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© 2019 Community Impact Foundation (ABN 43 260 612 561)

The trustee for Community Impact Foundation is Australian Impact Investments Pty Ltd (ABN 81 165 905 582) –

Corporate Authorised Representative (No. 464365) of Ethinvest Pty Ltd (AFSL No. 223718)
  • Lisa Elliott

Original Power

Cultural leadership and sacred sites cultural mapping project - Northern Territory

Contact Name: Karrina Nolan - Executive Director


Address: Level 3 673 Bourke Street Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia

Phone Number: 0403920195

Charity website:

DGR Registration Link:

ACNC Page Link:

Overview of Organisation Our vision: We dream of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with all the necessary ingredients to self-determine our own futures and protect our country.

Original Power’s mission is to build the power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to protect country by increasing the effectiveness of community campaigning, organising and community development processes.

Original Power will provide strategic advice and campaign support, facilitate capacity building, connect communities and help communities respond to threats and seize opportunities to protect country.

Describe the project that requires funding: Summary

The overwhelming majority of Traditional Owners across the Northern Territory (NT) have consistently said no to fracking. The NT government, after the lifting of the moratorium on fracking in 2018, have committed to implementing 132 recommendations from the NT Government Taskforce before fracking can commence. A number of these recommendations are meant to involve custodians and native title holders. However, there is no mechanism for the involvement of Traditional Owners in the Government's implementation process.

In addition the current definition of sacred sites does not include connected songlines or underground waters nor areas that could be considered one connected site. Water systems would be unacceptably impacted by gas fracking exploration and activity and must urgently be charted to be protected. To our knowledge mapping of this kind across vast regions and custodians and law keepers has never been done before.

Our project would support the coming together of a cultural leadership group to map songlines and inform the NT Government fracking taskforce of the importance of these sites in order to ensure their protection. The cultural leadership group will include custodians and Traditional Owners to ensure the recommendations are implemented with their involvement

The ultimate goal here is urgently ensuring no sacred sites or culturally significant places would be impacted by the proposal to begin fracking in the coming weeks.

The immediate problem

Origin and Santos have both stated their intention to start fracking in the Beetaloo basin near Elliot, around 700 kms south of Darwin, as soon as possible, with exploration wells drilled in August and to be fracked in October or November 2019. Affected native title holders are rightly concerned that pollution from fracking could poison not only precious nearby waters, but also the interconnected aquifers over a broad region, which are currently not well mapped or understood by Western scientific standards. There are a number of potential interventions that may prevent or slow down the commencement of “exploration” fracking. It is hoped that a number of these tactics may provide the delays needed to derail the NT government’s plans to begin fracking in earnest. There is a coalition of communities and organisations that have been working together on a comprehensive campaign strategy. While many of the activities being implemented through this campaign have been effective in building a story around the negative impacts of fracking, affected native title holders have not yet been able to effectively argue that the impacts of fracking on songlines and sacred sites can not be known as many of these areas have never been adequately mapped or documented.

The current framework for the protection of underground sacred sites and culturally significant places is limited, and while the Sacred Sites Act is one of the strongest in the country it still doesn't protect connected or underground sites adequately. Testimony put by local Aboriginal groups to the NT Fracking Inquiry was contained in its final report, stating: ‘According to Aboriginal tradition, the aquifers underlying country which may give rise to springs and other naturally occurring water sources can be associated with the travels of ancestral beings and link neighbouring Aboriginal groups, connecting people across the landscape. In the area surrounding the Beetaloo Sub-basin, for example, these connections find expression in the kujika song cycles.’

Kujika are central to the major ceremonies linking Aboriginal nations and language groups across the region. These songs link people with sites in the landscape and require that a broader group of Traditional Owners and custodians to be consulted, not just the group associated with the land directly above the areas proposed for any shale gas wells. The kujika reinforce the concept of mangalalgal, or “the way of the dreaming”, which is an explicit imperative to honour and maintain cultural traditions. Traditional Owners have submitted that they are connected with neighbouring Aboriginal groups by “underground culture.”

Currently there is no legal framework that offers consideration to a broader shared responsibilities and management approach to protect these cultural values, which are at clear risk from proposed fracking activity.

Original Power has been identifying these shortcomings and is developing strategies to address them with custodians. This includes putting mechanisms in place to ensure decisions are made following the correct protocols and with all of the right people, based on recognised traditional decision making processes, involved in these processes.

What we will do:

  • Support the establishment of a ‘Cultural leadership’ group, based on traditional ownership and principles to represent country. This group will include representatives with cultural authority to speak for water systems and country in each of the Beetaloo basin catchment areas. Original Power has already resourced an initial meeting of relevant people which was held in March 2019.

  • Scope a partnership with Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority - and potentially the NT hydrologic fracturing taskforce and Norther Land Council - to resource the consultation and research process.

  • Build the capacity of the leadership group - to conduct meetings, meet with community members and work across communities to share and collect information required to proceed

  • Research and prepare a body of evidence to support the case that the connected underground and surface water systems of the Beetaloo gas basin have environmental and cultural significance.

  • Present this evidence to Government and media to demonstrate the extensive cultural values represented across the region in the aquifers.

  • Explore legislative and regulatory protections for underground and surface water systems. Including the possibility of expanding the definitions of sacred site under the Sacred Sites Act.

  • The NT government is still defining what they mean by ‘No Go Zones’ where fracking won’t occur. Traditional Owners could influence this definition and potentially limit the areas available for fracking (although ultimately the vast majority say no area is acceptable and all country is a “no go zone”)

  • Scope the development of materials such as video and written documentation with cultural authorities explaining the significance of water systems and sacred sites connections within the area subject to exploration.

  • Ensure that the NT Government recommendations are implemented with meaningful involvement of Traditional Owners and custodians.

Please describe any collaboration you have had with other organisations in relation to this project: As mentioned above there is an alliance of organisations, unions and communities working together on the broader campaign to defend country and prevent fracking from occurring on these pristine lands and waters. This is a large and complex piece of work and therefore involves organisations who have the reach of many supporters for example Get Up! It involves working with communications specialists as well as scientists, hydrologists, farmers and pastoralists. We also partner with organisations who have access to that kind of expertise. We also work with Seed - Indigneous Youth Climate Network, Aboriginal Land Council, peak bodies, health organisations and a range of community based organisations.

Funds requested from Pool of Dreams sub-fund: $40,000 - $50,000

Other sources of funding: We receive support from a number of private donors and philanthropists, trusts and funds. Much of this support is a contribution to all of work. We have received $10,000 so far for this specific project.

When would this project be expected to start? The initial scoping for this project has begun, however we would expect to start the next stage after the wet season in February 2020 with a follow up meeting and consolidation of the group who will make up the Cultural Leadership group.

When would you anticipate this project to finish? February 2021. It is hard to determine how long the mapping will take, although with the right resourcing we could work through dry season and have preliminary research done within 12 months - February 2021. The component of the project which is ensuring Traditional Owners are part of the NT Government taskforce process could go on for another 18 months.

Please click here for the Original Power overview