“Until we know no more Yindjibarndi are coming, we’ve got no right to give this country away.”
Michael Woodley, Bidarra law carrier, CEO Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
As a journalist and sometimes just as a human being, I have followed the story of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group in their native title negotiations, since 2011.
In late October 2015 I finally went to this place I’d been talking about for years with my Three Gates Media colleague Marnie Richardson. We stood at the top of Mt Welcome in Roebourne, in 40 plus degree heat and looked in all directions. Across the Harding River, we saw the place where the Yindjibarndi first camped in the 1930’s when they were herded off their land (situated south of here)…the bleak cemetery carpeted with red dust, the Fifty Cent Hall, scene of numerous native title meetings, the disused Victoria Hotel outside which sixteen year old John Pat was bashed to death in 1983 sparking the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.
Roebourne is far from a tourist destination. The weekend we arrive it’s almost deserted due to sorry business. It’s a town battered by many demons delivered by white fellas. But the commitment to keeping culture and making change for the better has a vibrant beating heart.
The first time I interviewed Michael Woodley, I’d had to draw myself a picture to understand the complicated situation that had arisen. THIS interview is primarily a chance to meet Michael Woodley himself. But to understand the man, you have to understand the struggle.
In the first half of our conversation Michael gives a simple explanation of how negotiations went sour, talks about his grandfathers, including Ned Cheedy who, aged 104, stood up and spoke in angry defiance at a Native Title meeting in March 2011… and about the irrevocable changes brought to a culture tens of thousands of years old, when white fellas came to mine their land.
Three Gates Media thanks Michael Woodley for sharing his story.
Traditional song performed by Michael Woodley.
Recorded by Meri Fatin at Woodbrook Law Camp. October 2015
Theme music Les Jeunes Pousses by Françoiz Breût
Listen to Part 2 of the Rare Air podcast with Michael Woodley
Read the explainer
View the photoessay woodbrook law camp
View the photoessay roebourne
View the photoessay the burrup
View the photoessay michael woodley