Production at a remote Rio Tinto mine site was temporarily suspended last week after a union investigation raised safety concerns at the operation.
IN 1963 the Yolngu people of Northeast Arnhem Land sent their bark petitions to the Federal Government, protesting the Commonwealth’s granting of mining rights to the North Australian Bauxite and Aluminium Company.
In a struggle that’s lasted more than five decades, Yunupingu’s argument has never been that mining should not be allowed on Aboriginal land. Rather, he’s argued that the industry should be conducted on the traditional owners’ terms as a means for creating economic opportunity and escaping the welfare trap.
“This bauxite we are mining is ours,” he said.
“We used to own it before the land was taken away by the Commonwealth. We still own the land and the bauxite.
The colour of the dirt might have been different, but according to the Gumatj clan, the moment was no less significant.
At Gulkula in Northeast Arnhem Land, Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu poured a handful of bauxite into the hands of Rio Tinto workers Jim Singer and Ken Kahler, just as Gough Whitlam had done with Vincent Lingiari at Wave Hill 51 years ago.
‘I feel proud. I feel more proud than ever before,’ Dr Yunupingu said.
The moment marked the opening of the Gulkula Mine, the first Aboriginal owned and operated mine in Australian history.