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.