The ACTU backs Noonkanbah protests

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following post may contain images of deceased persons.

From 1979 to 1980, Indigenous workers at the Noonkanbah pastoral station in the Kimberley, led a heroic resistance against the exploitation of their land. 

In 1971, Indigenous workers at the station had walked off in protest at racist treatment. Five years later the station was purchased by the Aboriginal Land Fund.

By the late 1970s big mining interests were desperate to gain access to the land of the station.

In 1979, the Liberal government in WA authorised drilling on the station by the American company Amax. 

This was against the objections of traditional owners who pointed out that this trampled their rights, and directly threatened sacred sites.

And so the campaign against the drilling began – a campaign sustained by the solidarity and determined action of the Indigenous workers at Noonkanbah and their supporters in the area.

In May 1979 a representative of the Noonkanbah workers, Dicky Skinner, spoke at the WA Trades and Labour Council, which passed a motion of support for the protestors.

In March of 1980 Amax representatives sought to enter Noonkanbah. Aboriginal workers maintained a blockade to protect their land.

The ACTU put a ban on drilling at Noonkanbah – no union member would work on any part of the drilling process.

Transport Workers Union and Australian Workers’ Union members refused to transport or work on the rigs.

But in August 1980 a convoy of nearly 50 drilling rigs – staffed completely by non-union workers – took the long journey from Perth to Noonkanbah with a police escort.

It met with protests along the length of the trip by Indigenous peoples and other unionists, including a blockade in Broome.  

Indigenous protestors marched from across the Kimberly to Noonkanbah and blocked the rigs from entering.

There was an overnight blockade where protestors kept the company at bay.

Police attacked the blockade, arresting many protestors.

Through this state repression, Amax was able to get past the blockade. But it didn’t find any oil at Noonkanbah.

The protests and blockades were inspiring examples of collective action by Aboriginal workers and their allies against powerful corporate interests who want to trample their rights for profit.

It is a moment of struggle that we are proud to remember today.

The First Nations Workers Alliance continues the campaign for justice and equality. Find out how you can get involved:

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