This paper is to be presented at the upcoming SSSI conference on the Gold Coast in May 2017.
This paper discusses my involvement in the mapping of saltwater country and the uses and abuses these maps were put to in the campaign to strengthen Groote Eylandters’ claim to the sea bed. In 2010 a mining company was granted exploration licences over the seas around the Groote Eylandt archipelago. The granting of the licences came as a shock to the indigenous communities of the region. Having lived with a manganese mine on their lands for over fifty years, they were accustomed to ongoing negotiations with miners over licences and agreements. Through their Land Council, Groote Eylandters asked the Northern Territory (NT) Government why they were not consulted before the licences were granted. The response was that there was no need because the grants were over coastal waters, not aboriginal land. The Land Council then raised concerns that the cultural significance of saltwater country was overlooked. In response, the NT Government said they consulted the sacred sites register for the area of interest but the map was empty. I conclude the paper by discussing the ambiguities associated with resource development of the sea bed and the ways these ambiguities are being exploited by both sides.