“A leader, a fierce warrior for her country, an educator and poet” is how family and friends are remembering Alice Eather who died last weekend aged 28.
The passionate activist became known across Australian Indigenous and arts communities for using slam poetry and documentary to pressure a US oil company to withdraw its application to frack for gas in her home — Arnhem Land.
“She was deeply affected by the threat of fracking on our country because her biggest passions were caring for our country and education,” her sister Grace Eather said.
Alice Eather discovered Paltar Petroleum had lodged a fracking application for the seas off the remote community of Maningrida when she saw it in the local paper in 2013.
“I didn’t even know her when she first came to my place, and told me that they were wanting to come here to do fracking, and that we had to start fighting for this country,” Maningrida community leader Eddie Mason said.
He said she mobilised Maningrida and together they formed the Protect Arnhem Land campaign group.
“She’s the one who opened our eyes and taught us what this fracking and drilling meant. She educated my people,” Mr Mason said.
They gained national media coverage while holding demonstrations outside the company’s Sydney offices in 2013.
The following year they presented a bark petition to the then federal environment minister Greg Hunt in Parliament House.
In 2014, the Northern Territory government suspended the application until the company had an agreement with Maningrida traditional owners.
That year, Alice Eather was awarded the NT’s Young Achiever’s Environment Award.
But she was determined to pressure the company to withdraw its application altogether.
With the help of film maker Katrina Channells, Alice took her fight to the big screen, featuring her siblings Grace and Noni in the documentary Stringray Sisters, which won acclaim at international film festivals.
“She created this wonderful beautiful campaign, and inspired so many other people to get on board, other Indigenous people across the whole country from other communities who are having the same struggles,” Grace Eather said.
Michael, Grace and Noni Eather say Alice was the bridge between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds. (Supplied)
The slam poet also performed works protesting against the fracking plan for online productions including the ABC iview series The Word: Rise of the Slam Poets.
In her poem, My Story Is Your Story, she said: “When I see map of country I see land sea and family. When they see map of country, they see mining fantasies.
“When I see the seabed, I see sacred sites, when they see the seabed, they see dollar signs.”
In 2016, Paltar Petroleum withdrew its fracking application.
“We were stunned. It was an incredible achievement and something we were so proud of,” Katrina Channells said.
Alice Eather was born and educated in Brisbane and lived between her father’s home there, and her mother’s home in Maningrida.
Her father Michael said tackling Indigenous disadvantage and cultural misunderstanding was another of her passions.
“It saddens us that it’s accelerating, and it saddened Alice. She tried to incorporated that message to try to stop that sadness. It came at a cost to herself.”
Michael is proud of his daughters’ achievements in pressuring Paltar Petroleum to withdraw. (Supplied)
In her poem, Fire Is Burning, she said: “I’m living and breathing this story of black and white. Sitting in the middle of this collision, my mission is to bring two divided worlds to sit beside this fire.”
Alice also became Maningrida’s first local Indigenous teacher, an achievement her family are proud of.
“My daughter was a great leader and a smart, beautiful woman. She always wanted to work with children,” her mother Helen Williams said.
“And when she left Brisbane, she came back to live in the bush to teach our kids. That’s a big step.”
Ms Williams said the family decided to keep her poetry performances online.
“It’s her pride and joy. We’ll leave it on for her, it’s going to be there forever to show the rest of the world,” she said.
For her sisters they are a continued rallying cry.
“Her legacy will never be forgotten. I will continue to fight for what Alice always fought for: country, children and education,” Grace Eather said.