What the Rocky Hill coal mine means to us

My name is Aunty Susan Syron. I am an Aboriginal Elder in the Biripi Nation with connection to the Worimi Nation and a member of the Cook family. I am a descendant of Jack Cook and Jesse Brummy, First Nation people of the Gloucester area. Jack Cook was an Aboriginal Elder who was born in 1838 and was traditionally initiated. Jesse (Brummy) Cook was born around 1850 at Copeland.

After European settlement, the sad fact is that our people were subjected to massacres that decimated the Aboriginal population. 

Whilst European settlement ultimately meant that the Cook family was displaced from their lands, the family maintains strong cultural, traditional and historical ties to the Gloucester region. Many family gatherings are held at Gloucester. 

In June 2016, the Gloucester community formally recognised the contribution of Jack and Jesse Cook to Gloucester and Australia’s history through the unveiling of an acknowledgement plaque. Over 150 Cook family descendants celebrated this event in Billabong Park, Gloucester.

As Cook family descendants, we are very proud of our links to Country within Gloucester and the surrounding areas. 

Gloucester Resources Limited (GRL) has applied to the Department of Planning to build a coal mine, known as Rocky Hill, on the southern doorstep of Gloucester and in an area of great significance to the Aboriginal community. The Cook family has recently lodged a strong objection to the mine.

The law requires GRL to undertake an Aboriginal cultural heritage assessment (including both cultural and archaeological significance) which must:

• demonstrate effective consultation with Aboriginal communities in determining and assessing impacts, and in developing and selecting mitigation options and measures; and,

• outline any proposed impact mitigation and management measures.

By any measure GRL has failed woefully to comply with these requirements.

GRL has completely failed to undertake any proper consultation with our family and with other significant Aboriginal groups. The company has demonstrated an unwillingness to engage with our Aboriginal heritage, history, culture and the spiritual dimension permeating all aspects of our life and beliefs. 

What is happening with the GRL proposal to damage our Country, mimics the historical relationship between government and our People - relegate, move and dismiss – which we had hoped was now a relic of the past. It seems little has been learned and there seems little interest in caring about Aboriginal culture. 

GRL’s environmental impact statement (EIS) is a very superficial and inadequate attempt to comply with its legal requirements, in that:

• The EIS fails to assess the broader cultural values of the land to Aboriginal people, as opposed to individual archaeological sites.

• The bungling, ill-informed and convenient ‘consultation’ with Aboriginal interests in the EIS was inadequate, and therefore the assessment of Aboriginal cultural heritage is also inadequate.

• The EIS contains dismissive/offensive arguments regarding travelling routes being of no consequence.

• The EIS contains misrepresentations stating that superficial and inadequate/misguided consultation was legitimate and that it somehow conveyed Aboriginal agreement to the GRL proposal.

The Cook family submission contains the following moving comments by Aboriginal Elder Ken Eveleigh:

“The Bucketts and the Mograni look down upon this valley; it is a very spiritual and sacred place. You might not see them clearly. If you belong to Country you feel the spirit and hear the rivers flow and you know that your ancestors are still here with nature and it is not just in one spot; it runs through the valley.

Surrounding tribes would come together here for food, marriages, family ties, hunting, gathering, song, dance, initiation and The Dreaming. There was not one leader (or king) but several leaders e.g. medicine man, lawman, knowledge holder, at these events. You were given your sacred knowledge.

GRL’s own documents reveal that at least nine Aboriginal sites will be destroyed by the mine. However, they have not even surveyed the whole of the area affected. There may well be many other undiscovered sites that will be destroyed. Whilst that is bad enough, it is the failure to genuinely consult us, and the failure to deal in any meaningful way with the broader cultural effects of the proposal which we find to be so upsetting and offensive.

It is extraordinary in that the GRL proposal will obliterate our Country, our heritage and our spiritual connection. The emotion that is stirred up by the possibility that the area that holds our ancestors’ spirits may be changed forever and no longer be a place of wellbeing for people who share our connection to the place, is crippling.