Ten years ago, the world’s oil and gas heavyweights including Woodside Energy, walked away from what would have been the largest gas refinery in the world. If the Barnett-Grylls government had its way, the refinery at Walmadany (James Price Point) would be belching out 50 million tonnes of climate-change-inducing carbon dioxide every year. The direct impact on the Kimberley coast would have been devastating.
Walmadany / James Price Point
According to the government and the Browse Joint Venture’s own reports, 30km² of gas refineries would have covered a corridor of great botanical richness: ancient remnant rainforest containing bushfoods, and rare and endangered plants and animals in concrete. Despite this same area having been proposed in 1962 for a National Park, and having tremendous, well-documented cultural significance, the WA Premier Colin Barnett deemed it suitable for industrialisation. Traditional Custodians and knowledge holders, the Goolarabooloo and many other Aboriginal people stood defiant to defend this special place. The fight was taken to the courts and a camp was created to defend Country.
Monsoon Vine Thicket - Threatened Ecological Community
A port would have been cut into the sensitive dune system, and 50km² of surrounding ocean, brimming with sealife — fish, turtle, Dugong, Humpback Whales, corals, seagrasses — would, on the developers’ own admission, have become a marine ‘deadzone’. Oil from any spill would have reached Cable Beach in 10 days, according to modelling reports, and 30 billion litres of wastewater was to be pumped into the ocean every year. The refineries would have been the largest single source of poisonous benzene on the continent. According to Premier Barnett, it was just a ‘pinprick’ in the landscape, equivalent to ‘one seat in the MCG stadium’ on an ‘unremarkable beach’.
A government report from 2005, a blueprint for the industrial development of the whole Kimberley, put the case forward for gas refineries on the Dampier Peninsula. LNG could be exported to Asia. It would also:
- power an alumina refinery near Broome to process bauxite mined and shipped from the Mitchell Plateau, deep in the North Kimberley
- power a lead and zinc refinery, which would have been built, and the product exported through Broome
- Coal, uranium and other minerals would be mined and the Kimberley would become the next Pilbara.
Social impact assessments showed that the health and justice sectors were already at breaking point in Broome, yet the government admitted it couldn’t prevent the expected 8,000 fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers from staying on in town at the end of their shifts. It also refused to commit to improving and expanding health and justice services in Broome. It seemed that all they wanted was the revenue.
It was clear that Broome was going to be transformed into a mining town.
The fear of the permanent residents, who loved Broome and the Kimberley, was palpable.
Then Broome community members, old and new, mobilised to defend the town and the region from industrialisation, and support piled in from around the globe. The campaign steadily grew to a crescendo in February 2013, when 20,000 people rallied at a concert in Fremantle. John Butler, Missy Higgins, Bob Brown and Scott Ludlam, who all have long-term connections to the Kimberley, spoke to the crowd.
Concert for the Kimberley 2013 - Fremantle Photo Adam Monk
The Broome community made its message to the government and Woodside clear at the March state election. The WA Greens won the popular vote resoundingly in Broome, as the only party to oppose the refineries outright. A month later, Woodside and its partners were gone.
For a more in-depth understanding of the campaign to protect the Kimberley, you can purchase James Price Point — the story of a movement by Damian Kelly through our website here.