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At the centre of Beetaloo Basin gas debate, Traditional Owners chart future for their communities

Tom Zaunmayr -

It is a phrase often muttered when discussing Indigenous advancement in the modern age: learn to walk in two worlds.

Understanding how to benefit from western society while maintaining a strong connection to Country and culture is the crux of the phrase's meaning.

It is a phrase Mudburra-Jingili man Ben Ulamari has grappled with for a long time.

His family's lands are at the centre of one of the most public cultural and economic pinchpoints in Australia today; the debate over gas extraction in the Northern Territory's Beetaloo Basin.

Mr Ulamari has always been keen to show leadership, whether through his work with Origin Energy and Tamboran Resources, or back home in his Kulumindini (Elliott) community.

"I see myself as a role model for the community, to show that, yeah, we can get these type of positions, we can do those type of job in our own community, in towns," he said.

"I would like to lead as an example and then hopefully we can get more younger generation Traditional Owners and locals involved in working and aiming for supervising and management positions or finance management positions and stuff like that.

Mudburra-Jingili Traditional Owner Ben Ulamari

"I am a strong believer in if you work traditional or local in a community and you have skill sets, it is good to go back and live in (the community) as an example."

Origin Energy senior hydrogeologist Peter Evans said Mr Ulamari's work was crucial to monitoring groundwater levels to ensure aquifers were not being drained.

"We have computerized data loggers that live down under the water table and record the water level continuously," he said.

"I think it's a real positive thing that we can have the Traditional Owners of the area getting benefit by working with the project and obtaining skills that are transferable."

The industry landscape has changed substantially in the basin in recent months, with Origin Energy flagging an intention to sell its interests in Beetaloo Basin to Tamboran Resources.

But the work continues, and Ben Ulamari reckons that the future has bright prospects for him, his family and his community.

Jingili man Fred Godilla is conflicted.

He knows mining can have adverse impacts on environment, but trusts the companies working on his Country are putting the right safeguards in place.

Mr Godilla wants to see opportunities for the young people of Kulumindini come out of industrial development, including jobs, housing and the opportunity to stay in their community.

Mr Godilla's sentiment is shared by Mudburra-Jingili man Jeremy Jackson.

"Most of our Mudburra tribe be stuck with nothing, and now we are getting all these opportunities from these oil and gas companies moving forward," he said.

"A lot of our young people were sitting around doing nothing in Elliott, now they have some people working with the companies..

"We need all these work opportunities here because we got hardly nothing."

Work aside, Mr Jackson hopes the money flowing into town will solve one of Kulumindini's larger problems - a critical shortage of housing which leaves generations of family members living together.


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