Australia Delivers Up Aboriginal Lands to Nickel Mine

CANBERRA, Australia, April 5, 2004 (ENS) - The controversial Yakabindie nickel mine was approved today by Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp over the objections of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land. The decision will allow WMC Resources to mine for nickel in the area near Wiluna, in the state of Western Australia.

Kemp's decision was announced the day before WMC Resources' annual general meeting.

In making the announcement, the minister said, “I have received three related applications from Aboriginal groups under Sections 9 and 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 seeking protection for an area that includes the land on which WMC Resources proposes to develop the Yakabindie Nickel Mine.”

“After carefully considering all of the evidence contained in the substantial volume of material relating to the application, I have decided, on the evidence before me, not to make a declaration under either Section 9 or 10 of the Act.”

The Ngalia Aboriginal people claim that the mine would destroy their sacred sites. Their claims are supported by a report prepared by the University of Western Australia's Centre for Pre-history that found 50 sacred sites in the area.


Two Ngalia men photographed in 1932 by explorer Norman Tindale. (Photo courtesy South Australian Museum)
The Aborigines were seeking protection for Yakabindie/Jones Creek which lies to the north of the mining town of Leinster and 90 kilometers to the south of Wiluna. Protection was also requested for Jones Creek situated alongside the Barr Smith Range, and backing on to the A class nature reserve, Wanjarri.

The Aboriginal groups told researchers there are old mens' initiated sites and sacred women's sites that run along a songline that is still sung which connects to communities of Uluru - Ayres Rock. The Aboriginal groups say the Yakabindie area is second only to Ayres Rock in importance to their culture.

"Jones Creek [Yakabindie] is not just another creek, it is Dreamtime, sacred ground," said a senior Aboriginal lawman at Wiluna meeting in 1991.

"These people want mining don't realize what's been through there...that Dreamtime right across, right around where they want to mine," said a woman elder at the same Wiluna meeting.

In early 2001, WMC Resources purchased the Yakabindie Nickel Project from Rio Tinto for $25 million, with another $15 million to be paid to Rio Tinto on WMC gaining approvals and committing to development, according to the company's 2002 Annual Report.


Rock formation in the Wiluna area (Photo credit unknown)
Located 22 kilometers south of Mount Keith, the Yakabindie mine site has long term potential to complement WMC Resources’ existing assets and create further development options in the area, the company states in the report.

"Including our existing resources at the adjacent North Six Mile mining lease, Yakabindie has an estimated resource of 289 million tonnes at 0.58 per cent nickel."

The company claims that it will respect the Aboriginal cultural sites. "All work at Yakabindie, West Musgrave and on tenements elsewhere in Australia is conducted in accordance with applicable heritage legislation which requires, among other things, WMC Resources to obtain site heritage clearances prior to developing the resources," the company states.

In August 2002, an application was made to the Western Australian Minister for Indigenous Affairs seeking formal permission for the development of the Yakabindie Nickel Project. Ministerial consent was given on January 8, 2003.