including police negotiators and police liaison officers have been in negotiations with all stakeholders involved,” a police spokesperson said.

“This includes people at the camp, mining employees and executives from government departments with a view to obtain a peaceful and non-disruptive resolution into the future.”

Bravus 'won't tolerate' an 'anti-fossil fuel activist group' on site

Bravus said any cultural practices or ceremonies must be undertaken in a “planned, safe, and respectful manner” and will not “tolerate criminal activity” on their mining lease.

The company also said they were concerned that anti-coal protesters were “trespassing under the guise of traditional activity”.

“For more than a decade activists have tried and failed to stop our project and this is seemingly a last ditch attempt to do the same,” a spokesperson said.

“We remain on track for first coal this year and are committed to supporting our workforce and contractors to go to work safely, get on with their jobs and earn a living.”

Three Indigenous men sitting side by side at the camp.
Coedie McAvoy (left) said his people have been given no restitution for stolen land. Source: Leah Light
Left - Woman having their cultural paint applied to their faces at the camp. Right - an Indigenous man holding a cultural flag.
Mr McAvoy says access to land is integral to the culture of the Wangan and Jagalingou. Source: Leah Light

Mr McAvoy maintains that the camp is not home to a protest, but rather a cultural ground where people can come and learn Wangan and Jagalingou culture.

“We are displaced people. They removed all of our people and there’s been no restitution,” he said.

“We haven't got any country to go and practice our ceremonies, and take out children and bury our children's placenta into the tree to have their birthing tree.

“We don't have these properties because they were taken away.”

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