NARRATIVE OF VISIT TO BURIAL CAVE IN FMG MINING ZONE
On 9 and 10 June Yindjibarndi people travelled to ground zero – to the heart of FMG’s Solomon mine… Ganyjingarrnginha. We went there to accompany the Department of Indigenous Affairs who wanted to take photos of the ancient cave burial for the State pathologist. More importantly we went to show ourselves to the country; to talk to the spirits and wash ourselves in the smoke of burning green leaves.
We made a video to show the places of our old people in the middle of this Solomon mining zone before FMG wipe the country clean of the traces of our old people.
An ABC TV 4 Corners documentary team also came to record the trip at the invitation of Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), however as the day for the trip came close, DIA threatened to pull the pin on the trip. They were worried about how how large a group of Yindjibarndi people would be going, and they were also worried about 4 Corners coming.
Two days before we were due to leave on 7 June 2011, DIA wrote to “confirm there will be no media involvement in the site visit planned for Friday this week. I am concerned because media have been contacting the Department this week seeking interviews, and have expressed a desire to film the site visit. The site visit to assist the State Pathologist with her investigation of the possible skeletal material, and that is the sole purpose of the trip. Could you please confirm there will be no media present at the site visit, no filming or recording.”
YAC was clear that they would be recording this trip to country, and had invited Four Corners to accompany them.
On 10 June Yindjibarndi people and friends travelled into the mining zone, to the FMG workers’ camp and the headquarters for operations at Solomon. They call it “The Camp Castle”.
We were met by FMG public relations and legal managers, Deidre Willmot and Alexa Morecombe, and asked to attend an FMG safety induction. YAC elders declined the induction, but the 4 Corners crew went in and came back half an hour later with a Wirlumurra press release.
This Wirlumurra press release said that our visit was “disrespectful and inappropriate”; that the planned ceremonial respect of visiting the site was “not in accordance with Yindjibarndi law”; and that “The site should not be filmed because of its spiritual and cultural significance”.
4 Corners then decided they would not film the Yindjibarndi ceremony at the burial cave.
The Firetail mining zone was like a military zone – tracks bulldozed through our country to drill holes; signs re-naming all our country with FMG names – Valley of the Queens, Dally Camp, Valley of the Kings, Firetail; more signs telling us “caution heavy machinery working in this area”, “explosive magazine”, STOP. We passed fuels dumps, drill rigs, big yards lined up with drums and bags of samples, water tanks, cleared drill pads. And FMG personnel in their hi-viz uniforms.
We approached the site along a creek gully, past a “Heritage area keep out” sign, between high rock walls, and climbed down a dry, smooth rock water fall to a place shaded by over hangs and snappy gums on both sides.
High up on one side, reaching back under the overhang was the cave, and in the back wall of the cave, niches blocked by stones. Michael Woodley, Mr Jacobs, Stanley Warrie and Angus Mack spoke to the spirits; collected green leaves of the snappy gum, crushed them and rubbed the oil on their hands and armpits and bodies… and lit a fire to make the smoke.
Michael Woodley approached a muji (crevice) high up in the cave wall, removed the stones put there by the old people, took one bone out and laid it on a bed of leaves and the Jardangarli (women elders) were called up to look at the bones – a long bone like from the shin. Very very old.
The DIA got the photos they wanted. Woodley put the bone back in the muji.
Woodley started and ended the smoking ceremony with two Yindjibarndi songs to reassure the spirits. After washing in the smoke again we went to have supper in the Ganyjingarringunha wundu.