Problems and Solutions
Chapter 19

“I got over a dozen pages done yesterday,” Rachel said. “I’m going to let it sit this morning and then rewrite it later.”

“Sounds like a good method to me. I’m still concerned about the NNTT ‘determinations’ in Queensland. They don’t make sense to me.”

“Marx said that all history is economic history. Is there something valuable in south central and south west Queensland?”

“I don’t know.” Patrick paused. “But we know who does.”

“We do?”

“Alf. I’m sure I’ve his number around here.”

It was a bit after ten when Patrick called Alf. After asking how ‘married life’ was treating him, Patrick asked what he knew about southern Queensland.

“Is that a joke?”

“No, I’m serious.”

“Well, where do you think Mt. Isa is?”

“Oops. Sorry, I meant south central Queensland.”

“Not as much as the Kimberley or the northern area. Can you be a little more exact?”

“Well, first the area south and east of Quilpie.”

“Not much there ‘cept the opals in Toompine, Koroit, an’ Yowah. Them’s the south end of the string that starts up by Kynuna and runs through Opalton”

“Do you know much about that?”

“Well, the Koroit opal field is in Paroo Shire. It’s located about 80 km north northwest of Cunnamulla. The Yowah opal field, which includes the area known as Black Gate, is the southernmost opal mining centre of western Queensland. Toompine is north of Koroit, nearer to Quilpie.”

“Interesting. How about near Roma?”

“Waal. I never had much to do there. That’s the western edge of the Surat Basin. There’s coal there. No ore but there’s oil an’ gas.” [About 100 hydrocarbon accumulations have been discovered in the Surat Basin, of which about half are producing fields.] “There’s also a bicarb mine north of Roma.”

“Even more interesting.”

“Should I ask?”

“Probably not. I might get into hot water meddling in another state.”

“OK. How’s your little girl?”

“Rachel’s fine. She’s working on a doctorate in art history.”

“That’s great! We saw a piece of hers about a modern art show in the Herald.”

“I’ll tell her, she’ll be happy. And thanks very much for the information.”

“You saved my life, Patrick. I’ll never forget it. You know, there was a man killed in a mine cave-in in Opalton six months ago. I’m still here.”

Patrick got off the phone. Alf was married and safe thanks to him. Could he have a similar similar effect on Aboriginal rights? But what had gone on in Queensland? Was it like the Shorten scandal? [“‘Australia’s big unions have been selling their members out by trading away members’ entitlements in industrial agreements, and, at the same time, taking money from employers, which they did not disclose to their members and which had no bona fide basis whatsoever,’ Turnbull said.” Brisbane Courier-Mail 20 March 2017]

Even the Opera made fun of “Queensland backhanders” in their production of The Gondoliers. How could one track money going into and out of the various people? What was the Latin? Oh, yes: Cui bono?. ‘Who benefits?’ Cicero [pro Milone, 32]. Oil and gas. Those were big companies. Jason wouldn’t be useful here.

The biggest company seemed to be Schlumberger. Google revealed they certainly had been corrupt in the past: a US$232 million fine in 2015; and in April, after raids in Sydney and in Monaco, “Australia’s opposition party leader Bill Shorten said he will push for a senate inquiry into global bribery when Parliament resumes this month. He said the ‘revelations’ were ‘deeply disturbing’.” [RIGZONE, citing Reuters, 1 April 2016]

Sean! Sean Brennan! He’d have some ideas. Perhaps some knowledge. That number was already on my phone.

“Gilbert and Tobin Centre.”

“Is Professor Brennan in? Tell him it’s Patrick.”

“Just a moment, please ... hello ... can he call you back?”

“Yes. He has my number. I’ll be available for at least an hour.”

Well, he’d call back, I was sure.

“Well?,” asked Rachel.

“Believe it or not, I don’t know. There are several possibilities, but they’re all pretty disagreeable. Ugly. Distasteful.”

“I think I get your point. What now?”

“I’m waiting for Sean to call back. I think he might have an idea or two. I’m hoping he does. Want some coffee?”

“No, thanks.”

Patrick got up, got a mug and took a sip when the phone went.

“Patrick Hollister ... Right ... I was hoping you might be able to help me with a complex problem ... Well, it deals with Aborigines, a state, the federal government, and ... possibly a corporate entity ... Yes, I know that’s vague. Oh, do you know anything about the NNTT? ... Only a little? ... Might you have time to sit down with me? ... Whenever you’re available ... Yes, I’ll barter ... This afternoon and tomorrow? ... Done! I’ll be at your office around 1300.”

“Well?”

“He’s got his usual manuscript backlog. He’ll help me and I’ll do some editorial work. Can I just grab a bite? I want to shave and change.”

It was only a few minutes after 1300 that Patrick knocked on Sean’s door.

“Come in, come in. I’m eager to hear the mystery.”

“This is confidential, of course.”

“Certainly.”

“OK. You know that I graduated and passed the bar and went to work for Jason at the Ministry?”

“Right.”

“My first trip was out to Sturt National Park where a group whose ancestors had been removed wanted to reclaim their traditional land. Then I went north from here, near Milbrodale – Baiame Cave – where another group wanted to do something similar. And two weeks ago I went west, along the Darling, on a similar trip.”

“Result of the Noongar settlement?”

“Possibly. But in the course of all this, I became aware of the NNTT. And I’ve become quite curious about it.”

“The NNTT?”

“National Native Title Tribunal. Set up after the 1993 Act.”

“I know very little about it.”

“Interesting. Neither had Jason ... nor Mrs. Miller ... nor Jenny Macklin.”

“You’ve met Jenny?”

“About 10 days ago.”

“You’re travelling in elite company.”

Patrick gave a fairly full exposition on the NNTT, showing Sean the Queensland and New South maps on his laptop. He then mentioned the geology maps and the Schlumberger involvement – including the various multimillion dollar offenses on an international level. He finished up telling about the station in Mitchell and the tribal connection going back over 60 years.

“That’s very interesting. Anything else?”

“What do you know about the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies?”

“Not much. They’re in the ACT. They publish a number of reports. The folks there give papers at conferences, but they don’t get submitted here. At least one of our ex-students works there. Why?”

“I don’t know where their support comes from.”

“Well, that might not be evil.”

“True. My problem right now is that I’m becoming suspicious about all and every relationship and every financial source.” Patrick paused. “By the way, the NNTT is under the Attorney General’s office. Is their budget a public document?”

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