The drive from Mpartnwe/Alice Springs to Tennant Creek is a good reminder of what it means to be living in the Territory. It’s long, pretty much straight, littered with blown-out tires and beautiful landscapes and you pass through some roadside stops that highlight the good, the bad and the absurd of the NT. This past Good Friday I took the drive up the road with a couple of friends to attend a rally against the nomination of Muckaty Station, located 120km north of Tennant Creek, as the Federal Government’s site for a radioactive waste dump.
Along the way we passed through Aileron, where there were truckloads of horses turning off the highway for the Aileron Easter rodeo. We filled up at Ti-Tree, a small community of around 800 people that was practically empty, most of its residents probably down at the rodeo or in Alice for the footy. We drove past the turnoff for Coniston, the site of a massacre of Anmateyre, Warlpiri and Katyeyte families by white Centralians. We pulled into Barrow Creek where racism still runs rampant with the unspoken rule that Aboriginals from the neighbouring communities are not allowed into the building and served food from a small, green, wooden window marked ‘staff’.
We drove on, visiting Wycliffe Well – the alien capital of Australia – where we learned that one possibility of the sighting of UFOs in the district is due to light shining off the wings of the Barn Owl. We stopped at the Devils’ Marbles, a series of rocks that look like, well, marbles, to watch the sunset. We then drove onto Tennant arriving at night were we camped at a horse centre just out of town that teaches local teenage Aboriginal boys how to be stockmen.
The next morning we went to the rally. We met outside the Northern Land Council (NLC) building and after a welcome and a few words from Muckaty Traditional owner Diane Stokes, the 250-strong contingent of Traditional Owners, Tennant and Territory residents, nuclear-free campaigners from around the country, children and dogs marched down the main street shouting slogans ‘no dump at Muckaty’ and ‘don’t dump on the NT’.
We marched down to Peko Park, a park fronting onto the main street, where we sat and listened to speeches from Traditional Owners speaking out against the nomination of the site by the NLC. They spoke of their fear of the land being poisoned and that same poison spreading throughout the neighbouring lands, animals and plants.
We were told that the Federal Department of Resources informed a hearing in Canberra that after the construction of the waste dump, there would only be six full-time jobs created at Muckaty. We were told that when Mark Lane, a Traditional Owner from Muckaty, invited the NLC to attend and address the rally and explain how Muckaty came to be nominated, the answer from the NLC chair, Kim Hill, was: only for Christ’s second coming would they be in Tennant – this from an organisation that is statutorily obliged to listen to and represent the concerns of Traditional Owners.
We then sat and listened to Mark Lane talk about the toxic waste poisoning the land and the two sacred men’s sites around the area. ‘The land is here and here’ he said, pointing to his head and his heart.
After the speeches, some of the women Traditional Owners danced a challenge dance. They danced proudly, strongly, feet gliding across the stage, arms raised, faces smiling. Watching them you sensed the tenderness among them, the sense of belonging. They were together, sharing their land, their stories, with an audience of supporters.
It was a reminder of what it means to keep the land in the heart and mind. It was a reminder that black and white can unite and together ensure the protection of land.