The Kimberley is one of the largest areas of untouched wilderness in the world, stretching all the way from Broome, north up around the Buccaneer Archipelago, and east as far as the NT border. Large parts are listed as a National Heritage location. But it's also home to deposits of vast mineral wealth and pastoral land. Mines as diverse as coal, oil, bauxite and uranium are all on the drawing board, posing a major threat to the Kimberley. It’s one of the world's last great wilderness areas, but it's currently covered in more than 700 mining tenements.
From director Nicholas Wrathall (‘Gore Vidal: The United States Of Amnesia’), the documentary ‘Undermined: Tales from the Kimberley’ takes viewers out to that region (the epic landscape is beautifully filmed by Broome-based DP Mark Jones) and introduces them to the stories of its people, and the tensions building in the region. What does the ongoing battle for control of mega-mines and developments mean for the Kimberley’s custodians, lands and cultures, and will they survive these pressures?
The first location we’re taken to is Leopold Dams, where we’re introduced to Kevin Oscar, Bunubu Traditional Owner and Station Manager. The majority of the workers on the station are indigenous, including Laughlan Williams and Kevin’s son, Harrison. According to Harrison’s mother, Anne, “They have young families, they need jobs, and this is the only job they know.” The young men have an affinity with the wild brumbies on the station because “(the horses) know the place”. Other stations have been bought by big investors who hire contractors from the eastern states.
Richard Patterson from the Eastern Guruma Pastoral Company approaches Kevin with an offer of a joint venture that will include retaining the local workers. It’s attractive because a third of the stations in the Kimberly (“sitting on billionaire’s road with Kerry Stokes on one side and Gina Rhinehart on the other”) are Aboriginal-owned and don’t have access to capital.
‘Undermined: Tales From the Kimberley’ drops in on a few other locations, like the James Price Point, where Woodside Energy attempted to set up a gas plant (it abandoned its plans in 2013). It was also the site of the first native title case in over a decade fought in court between multiple Indigenous groups in the Kimberley region. The Goolarabooloo people, the descents of Paddy Roe, an elder and custodian of Aboriginal law, lost their claim to hold native title over James Price Point and other parts of the Dampier Peninsula near Broome in northwest Western Australia.
What does the ongoing battle for control of mega-mines and developments mean for the Kimberley’s custodians, lands and cultures, and will they survive these pressures?
The documentary also explores how indigenous people, even though they are recognised as “Traditional Owners” of different plots of land, still have to phone ahead for permission to enter stations or have gates unlocked so that they go camping and use waterholes.
A wide range of interview subjects are consulted. Perhaps the most interesting is Albert Wiggan, a young Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyul leader who works as an environmental consultant with the Nyul Nyul Rangers, is Deputy Chair of the Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science Project, Indigenous Chair for Bilbies Australia’s National Recovery Team, and is the Nyul Nyul representative on the board of the Kimberley Land Council.
White-educated (“the only abo at a Perth Catholic School”), Wiggan’s father was friends with famed Australian wildlife documentary film maker Malcolm Douglas. When Wiggan’s father passed away and he found himself aimless and adrift, Douglas encouraged him to go out "country”. Albert eventually fronted a blockade and lobbied the Supreme Court to the point of successfully overturning the development at James Price Point.
Who gets to define what meaningful negotiation looks like? What is the path to social justice for Aboriginal peoples? ‘Undermined: Tales From the Kimberley’ asks these urgent questions and demands answers.