They join local farmers and environmentalists in opposing the New South Wales mine, which last week received final federal government approval after a rigorous three-year process.
Gomeroi traditional owner Stephen Talbot said his people were determined to fight the Maules Creek mine “until they show respect to the Gomeroi people and our culture”
“It is with a great deal of stress and concern that the Gomeroi traditional people, local Aboriginal Land Council community and Aboriginal community members have had to walk off the cultural heritage salvage program at the Whitehaven Maules Creek mine,” he said.
“Whitehaven have shown no respect for Aboriginal cultural heritage, or our people. Even today, they lied to our elders about work progress. We are standing up for our elders and for our children today.
“The Maules Creek mine will clear more than 4000 acres of culturally significant forest, artefacts and cultural values that we have not even been allowed to assess properly yet. We have only been able to walk [on] 0.05% of the mine site.”
“The forest contains cultural heritage sites, food sources and totems of our people, and most of them will be permanently destroyed by the planned mine,” Talbot said.
“There hasn’t been a proper consultation process, the management plan is flawed and we don’t believe that our people have been treated with proper respect or that our concerns about the destruction of cultural heritage have been addressed,” he said.
“We are seeking an urgent intervention to stop all works until the mine management comes to the table to discuss and rectify our concerns and comes to a mutually acceptable resolution on the management and conservation of our culture and heritage.”
Whitehaven said in a statement that the protest has had no impact on any of its operating mines.
“The only impact has related to the ongoing cultural heritage salvage works being undertaken at the Maules Creek project site in consultation with relevant local Aboriginal groups,” it said.
“Whitehaven has requested a meeting with the various Aboriginal groups as soon as practical in order to discuss any concerns they may have. Whitehaven awaits a positive response from the representative of the groups.
“We wish to discuss the concerns raised today on a direct basis with those who have raised them in order for the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage items at the site to continue on an agreed basis.”
Whitehaven takes the views and concerns of all representative Aboriginal groups extremely seriously, it said.
“Whitehaven has held discussions and carried out formal consultation with a number of local Aboriginal representative groups in relation to the Maules Creek Project since the earliest days of the project.”
Consultation began in June 2010 and continues today, the company said.
A detailed Aboriginal cultural heritage impact assessment was included in the project's EA as part of the planning process and consultation has continued throughout the project.
“Following consultation with the Aboriginal representative group’s, OEH, Namoi CMA and DPI our Aboriginal archaeology and cultural heritage management plan was lodged with the state government and has been approved – the plan is available on our website,” it said.
“The management plan details with the consultation process to date and the planned approach to consultation moving forward as well as the management of salvage works.
“The Maules Creek project is a long-life project and we are committed to ongoing consultation.”