The Wilderness Society is used to conducting its own protests and street theatre, but the tables were turned last night when a group of Aboriginal activists from Cape York gatecrashed a fundraising party in Sydney.
Two giant koalas led a group of Aboriginal people in chains through the entertainment district of Sydney’s Fox Studios.
The Cape York Aborigines went to Sydney to protest about Queensland’s Wild Rivers legislation, which bans development within two kilometres of gazetted rivers.
They blame the Wilderness Society for instigating the legislation, which they argue denies them the ability to use their land.
Tania Major, a Cape York woman and the 2007 Young Australian of the Year, says the legislation “is not acceptable in Australia”.
“We want all of Australia to know that this is how we feel,” she said.
“What the Wilderness Society is doing on our land is … they are basically not giving us a choice to determine how we want to manage our land. Gone are those days.”
“The Wild Rivers legislation is irresponsible. It is widely hypocritical and it is basically divorced from the reality on the ground.
“It is not giving people the opportunity to make choices around businesses, sustain business development for people on the ground.”
Ms Major says the legislation is not just about gazetting areas of Cape York National Parks or the equivalent to maintain them for natural purposes.
“It is not so much about conservation. We are all for conservation but the bottom line is, there was no consent. The was no community engagement,” she said.
The protesters say the Wilderness Society made a deal with the Queensland Government to introduce the Wild Rivers legislation in return for Green preferences.
Last night, members of the society were holding a fundraiser at one of the Fox Studios bars when Ms Major and her entourage gatecrashed their party.
It may have been a taste of their own medicine; it certainly was not the sort of party the environmentalists were expecting.
“I think it was confronting,” one guest said.
“It is scene setting. It is dramatic. It gets people’s attention,” another said.
But Wilderness Society member Anna Christie was not moved by the Cape York Aborigines’ message.
“I am aware of the dispute between the Aboriginal people and the environmental movement up there particularly, but I have to say environmental sustainability comes first,” she said.
Ms Christie says she has no sympathy for their argument that they want to be able to develop their land.
They may not have won any friends on the night, but as the Cape York Aborigines climbed into the stretch limousines they hired for the occasion, they were claiming a victory.
A small step in a campaign they say is as important as Wik or Mabo.