The Coonabarabran Gathering on Saturday was an enchanting evening of togetherness, respect and culture. The event, organised by a local committee, was in response to the National Native Title Tribunal’s decision to extinguish Native Title over the part of the Pilliga Forest where Santos has approval to drill for coal seam gas.
As the Pilliga Forest has been integral to the Gomeroi nation for millennia, Gomeroi people from near and far gathered in the late afternoon at the local footy field to voice their anger and pain. They were joined by many supporters, including three Knitting Nannas, two from Sydney and one from the Illawarra.
After a very hot day, a cool breeze swept across the footy field. The grandstand and trees on the western side of the field shaded the lawn where banners and signs were painted.
Everyone was encouraged to join the queues for the smoking ceremony and ochre face painting. Then the local Flying Mice Elders Group welcomed everyone to country.
Our guide on a cultural tour of the Pilliga in 2021 and one of the organisers of the event, Suellyn Tighe, spoke about the terrible statistics of the National Native Title Tribunal’s decisions – of 187 cases only 3 decisions have been in favour of First Nations people – none in NSW.
Suellyn encouraged everyone to sign the Coonabarabran Declaration which includes reviewing and changing the Native Title Legislation.
Suellyn: What do we want?
Suellyn: When do we want it?
Suellyn: How will we get it?
Crowd: Together without fear
Deborah Briggs and Peter Humphries are often in the Pilliga conducting tours or doing citizen science. They make sure Santos is doing things properly. This costs Santos a lot of money. As Deb said ‘We’re tormenting the crap out of Santos’.
In reference to the Narrabri Gas Projects proposed expansion to Moree and Werris Creek, Deb referred to the Santos Project in the Pilliga as the head of the gas octopus. She believes that as a multi-cultural society we have an opportunity to stand together and chop it off.
A young Indigenous girl, Lilly from Coffs Harbour, confidently recited her poem called Save the Artesian Water Basin. Speakers were also from The Greens and some of the Unions.
A commotion near the kiosk announced the entrance onto the field of the fabulous Gomeroi Dance Academy. Two of the group had given beautiful heartfelt speeches earlier about country. The traditional dancing was followed by fire dancers.
The absence of police enhanced the peaceful and respectful nature of the gathering. An awesome evening not to be forgotten and it will hopefully be repeated for those who missed out.
One of the organisers of the event was Gomeroi man and Warrumbungle Shire Councillor Kodi Brady. He has lots of terrific photos and videos of the event on his Facebook page.