a sea of voices against oil in the Bight
The howling, biting Antarctic wind whips the ocean into a vast expanse of meringue-like peaks, pulsing, crashing and exploding up the faces of ancient cliffs. The same force of nature that churns the water with such dramatic energy, has also hollowed out house-sized boulders over millions of years into giant, granite egg shells — which also happen to serve as handy shelters from the showers that stream into the wild Southern Ocean. This is the aptly named Remarkable Rocks, the jewel in the crown of Flinders Chase National Park on Australia’s third largest island.
For Linda Irwin, a proud Kangaroo Islander, this place is so much more than just a photo opportunity. It’s where she celebrated her wedding, it’s where she works, and it’s where her heart lies. Linda, like many locals, is on the frontline of a local resistance movement and is doing everything within her power to protect the place she loves from being turned into an industrial oil field. Just 50 kilometres off shore, an oil exploration lease has been granted. “You’d be able to see the flare from the oil rig from the land,” Linda says, in equal measures of defiance and incredulity.
It’s early Spring in the sand dunes at Denial Bay, just west of the seaside town of Ceduna in South Australia. The brilliant white sand is the perfect blank canvas for the myriad wildflowers carpeting the ground in starbursts of brilliant purple and vivid yellow. Kolkatha Elder Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine is foraging for ripe wild peach (quandong), and it doesn’t take her long to fill an entire plastic bag. They’re tart yet sweet; you can clearly taste the salt from the ocean and the dunes.
Aunty Sue has lived in Ceduna for decades, and she knows the area better than most. “This dune used to be about three metres higher a few years ago. They’re shifting in the wind.” Aunty Sue lives to the rhythms of the land and the ocean, she sees the detail, and will do everything within her power to fight until the threat of an oil spill is gone forever. “Our family depends on the seafood from these waters — oysters, crabs, scallops. That’s our way of life. All of that is being put at risk.”
Peter Clements is the sort of mayor all leaders should aspire to be like. He’s a proud, dedicated, hands-on advocate for his community bristling with energy, whose eyes light up when invited to talk about his home. Walking along the jagged cliff top, Peter speaks of the 18 metre swells recorded in recent storms a few nautical miles out to sea, as the waves pound beneath us in a maelstrom of kelp and white water. Just over the headland, something catches our eyes as it glints in the sunlight.
“It was just named one of the best hotels in the entire world this year. Bill Gates and Tom Cruise stayed there recently.” Mayor Clements is pointing out the exclusive and impressive Southern Ocean Lodge, an architectural masterpiece that’s easy to miss from a distance, with its low profile following the contours of the natural landscape. “Do you think they’d want to stay here if they knew oil drilling was happening out there? You wouldn’t think so. Politicians, like most people, need to be educated on the real risks associated with deep water drilling. I am meeting with state and federal members regularly and encouraging them to seek out the facts from the myth, particularly with people and organisations with vested interest.”
Sacha grew up in Streaky Bay on the rugged Eyre Peninsula, a solid seven hours drive around the Bight from Adelaide. She spent the majority of her youth in ‘Streaky’ outdoors, and naturally, it was this firsthand connection with her surroundings that drove her to protect it.
“Growing up, we spent our days diving with extraordinary marine life, surfing with dolphins, riding horses along pristine beaches, fishing in the deep blue oceans and hiking along sheer cliffs. Knowing that spills aren’t uncommon in exploration drilling and the oil could easily reach the shores of where I grew up is something I cannot come to terms with. That’s why I’ll continue to fight for the Bight.”
Join the Groundswell today by signing the petition at wilderness.org.au/groundswell
Client: The Wilderness Society
Rob Beamish: National Creative & Communications Director
Tom Claxton: Communications Operations Manager and Creative
Photographer: Ingvar Kenne