Crocodile Man

A general view of the beach at Pitjamirra on Melville Island, Northern Territory.

Tiwi Islanders share a story about a man who is disliked by his tribe because he does not share his land. So some people spear him in the back, he crawls out to sea and when he surfaces he is called “Crocodile Man“.

As amazing as that story is, it is nothing compared to the role Crocodile Man has played in holding up a $5.8 billion gas project in the Northern Territory.

Tiwi Islanders believe that the Crocodile Man entered the sea at a beach near the modern day Cape Fourcroy, which is on the western tip of Bathurst Island, north of Darwin. The Crocodile Man is believed to patrol the waters around this point.

The gas pipeline would run six kilometres from Bathurst Island. Some Tiwi Islanders claim that the Crocodile Man travelled to an ancient lake about 10 kilometres west of Bathurst Island and hence Crocodile Man’s route would intersect with that of a pipeline.

On the basis of these views, and some other stories relating to rainbow serpents and sacred sites, a court ruling had held up the gas project.

This week a different court ruling allowed the project to proceed and dramatically called into question the integrity of the evidence relating to the Crocodile Man.

On 19 June last year, a meeting was held between eight Tiwi Islanders, two lawyers from the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) and an expert, Dr O’Leary, engaged by the EDO to look into the Aboriginal cultural heritage issues.

The EDO receives government funding to provide legal assistance to groups seeking to protect the environment.

A Federal Court Judge was scathing about how this meeting was conducted.

At the beginning of the meeting Dr O’Leary told the attendees about how he had done work in Arnhem Land which stopped a different gas development through the identification of songlines. Dr O’Leary admitted under oath that this story was “incorrect“.

The Judge concluded that “he did lie to the Tiwi Islanders“ and that “the untrue statement … could only have been deployed … to coach the attendees about what they might say … so as to achieve their objective of stopping the pipeline.“

At the meeting Dr O’Leary presented the Tiwi Islanders with maps purporting to show the ancient lake to the west of modern day Bathurst Island. Dr O’Leary admitted that at the time the ancient lake existed (approximately 20,000 years ago), Bathurst Island did not exist.

Dr O’Leary encouraged them to provide “memories“.

Dr O’Leary would conclude that Crocodile Man had travelled from the beach near Cape Fourcroy to the ancient lake although this seems impossible given that beach did not exist at the same time as the lake.

The Judge found that an EDO lawyer created her own marking on the map “in a way that could not on any reasonable view truthfully reflect what the Tiwi informant had said.“

The Judge found that “the acrobatics concerning the Crocodile Man story are suggestive of an expert who is seeking to present a case that he perceives might assist the applicants to succeed in stopping the pipeline, rather than to present a case founded in scientific truth and careful analysis.“

The EDO gets funding from both state and federal Labor governments to stop mining projects creating jobs, including here in Central Queensland. Given the findings of the court that EDO contractors have lied to Indigenous people and distorted what those people told them, that government funding should end.

If Labor does not end the EDO’s funding after this scandal, you can only conclude that Labor cares more about the votes it needs from the Greens than the jobs of those who work in the regional industries.