Last month the chief minister of the Northern Territory, Natasha Fyles, opened the door to large-scale fracking of what the gas industry calls the Beetaloo basin.
The land to be mined includes my paternal grandmother’s country.
In 20 years, when the chief minister is growing old and grey, she is going to look back and feel guilt for saying yes to fracking the territory. She will think: I was part of that land damage. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have listened.
When I heard the news that fracking would go ahead I felt my spirit and heart were breaking, because I felt responsible for the role I played back when fracking exploration agreements were signed, many years ago now.
I was living in the remote community of Elliott and on the council when I first came in contact with the gas companies who wanted to mine our country. In meetings with their representatives I was more or less just acting as an interpreter for our old people, whose first language was not English, and who did not understand what the companies were saying to them.
The companies only spoke about how signing agreements to allow gas exploration would bring benefits. They said, “you’ll get a lot of money, we’ll even give you money for your children’s education”, and so on.
Nobody ever told us the other side – about what sort of havoc this type of mining could do to our land and our people.
It was the idea of improving their children’s lives that these old people really loved and responded to, and so the old people said yes.
Since then, we haven’t seen any positive difference. Up until their death, these old people got nothing – no benefits, no employment – and nor did their children.
You need knowledge to make the right decision, but it didn’t seem to me there was adequate truth-telling then – or now.
I deeply regret that I did not have the information at the time that would have allowed me to tell those old people – before they signed the agreement – to get as much information as they could from different sources.
I believe that if any of those old people were alive today and had the information they needed to assess the risk, they would say no.
But now we are backed into a corner.
Sadly, this fracking business creates division among families and the biggest division is created by the benefit some believe they’re going to reap. But in reality it seems likely the few families that support fracking will get a pittance, in return for their cooperation with the mining companies.
What has long been a concern for traditional owners is the possible contamination of water.
If fracking chemicals contaminate our water, it can never be put right. We are connected not only through land, but through water and songlines, and that’s what brings Aboriginal tribes together.
Water travels right across country, from the territory to South Australia and through to Western Australia. If our water is contaminated, it not only affects us, it will also impact surrounding tribes who live next door, including the Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri, Aranda, Luritja, Warumungu, Anmatyerre, Ngaatjatjarra and Gurindji people.
Traditional owners in our area want to protect our country and do not want fracking.
We will, of course, keep fighting. Thankfully, there is still time for the chief minister to change her mind. She needs to understand that fracking is killing the land, it’s killing the country and it’s killing our people.
We invite her to visit, to talk to us and to see the damage. Because for her to do a good job, she needs to come and listen to First Nations people, who were here long before her ancestors arrived.
Janet Gregory is a Jingili traditional owner and cultural adviser for the Nurrdalinji Native Title Corporation, which has members across the Beetaloo basin