MAC: Mines and Communities

Scars of Kakadu begin to heal as the disturbed earth finds rest

Published by MAC on 2004-05-29

Scars of Kakadu begin to heal as the disturbed earth finds rest

Lindsay Murdoch , The Melbourne Age

29th May 2004

Jabiluka - Yvonne Margarula stands at the now filled-in entrance of a giant tunnel that minors had gouged 1 .2 kilometres below Kakadu National Park in 1998 prompting one of the biggest fights by environmentalists in Australia. "It's finished business. Nobody will ever again disturb this country," she says.

Ms Margarula senior traditional owner of Kakadu's Mirarr people made the declaration during a visit on Thursday to the site of the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine as the Federal Government considers approving an agreement giving her Mirarr people the right for the first time to veto mining in the World Heritage-listed park.

"We stopped the mining here", she said referring to an eight -month blockade of the mine by more than 5,000 people in 1998 during which 530 people, including her, were arrested.

"Now they have put the ore back in the ground. It will never again come out. The country is at peace and I am very happy."

The agreement which is yet to be formally signed was reached last month after 18 months of negotiations between the Mirarr, the indigenous peoples' Northern Land Council and Jabiluka leaseholder Energy Resources of Australia.

It stipulates that ERA put back into the ground more than 100 tonnes of ore and waste rock it had stockpiled at Jabiluka and waive some lease payments.

Officials in the office of Indigenous Affairs Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone have told Mirarr representatives the Government will approve the agreement.

Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney said yesterday the agreement and the Mirarr's declaration this week should make it clear to ERA which is owned by the British giant Rio Tinto that it will never be able to operate the Jabiluka mine.

"It is time for ERA to clean up, pack up and leave. Australia's largest national park is no place for such a polluting industry," Mr Sweeney said.

ERA is facing its first prosecution by the Northern Territory Government, which regulates mining in Kakadu and legal action by workers over a leak of uranium-contaminated water into drinking water pipes at Ranger in March.

At least 28 workers suffered lethargy, headaches and diarrhoea after drinking or showering in water containing 400 times the legal limit of uranium.

Ms Margarula made a rare visit to Ranger and the Jabiluka site on Thursday accompanied by three ERA representatives and The Age.

After seeing for the first time how ERA had filled in the Jabiluka tunnel she asked company representatives if they would return the area to "bush the way it was".

They told her a plant rehabilitation program would begin at the end of the dry season late in the year.

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