Every year Koontapool (Southern Right Whales) return to their birthing grounds along the coastlines of South West Victoria. Travelling up from the colder Southern and Antarctic waters, they use the southern coast, waters and songlines to navigate their journeys to and through Gunditjmara Sea Country to feed and birth. These families of Baleen cetaceans, sonar/song speaking navigating mammals, are Gunditjmara Ancestors.
Over the past year we have seen state and federal governments earmark vast expanses of Gunditjmara Sea Country for a massive expansion of gas mining as part of a national economic recovery.
The Southern Right Whale birthing area covers all the Sea Country east of the Hopkins River in Warrnambool, all the way along the coast to another coastal sacred site located at Johanna Beach in the southern Otways - Gadubanud Meerreeng - Country of the King Parrot Speaking People, not far east of Cape Otway.
These Koontapool Woorrkngan Yakeen - Whale Birthing Dreaming Sites, located in specific bays east of the Hopkins River, and back east along the coast - are known resting and feeding sites for the mother Southern Right Whales. Safe havens for mothers and babies. These places on Country are directly related to Gunditjmara Neeyn (midwives). Right across Gunditjmara country we have many species that travel to our region to birth their young, this is also one reason why Gunditjmara is a Matrilineal Nation. The safe bays are also rich important food and tool source areas for the Gunditjmara women whose creation dreaming, lore responsibilities and kinship to totem, belong to that specific part of Country.
Exploration, seismic blasting and existing gas infrastructure along the south west coastline is already impacting Sea Country, and contributing to climate change. All the while this so-called ‘natural gas’ is still falsely promoted as a ‘green solution’ to the climate crisis by the same corporations responsible for the mess we are in. For governments and mining companies to take fossil fuels like gas and repackage them as ‘green’ ignores both the immediate environmental risks of gas mining and extraction to Country as well as the irreversible damage of methane and CO2 emissions on the world around us.
We know that oceans and marine life are on the frontline of this ‘gas fired’ recovery. We want to see more people come together in support of the protection of these sacred places and critically endangered species. It is time for everyone to stand up in protection of sacred Country alongside First Nations custodians. We must build movements where First Nations ways of honouring responsibilities to Country can be supported at levels of conservation, protection and education to bring back old ways of doing, being and living in harmony with the land and waters.
We have big plans for the year ahead. To stay up to date with how you can stand with Gunditjmara communities against new offshore gas developments, find the Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective on Facebook, and sign up for updates from Friends of the Earths No More Gas Collective here
By Yaraan Bundle & Jemila Rushton
Yaraan is a Gunditjmara woman. She is part of the Southern Ocean Protection Embassy Collective, led by Gunditjmara Elders and Mob in Protection of The Southern Ocean and Gunditjmara Sea Country. Jemila is the Membership & Fundraising Coordinator at Friends of the Earth Melbourne. They are a second generation English migrant living in Warrnambool on Gunditjmara country, and part of FoE’s No More Gas working group.