Review: Operation Jeedara26 February 2018
Sea Shepherd’s Operation Jeedara begins with smoke and fire engulfing the screen. The film is book-ended by dramatic shots and detailed descriptions of the damage caused by British Petroleum’s offshore oil rigs. Of particular focus is the 2010 spill at Deepwater Horizon—an 87-day spillage of 4.9 million barrels’ worth of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, which killed eleven workers, 800,000 sea birds, 75,000 whales and dolphins and millions of fish. The film, an enjoyable odyssey through pristine wilderness, returns to the impacts of oil drilling to give context for another fight: the one to defend the Great Australian Bight.
Only six months after the tragedy in the Gulf, BP began seeking exploration rights in the bight, a marine wilderness south of Australia with some of the roughest seas in the world. According to the film’s narrator, Bob Brown, the bight is “notorious for blistering winds and huge swells”, making BP’s proposal “one of the riskiest oil operations in the world”. By BP’s own modelling, an oil spill would take four months to clean up and stretch as far as New South Wales.
Most of Operation Jeedara‘s run time explores the wilderness of the bight. Aboard the Steve Irwin, the ship made famous for its defence of whales against the Japanese whaling fleet, a crew from Sea Shepherd and the Wilderness Society begins an expedition documenting the beauty and ecological significance of the region. For viewers inclined towards Attenborough-style documentaries, the film is a chance to see high-quality footage of the wind-blown granite outcrops and temperate reefs of Pearson and Fenelon Islands.
A major flaw in Operation Jeedara, however, is its failure to focus on the Fight for the Bight campaign. Documentaries of wilderness are important, but so is the knowledge that BP backed down after an onslaught of community pressure and the implicit threat that environmentalists would escalate to direct action and disrupt their business. This pressure only worked because other campaigns set the precedent by fighting hard for decades.
One of the highlights of this film is the interviews with Bunna Lawrie, the Mirning Elder who accompanies the expedition.
In the Mirning Dreaming, the people of the Nullarbor plain are descendants of Jeedara, a great white whale that built the cliffs and the caves of the region. Since then, it has been the responsibility of the local First Nations people to protect the spirit of the region and look after the land, a role that Bunna takes on as a whale-song man, a keeper of the traditions surrounding the migratory whales of the region. In a fitting sign that the Mirning Dreaming is very much alive, Bunna and the crew are visited by a white Southern Wright whale calf-another descendent of Jeedara in need of our collective protection.
Bunna and his fellow Nullarbor Indigenous people are strong in their conviction against oil drilling in the bight, telling BP, “If you’re going to come to the Great Australian Bight, we’re going to fight you all the way, until you leave this country, because you’re not welcome here.” It is clear that BP got the message, because, in October 2016, they announced that they would not drill in the bight. However, oil exploration remains legal in the marine park and other multinationals have since been considering business plans for drilling. It is clear that locals and environmentalists will continue to resist any proposal by fossil-fuel companies to threaten true gems of the natural world.