Murrawah Johnson, a young Aboriginal woman, is fighting to stop what will be one of the world’s biggest coal mines, in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The mine is also driving coal port development that threatens the Great Barrier Reef.
Deep breath, I tell myself, whizzing up in the lift to meet with representatives of the world’s biggest investment banks.
By the time I step out and shake hands I’ve calmed my nerves and pulled myself together.
It’s game time, and I’ve been sent here to get results.
As a 20-year-old Aboriginal woman, and spokesperson for my people, the Wangan and Jangalingou, traditional owners of central Queensland, I know I am going to have to challenge some preconceptions.
I am here to tell the banks not to fund a huge coal mine – the biggest in Australian history – that will rip the heart out of my country.
More than once, the banks’ top representatives, who are mostly men, compliment me on my strong handshake.
‘I don’t want you to think I am a pussy,’ I explain. ‘I’m here to do business, to represent my people, and the Wangan and Jagalingou are strong people.’
On a three week trip with my uncle, Adrian Burragubba, I’ve left my uni studies, part-time job, best friend and family in Brisbane for a round of meetings with Wall Street, European and Asian banks.
We’re here to tell them why they shouldn’t lend Indian coal company Adani the billions it needs to build the biggest coal mine in Australian history, on our land.
Sometimes my story brings tears to their eyes.
In a meeting with the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, one senior woman is visibly moved. She’s Korean, living in New York, a long way from home.
My guess is she feels the same deep connection I do, to her country, history and traditional culture.
I explain what a privilege it was to grow up in the bush and what the land means to me.
I tell her that I’m fighting the destructive Carmichael mine because it will devastate my people and destroy our connection to country.
And I’m heartened that she and others around the table listen to what we have to say – that no means no, and we will never give our consent to this damaging mine.
To be honest, the trip isn’t all boardrooms and suits and we’re also able to grab some time to check out the sights.
I thought Brisbane was a big city when I first moved there for uni, but I find out it’s not as I cross the London Bridge, check out vibrant South and stroll through Time Square and Central Park.
I discover bison burgers in Canada and eat duck soup and ‘bannock’ – the equivalent of our Johnny Cakes – with elders from Beaver Lake Cree Nation.
In Alberta, I also share an amazing meal of moose, which has been hunted, prepared and barbequed just for us.
In San Francisco and Alberta it’s my turn to spend meetings in tears, getting to know my Indigenous brothers and sisters who’re also battling mining on their land.
There’s a great feeling of solidarity knowing that across the world other First Nations people are fighting the fossil fuel industry and urging their governments to turn their backs on mining.
In Fort McMurray I take up an invitation from a young First Nations man to go on a beautiful early morning bushwalk.
He warns me to watch out for wolves and shows me the petrified bitumen that mining companies are hungry to turn into oil.
One bummer is not getting an opportunity to do what I love best and that’s dance.
Whether it’s hip-hop, house or R&B I’m always first on, last off the dance floor.
But because I’m seven months away from turning 21, I can’t visit the nightclubs that New York is famous for.
Number 15 in a family of 17 kids, I learnt to dance as soon as I could walk, and was always dancing with my cousins, expressing our culture.
We took a little of this culture to the finance capitals of the world when Uncle Adrian played didgeridoo for the bankers seated with us around their tables.
It was an honour to bring our music and story halfway around the world and explain to these top investment bankers, so remote in their skyscrapers, that the decisions they make directly affect us, threatening our land and culture with annihilation.
No one in those rooms was left in any doubt that my people are going to fight this mine to the bitter end: we will take our battle to the highest court in Australia if necessary.
And that the Wangan and Jagalingou people are sure as hell not pussies.
On Friday 26 June the Wangan and Jagalingou people had their first day in the Federal Court in a bid to stop the Carmichael mine.
Watch a wrap up video of the W&J World Banks Tour here:
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