Rocket base neighbour has no plans to move

Long-term East Arnhem Land resident Fonte shows off his home sitting on Gumatj land, where the new NT space base could be built. Picture: MATT GARRICK
Long-term East Arnhem Land resident Fonte shows off his home sitting on Gumatj land, where the new NT space base could be built. Picture: MATT GARRICK

A ROCKET base in Arnhem Land may have to get used to having an immediate neighbour, unless a long-term resident is kicked out of his home on the edge of the planned launch site.

The NT News recently visited the East Arnhem Land site of the potential space base, in dense bushland and overlooking the sea, around 40km south of the annual Garma Festival site.

There, in a house dubbed a "hideout of Galarrwuy Yunupingu", lives a whitefella adopted by the Gumatj clan named Fonte, who has no plans to abandon his home, despite an impending plan for suborbital "sounding rockets" to be launched from the site, according to a Northern Land Council briefing, for "government, business and research purposes".

Fonte said the launch site was about 2km from his house. "When they first came here, the people from NASA were talking about having a ship out in the Gulf, to pick the rockets up when they land," Fonte said.

"Maybe I'll get invited to the launchpad."

The land area for the rocket base, which has been approved by the NLC for Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation to sublease the site to Equatorial Launch Australia, lies over roughly 275ha.

"I go hunting and fishing (out here). Walk around - I've walked every square foot of this place," said Fonte.

"The Mosquito Creek down there, that runs into the bay - I go fishing there."

He said he was not concerned about environmental impacts from rockets launched in the area.

Gumatj chief operating officer Allan Rungan said negotiations to get the project over the line and taken "at least two years".

"I have shown (NASA officials) the area ... I think they were impressed with the site, in terms of the purpose that they have come to see it for - they were pretty impressed with the remoteness, which is an ideal situation for that sort of project," Mr Rungan said.

Gumatj officials have previously voiced their hope the space base project could mean upgraded infrastructure and jobs for local Indigenous people.

It was previously reported that a proposal by Equatorial Launch Australia for a $236 million space base was currently being considered by federal and NT infrastructure funds.

The East Arnhem Land space project was not entirely a first for the region - in the 1960s, the European Launcher Development Organisation station was based at the Garma site, a facility used to track satellites from the Defence site of Woomera in South Australia.

Topics:  rockets

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