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The Bindunbur ‘Bombshell’: The True Traditional Owners of James Price Point and the Politics of the Anti-Gas Protest


Lily O’Neill

On 23 November 2017, the Federal Court handed down its judgment in the Bindunbur case, a long-running native title dispute over significant areas of the Middle Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley, North-West Australia. The decision was called a ‘bombshell’ because of Justice North’s finding that the Goolarabooloo family, long described in the media and by the public as ‘traditional owners’ of James Price Point and seen as leaders of the fight against the failed Kimberley gas hub, are not traditional owners of that area after all. This article argues there are several related reasons why outsiders mistook who are the true traditional owners of James Price Point. Firstly, an entrenched association in the minds of most non-Aboriginal people between Aboriginality and wilderness; secondly, outsider ignorance of Aboriginal law; thirdly, several key differences between the customary Aboriginal normative system and Australian settler property law; and finally, that it was essential to have traditional owner support for the No Gas campaign against the project.

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(2019) 42(2) UNSWLJ 597: