Gomero’s traditional owners voted overwhelmingly against entering into an agreement with Santos for its Narabri gas project ahead of a court hearing to decide whether the project could go ahead without their consent.
Santos Gomeroi has initiated proceedings at the National Local Title Tribunal to advance the 850-well coal seam gas project in northwest New South Wales without agreement from the public.
The trial is set to begin next week.
NSW and the federal government have approved the Narrabri gas project in 2020.
The lands targeted for gas production are subject to a Native Title claim, which means Santos needs either an agreement with the Gomeroi traditional owners or a resolution by the National Local Title Tribunal.
Santos filed an appeal with the tribunal in May last year.
It was last month that Gomeroi made an offer to traditional owners, seeking their consent for the project in exchange for a compensation package.
Traditional owners voted 162 in two with four absences to reject the proposed deal.
Raymond “Bubbly” Weatherall is one of 18 Gomeroi people who formed an organization representing local title claimants.
He said he did not think Santos had presented a fair deal or negotiated in good faith.
He said, “The value of our land is more than money.
“The spiritual and physical connection we have with our country is more than any proponent can afford.”
Weatherl said although the local title process did not allow for veto rights, the almost unanimous vote was an indication of the level of opposition to the development.
Traditional owners, community organizations and unions will hold a rally in federal court in Sydney on Friday – the day the trial begins in Brisbane – to oppose the gas field.
Gomeroi woman Suelin Taighe said she was concerned about the project’s impact on the environment of the Piliga forest, water and cultural sites.
“When it comes down to it, the destruction of the environment, cultural sites and places of spiritual importance will affect our cultural well-being,” he said.
“Generations will not be able to visit these places – especially in Piliga – which is important for cultural practice.”
A spokesman for Santos said the company was “involved with the Gomeroi community since 2012 and has been working constructively and will continue to do so.”
“Santos will respect the decision of the National Native Title Tribunal,” they said.
But Gomeroi Man Boy Spiarium said the traditional owners wanted Santos to move away and the people were ready to “continue fighting and do as much as possible to prevent any destruction of the country.”
“Our goal is to get Santos Gomero out of the country,” he said.