Nothing divides a community like a wind farm. And that inviolable rule applies with equal force to Australia’s Aboriginal communities.
To say that Australia’s Aboriginal history is both long and proud is mastery in understatement. Scientific estimates vary, but there have been Aboriginal footprints on this continent for somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 years. By comparison, Australia’s history of European settlement is a veritable gnat’s eye-blink.
Aboriginal connection to Country is bound up in what is referred to as “songlines”: the songlines are sacred representations of all that went before; recording ancestral stories, which connect a system of beliefs as deep and as complex as the Aboriginal culture itself.
Together these stories are referred to as “the dreaming”, which brings to present minds an aggregation of the wisdom and law that enabled hundreds of isolated Aboriginal groups to conquer this land (in the sense of survival in it, rather than exploitation of it), while barely leaving a mark upon it.
For the Aboriginal, ancestry matters. The spirit of the Ancestors resides everywhere: rock, bush, tree, lizard, kangaroo, emu – hence, Aboriginal respect and reverence for every tangible thing in their Country. To walk in an Ancestor’s Country is always a deeply spiritual occasion for Aboriginal people, a moment when their sense of ancestry and connection becomes absolute: all without becomes within; the past becomes present; the incomplete whole.
With such sacred respect for the source of their existence and the foundation of their belief, it’s little wonder that Aboriginal people defend with passion, if not ferocity, what matters most to them: Country and the spirit of their Ancestors.
As Australian governments eventually came to an appreciation of the significance of Country to Aboriginal people, and the critical importance of being able to preserve and protect their sacred inheritance, legislation was passed in all of the States, the Territories and by the Commonwealth designed to protect Aboriginal Heritage, Sacred Sites and Remains.
Deliberate contravention of the provisions of such Acts by, for example, the destruction of Aboriginal Sacred Sites or the desecration of Aboriginal gravesites, resulting in the disturbance of Aboriginal Remains results (quite rightly) in serious criminal penalties.
The Aboriginal Heritage legislation merely reflects the depth of sentiment held by Aboriginal people about a history that spans tens of millennia. Rightly proud of their culture, Aboriginal communities work overtime to ensure that there is no damage done to places of cultural significance. The responsibility for doing so – both actual and legislated – falls to the Traditional Owners of the land in question.
Which brings us to Cape Bridgewater and Union SuperFund backed Pacific Hydro’s public health calamity. Even before its 29 turbines spun into life in 2008 and destroyed the ability of its current residents to live in, sleep in and otherwise enjoy their very own homes and properties, Pacific Hydro had engaged in the wanton destruction of dozens of ancient Aboriginal gravesites.
Pacific Hydro’s actions properly incensed Cape Bridgewater’s Traditional Owners, the Mitchell and Saunders families; people motivated by their desire to protect their Ancestral Heritage, rather than cash from the developer.
Apparently aware of the bad blood that its actions had generated among the local Aboriginal community, in general, and its rightful Traditional Owners, in particular, Pacific Hydro enlisted a group of relative outsiders, the Bell family, to ratify their acts of wholly unnecessary and deliberate destruction.
No doubt aimed at dodging the massive fines that should have been imposed under Victorian Aboriginal Heritage legislation for the destruction of sacred sites and the interference with Aboriginal remains, Pacific Hydro’s efforts did not go unnoticed or without consequence: a blood feud followed.
Here’s the Herald Sun’s report on how Pacific Hydro’s arrogance and malfeasance panned out.
Fatal wind-farm rift
29 April 2016
INDIGENOUS leader and corruption whistleblower Steve Saunders was abandoned by authorities before he killed the uncle of AFL legend Nathan Lovett-Murray in self defence, it is claimed.
A court dropped a manslaughter charge against Mr Saunders last month over the death of Darren Bell.
Mr Bell died after Mr Saunders punched him at a football match in Heywood, in western Victoria, last year.
The Herald Sun has now seen correspondence that shows a rift between Mr Saunders’ family and members of the Bell family over the development of wind farms in Portland. Both families claimed the right to veto the decision.
Claims have emerged that Mr Saunders was subjected to a terrifying campaign of retribution after giving evidence alleging corruption in approvals for wind farms around Portland.
Mr Saunders said his family had been subjected to duress and that he now wants a full investigation in to why he wasn’t protected after speaking out.
Despite receiving threats, Mr Saunders told a Senate committee on March 30 last year the Bell family were not traditional owners but had approved the wind farm developments that destroyed sacred sites and disturbed burial ground.
“My family, the Mitchell and Saunders family, are traditional owners of Cape Bridgewater. We feel that our traditional rights, laws and customs have been violated throughout this Portland wind turbine process,” Mr Saunders told the committee.
“We did not agree with the wind turbines, so we did not sign off on any of the process. Our stories were interfered with. We have sacred dreaming stories along the coastline here. One of them is one of only a few traditional dreaming stories that connects all the tribes in Australia” Mr Saunders, who has since fled the state, thought he would be afforded some protection by the Senate committee after speaking out. But when Mr Saunders returned to his car, he found his tyres had been slashed, it is claimed.
Mr Saunders was set upon at the Heywood Football Ground on May 9 last year and was badly injured before Mr Bell was fatally struck.
Mr Saunders was charged with manslaughter days later. But the case was abandoned after prosecutors said it was deeply flawed. Nathan Lovett-Murray later slammed “white man’s” law.
STT is very pleased to know that white man’s law works.
Our Victorian operatives tell us – from eyewitness accounts – that Steve Saunders never had any case to answer.
It was, as prosecutors properly conceded, a “deeply flawed” case.
Spectators at the same football match, Darren Bell and his relatives had goaded and taunted Saunders during the entire afternoon.
The subject of Bell’s foaming rage was the fact that Saunders had given evidence to the Federal Senate Wind Farm Inquiry on 30 March 2015, about the Bell family’s involvement in helping Pacific Hydro cover up its desecration of Sacred Sites and Remains at Cape Bridgewater. For some strange reason his written submission containing thoroughly damning evidence was suppressed from publication, presumably by the Inquiry’s Administrative staff. However, his oral evidence was published in Hansard, and this is what he told the Senators:
Mr Saunders: My name is Steven Saunders. My family, the Mitchell and Saunders family, are traditional owners of Cape Bridgewater. We feel that our traditional rights, laws and customs have been violated throughout this Portland wind turbine process.
The cultural heritage side of things was never put in from our family. We did not agree with the wind turbines, so we did not sign off on any of the process. Our stories were interfered with. We have sacred dreaming stories along the coastline here. One of them is one of only a few traditional dreaming stories that connects all the tribes in Australia. None of those stories were documented through the whole cultural protocol of the wind farm project. It wasn’t put in any reports, and our cultural heritage sites were destroyed. Eye witnesses to that include me and my family. When we spoke up about it, we were simply shut down.
The whole process that was set up was supposed to protect the traditional owners—that comes under federal law. Under the Native Title Act, we were supposed to be protected at Cape Bridgewater. It was failed—failed by the process that was fast-tracked through. When we reported incidents such as our cultural sites being disturbed, we were simply kicked offsite.
Throughout the whole process, we have spent years trying to go through the proper process but we haven’t even been considered. In our native title determination, there is a process that the federal government has to intervene if such things happen. This process hasn’t even got past the first hurdle. We have gone back for years and years and we keep telling the same story: our sites have been destroyed, our dreaming stories have been disturbed, and nothing has been done about it so far. We have been persistent in defending it.
For doing nothing more than telling the truth Saunders had his tyres slashed that day.
The brawl at the Heywood Football match occurred on 9 May. Intoxicated and belligerent, Bell set upon Saunders in a melee in which Saunders was surrounded and outnumbered by Bell’s relatives. Saunders was left literally fighting for his life, when Bell fell backwards, apparently suffering a heart attack. Thereafter, Bell’s relatives pounded Saunders to within an inch of his life. What Bell’s relative, Nathan Lovett-Murray might claim to recognise as Aboriginal “payback” – a form of retributive justice. However, payback is ordinarily delivered according to Aboriginal Law and Custom, and based on fairly measured punishment; not vengeance of the kind sought by Lovett-Murray.
What led to the fatal brawl is as insidious and corrupt as anything in Australia’s corporate history. As noted above, the concept of “respect” is central to Aboriginal culture and belief; its antithesis “shame” is to be avoided at all events. What Pacific Hydro did at Cape Bridgewater goes beyond mere disrespect and amounts to what right-thinking Aboriginal people refer to as a “big shame job”.
Destroying Aboriginal Sacred Sites, Heritage and Remains is criminal. To thereafter enlist outsiders (motivated by cash and not culture) to override the will of properly motivated Traditional Owners and, thereby, to obtain a concocted form of endorsement for its actions, is nothing short of an outrage.
Among its multitude of sins, Pacific Hydro now has blood on its hands. Shame on all those behind it.