By Deborah Wall
23 March 2011
Walmadan is a site besieged by a complexity turn of ‘interactive polarities’ characterized by a simultaneous pull in opposite directions: development as part of the mining boom on one hand and preservation of a pristine heritage environment on the other. But another pull comes from the resistance of local Aboriginal Custodian and elder, Joseph Roe. He has strong support from artists, musicians and environmental groups but their consolidated voices are muted. Their voices fall outside institutional decision structures. ‘Fragmegration’ is what James Rosenau (2003) calls the phenomenon where contradictions, ambiguities, complexities, and uncertainties are the ‘regularities’ (Ang 2011). The global/local interaction confronting Broome and its Aboriginal people, it appears, is part of this 21st century age of fragmegration.
James Price Point (Aboriginal name: Walmadan) is the site that was chosen by WA Premier, Colin Barnett to install a gas hub onshore to liquefy natural gas. This site is subject to a native title claim. Aboriginal people are divided on the ‘gas’ issue. As children, some of them were forcibly taken away from their Indigenous heritage and culture. They live in two worlds, or as one Aboriginal man told me, they are ‘people of two times’. Some were brought up in the Western way. In their traditional world, culture and nature are one. Nature is alive. They are part of nature and interact with it. If treated badly, they say ‘nature can kill.’ They fear the gas development because ‘if culture dies, the Mother dies.’
Another word, ‘sustainability’ is loaded with diverse political meanings: preservation of Indigenous cultures, environmental protection, and billions of earnings from mining boom royalties, which the government promotes as a way to address Aboriginal disadvantage.
I spent six months doing my fieldwork in Broome in 2010. As part of my immersion into local Aboriginal culture, I wrote poems to try to capture my imaginings of the nuanced ‘territory’ of ‘nature/culture’. I was taken into the bush many times by Aboriginal people. I also joined the Lurujarri Heritage Trail nine-day walk to the proposed gas site. This is one of the poems I wrote inside my tent.
Rain in Walmadan: a traveller’s tale
Time and fate fluid like the waves of the sea,
incessant rain voiced the political turmoil
over the Kimberley’s gas dispute
on the anniversary of Lulu Paddy Roe’s death.
We, Lurujarri trailwalkers found ourselves
at the mercy of nature’s fury when
the guardian spirits vented their anger
through the wild, wild wind that shook
our tent of self-assuredness.
How did it feel when layer upon layer
of security was torn away from us?
What slim thread for survival
could our limp, damp fingers clutch onto?
The vicious snake at Kundandu spoke forcefully:
‘losing country will lose the home of your soul.’
On top of the sand dunes at Walmadan,
we faced our darkest ocean of place
and time and we were overcome by a sense
of awe and strangeness, our tourist eyes
radically transformed as we sat on wet swags
realizing what it would be like
to be deprived of everything of substance.
At that moment, I felt nothing but sheer skin
collecting rain of tears, of country.
Ang, I. 2011.‘Navigating Complexity From Cultural Critique to Cultural Intelligence’ (Seminar). Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney. February 17, 2011.
Rosenau, J. 2003. Distant Proximities, Dynamics Beyond Globalization. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton UP.