On Wednesday 11 May, over 1000 people showed their opposition to the proposed nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station. One hundred protestors stood around a huge blow-up nuclear waste bin outside Parliament House in Darwin, with a variety of banners, and a petition signed by 1000 people over a two-day period.

Protest against nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station

To say opposition to the waste dump is strong is an understatement. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people in the NT, aside from those with a vested financial or political interest in its existence, who support it. Not that this matters to the ALP, especially Martin Ferguson, who’s made it his personal mission to ensure nuclear waste is dumped in The Territory. No matter that the legality of the Ngapa claim to exclusive ownership is in dispute. Such frivolous concerns carry no truck with the ALP, or the Northern Land Council for that matter.

There were a number of speakers including Lorna Fejo, Muckaty land claimant and traditional owner from Muckaty Station, and member of the Stolen Generation. Lorna shyly addressed the crowd; although her words were quiet (she seemed unused to addressing people), they carried weight. She made it clear that she and her people did not want the dump on their country. In some way her speech and presence encapsulated all that is wrong with the waste dump: that a woman of Lorna’s age, who’s already been through unimaginable trauma, still has to fight for her right to live on her land and be left to live as an Indigenous woman is a travesty.

Lorna was followed by other scintillating speakers, like Eddie Ware, Marianne McKay and Charley Caruso from the Western Australia Nuclear Free Alliance. These three exuded anger and indignation, especially Marianne Mckay. Marianne talked of the land her ancestors walked over, a bountiful place that fed and housed all; but what was once a paradise on earth, is now a nuclear waste dump – the final nail in the coffin of the destruction white people have visited upon the Eden that was Australia.

Some Indigenous leaders lament the fact that there are no younger leaders to take up the struggle; seeing these three in action revealed the error of that belief. They are powerful people.

Left to right-Charley Caruso, Marianne McKay & Eddie Ware from the WA Nuclear Free Alliance address the crowd The Mayor of Palmerston, Robert Macleod spoke of his concern about the transportation of nuclear waste through his city. (Palmerston is on the edge of Darwin and nuclear waste would be off-loaded from the wharf or railway station and go through Palmerston, but not Darwin city.)

It’s an important issue and one that needs to be addressed. Robert said that no one has consulted him or anyone from the council about how the waste was to be transported through his city, what the safety issues would be or how they would be addressed, or even the proposed route. In true ALP fashion, an idea is hatched but those it affects are never consulted. With the Stuart Highway regularly washed out in the wet season and truck accidents not uncommon, especially on the potholed roads after the wet, these are serious issues.

However, I was never sure whether Robert’s concern was more to do with transport of nuclear waste through Palmerston than an overall objection to the waste dump.

Gerry McCarthy MLA, Member for Barkly and Labor NT Minister for Barkly area (covering Tennant Creek) voiced his (and the NT Labor Party’s) objection to the waste dump. To their credit the NT Labor party has always opposed the waste dump and let their feelings be known to their federal colleagues, who treat their territory counterparts like errant children who don’t understand how the real world operates.

Rev Paul Turley, from the Nightcliff Uniting Church, spoke of the illegality of the waste dump being located at Muckaty Station; this is the latest aspect to the fight against the dump and one which could rule out Muckaty Station as a potential site.

The Liberals’ (and now the ALP’s) claim to have the support of the traditional owners for a nuclear waste dump rests on an agreement made with the Ngapa people, who the Northern Land Council nominated as the traditional owners. It has since come to light that the Ngapa are not the only people who have spiritual connections to the area where the dump is to be situated.

‘Dianne Stokes is a member of the Yapa Yapa group. Everyone in this case agrees there are seven families who all have a spiritual connection to Muckaty Station. However, Ms Stokes says her Yapa Yapa clan is the primary traditional owners over the four kilometre square piece of land that another family, the Ngapa, have nominated for the dump.’

Of course with $12million at stake, the Ngapa people – and the Northern Land Council, who will no doubt get a handsome slice of the pie – are keen to push the idea that the Ngapa are the sole traditional owners, even though the Northern Land Council has reports stating the Yapa Yapa people were the traditional owners in the 1990s. (No wonder a number of land councils want to break away from the Northern Land Council and form a Central Land Council for the Katherine and Barkley region, one that better represents their interests.)

It’s worth noting that Dianne Stokes, from the Yapa Yapa group, has made it clear that the Yapa Yapa don’t want any money, they just don’t want the dump.

In this dispute over who are the traditional owners, Martin Fergurson has said it’s not the role of the government to adjudicate in such affairs; rather, it’s the role of the High Court. This may be so, but if the government or a corporation makes a deal with someone to use their land, only to find, before any money changed hands, that the land is question may be owned by more than one person – well, the deal should at least be suspended until the issue of ownership is resolved. This has not been the case with Muckaty Station. The government has not so much as mentioned suspending the process of turning Mackaty Station into a nuclear waste dump; instead it’s acting as if there is no dispute.

Again we have a situation where one law applies to Indigenous people, one that disadvantages them, and one applies to everyone else, that tends to give advantage to (mainly) white people.

If this situation illustrates anything, it’s that despite Kevin Rudd’s apology, initiative’s such as Close the Gap, the ALP’s rhetoric about improving relationships between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the country, it’s all nothing but sound-good bullshit. In more than 200 years, not much has changed in the way the ‘gubberment’ deals with Indigenous people. If it’s in their interest to support Indigenous people they will. But if it conflicts with their own developmental desires, then they’ll do what they want and create laws to justify their own pathological desire to grab land for whatever purpose they see fit.

The fight to prevent nuclear waste being dumped at Muckaty station is far from over; it is not the fait accompli the government wants it to be. The longer it takes for work to start on the dump, the more information leaks out about the problems (legal, geological, ethical and logistical) that makes it an unacceptable site for a nuclear waste dump.

Some proponents claim we need a waste dump as we use nuclear products. A friend of mine worked on the new Parliament House when it was being built. He claims there are nuclear bunkers under Parliament House; that seems, to me, the obvious place to dump the waste. And as most politicians are convinced that nuclear waste is safe, they shouldn’t object.

Rohan Wightman

Rohan Wightman is a Darwin-based writer & teacher. He’s been shortlisted for the NT literary awards four times, including this year. He has been published in Going Down Swinging and has been shortlisted in a few other writing comps and won a few less well-known comps. He started writing when he was young but really hit his stride when writing for Squat It, the magazine of the Squatters Union of Victoria, in the late 80s. He has piles of manuscripts but no publisher. His under construction website is www.rohanwightman.com

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Hi there

    I am continually surprised about the items that make the news and those that don’t. I am definitely against anything nuclear…we only have to look at what is happening in Fukoshima to know that we actually have very little idea about what has really happened there, and even less of an idea of how to really fix it. I am watching China at the moment to see what their reaction will be as the leaching from the plant steadily makes its way into the sea and flows on ever outward.

    I am studying environmental issues at the moment at uni (mature age student) and I was appalled to learn about the PEAK OIL issue and I wonder why that is not even making the news. Recently, the International Energy Agency has put out revised figures that show we have actually already entered peak oil and are on the steady downward incline for oil supply. But, who knows, may be it will be a good thing…
    The ABC show Catalyst did a great clip on the peak oil issue recently and the link is http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1515141.htm is you would like to have a look…

  2. The World Fire Safefty Foundation was honoured to be invited to be present at this rally. The ionization smoke alarms in almost every home in Austrlia contain radioactive waste. The NT government is the first Government in Australia to mandate photoelectric smoke alarms, the safe and nuclear-free alternative to the DEADLY ionization alarms in almost every home. Lets hope the Government display the same integrity and courage and don’t muck up Muckaty!

  3. You are entitled to oppose the waste dump, but don’t make things up. The Northern Land Council is required by law to pass on to traditional owners every red cent of royalty received for the waste dump lease: see section 35 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Land Councils do not get to charge percentage commissions like real estate agents.

    1. I never stated as a fact that the NLC would get any money from the government for the waste dump, just raised my suspicions. Who knows what deals, if any have gone on btw the NLC and the government and all because it’s not allowed or it’s not supposed to happen doesn’t mean it’s not. Look around at how many corporations break the law, how many companies get kickbacks-it seems to be the way things are done in a capitalist society. A lot of indigenous people are not happy with the way the NLC has acted in this matter (and others), which is why there’s been a movement to break away from the NLC from some TO’s.

      Thanks for that update Adrian, and sorry i neglected to include that important point in the article.

  4. Thank you Rohan for publishing and replying. When I respond similarly to more … conservative … sites, that never seems to happen.

  5. No worries,
    the whole point of blogs is to write, and discuss issues with other readers/writers and in the process educate and be educated, to test one’s own beliefs and canvass POV on issues. If that’s not the point, I reckon, we may as well just go on reading editorials in the mainstream press and write letters that rarely get printed and have no discussions.

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