MAC: Mines and Communities

Conservation Award given to Australian Aboriginal Women trio

Published by MAC on 2019-11-29
Source: Australian Conservation Foundation (2019-11-29)

Three Tjiwarl women from WA’s goldfields win conservation award for
uranium mine campaign

Australian Conservation Foundation

29 November 2019

“Over the decades they have seen off at least three mining companies,
including BHP, and in the process they have given strength and courage
to their own community and many others.”

Three Tjiwarl women, Shirley Wonyabong, Elizabeth Wonyabong and Vicki
Abdullah, have been awarded the 2019 Peter Rawlinson Award for their
decades-long campaign to protect their country and culture from a
proposed uranium mine at Yeelirrie in outback Western Australia.

The award, which celebrates outstanding voluntary contributions to
protect the environment, will be conferred on the women at the
Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) annual general meeting in
Melbourne tonight.

“Shirley, Elizabeth and Vicki, along with other Tjiwarl people, have
spoken up for their country and culture around campfires, in
politicians’ offices, on the streets of Perth and in Western Australia’s
highest court, all the while looking after their grandchildren and each
other,” said ACF’s Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy.

“Every year for the last eight years, these women have taken people from
all over the world through their country on a one-month walking tour. In
this way, hundreds have seen their land.

“Over the decades they have seen off at least three mining companies,
including BHP, and in the process they have given strength and courage
to their own community and many others.”

The latest company with ambitions to mine uranium at Yeelirrie is
Canada’s Cameco, which hopes to dig a nine-kilometre open mine pit and
destroy 2,400 hectares of native vegetation. Cameco’s proposed mine
would use nine million litres of water a day and generate 36 million
tonnes of mine waste that would remain radioactive for thousands of years.

The WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) rejected Cameco’s
proposal because it was almost certain to wipe out several species,
including rare stygofauna (tiny subterranean creatures that live in the
groundwater) and the entire western population of a rare saltbush, and
harm other wildlife like the Malleefowl, Princess parrot and Greater bilby.

But state and federal authorities went against the EPA’s advice and
approved the mine.

Shirley, Elizabeth and Vicki took the matter to court – eventually to
the Supreme Court of Appeals – which dismissed their case, confirming
conservationists’ fears that an Environment Minister can legally approve
a mine knowing it would lead to the extinction of multiple species.

No uranium has been mined at Yeelirrie. The global price for uranium
remains low andC ameco recently said it could not see any case for the
construction of new uranium mines.

Established in 1992, the Rawlinson Award is given annually in memory of
ACF Councillor Peter Rawlinson – a zoologist, lecturer in biological
science and environmental campaigner.

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