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Uranium Mining

Three uranium deposits - Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra – were never included in the Park's original boundaries.


Uranium mining was imposed on the Mirarr in the late 1970s and people would still prefer it had never come to their country.  

Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula says that with mining: "The promises never last but the problems always do".

To convey a sense of the Mirarr's experience of imposed uranium mining, Gundjeihmi - in partnership with our colleagues at the Environment Centre NT  - created Dirt Cheap 30 years on : the story of uranium mining in Kakadu 

The film includes rare footage (from the original 1980 film Dirt Cheap) of Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Toby Gangale stating clear opposition to mining on his country. It also documents his prescient concerns about uranium. Dirt Cheap 30 years on shows how the Australian Federal Government overrode the human rights of Kakadu's Traditional Owners in order to impose a toxic industry in a World Heritage Area.

Watch Dirt Cheap 30 years on

Ranger

As is documented in Dirt Cheap 30 years on Yvonne Margarula’s father - the then Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Toby Gangale - opposed plans for uranium exploration and mining on his country in the 1970s. His opposition, along with that of other local Aboriginal people, was overruled by the Federal Government when it legislated for the development of the Ranger Uranium Mine in 1976. Ranger commenced operations in 1980, the mine is now run by Energy Resources Australia (ERA) which is majority owned by Rio Tinto. 

Since the early 1980s yellowcake from Mirarr land has been sent to fuel nuclear reactors in Japan, Europe and elsewhere. 

As traditional landowners, the Mirarr bear responsibility for the impacts that activity on their land has on others. The possibility of uranium from Mirarr land being incorporated into a nuclear weapon or present at the site of a nuclear accident is therefore of enormous concern to Mirarr. Despite assurances from successive federal governments that Australian uranium is only sold to nations where there is no risk of proliferation, the fact remains that there are insufficient safeguards to ensure Australian uranium does not end up in nuclear weapons.

In April 2011, following the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan, Yvonne Margarula wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon and expressed her sorrow at the impacts radiation is having on the lives of Japanese people. She noted that, ‘it is likely that the radiation problems at Fukushima are, at least in part, fuelled by uranium derived from our traditional lands. This makes us feel very sad.’ It has since been confirmed by Dr Robert Floyd, Director General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, that, “Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site”.

Ranger uranium mine is now coming to the end of its life. Mining has concluded and minimal processing of stockpiled ore continues as the company contemplates the enormous rehabilitation task.


A major and long-held concern for Mirarr and other Bininj is the possibility of detrimental impact on human health and the environment from the operations of the Ranger uranium mine. Over 200 spills, leaks and breaches of licence conditions have occurred in the four decades of the mine's existence. A significant recent example was the catastrophic failure of a leach tank causing over one million litres of radiactive slurry to spill onto the mine site.

All mining and processing at Ranger must conclude by January 2021. Rio Tinto and ERA then have a five year peroid in which they are required to rehabilitate the site to a standard such that it could be incorporated into the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. It is of the very highest priority for the Mirarr that this rehabilitation task is undertaken comprehensively and in a way that ensures the Mirarr and the Kakadu region are not left with the toxic legacy that Toby Gangale predicted when he said no to Ranger over four decades ago. 

Jabiluka

An ‘agreement’ for a second uranium mine on Mirarr country, at Jabiluka, was concluded in 1982 amid great controversy. The validity of the 1982 agreement is contested by the Mirarr, who maintain it was negotiated under extreme duress.

In the late 1990s ERA attempted to mine Jabiluka and the Mirarr initiated and lead a major national and international campaign against the development. The campaign was run both on environmental grounds as well as in recognition of the rights of the Traditional Owners. The campaign involved an eight-month blockade of the site by over 5000 peaceful protesters, two federal parliamentary inquiries, a high-level UNESCO mission to Kakadu, resolutions of the European Parliament and US Congress, significant national and international media coverage, and the receipt of major international awards for Yvonne Margarula and Jacqui Katona in recognition of their role in environmental and cultural protection. To date the Jabiluka uranium deposit has not been mined. Energy Resources of Australia has rehabilitated the site in consultation with the Mirarr.

In 2005 the Mirarr and ERA entered into an agreement that quarantined the Jabiluka dispute by stating that mining may only proceed with the written consent of the Mirarr Traditional Owners. This agreement gave meaningful effect to policies of corporate social responsibility for sustainable development especially with respect to the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Over the years of the Jabiluka campaign the Mirarr remained firm in their resistance to unwanted development despite persistent pressure and confidence from the government and mining company that a mine at Jabiluka was inevitable. In their struggle to protect their country and culture Traditional Owners made it crystal clear that Jabiluka was not a sustainable option for one of the world’s largest resource companies. The outcome at Jabiluka demonstrates the role that Indigenous people everywhere should be able to have in determining what happens to their country and their community.

Watch Pip Starr's documentary of the Jabiluka Blockade "Fight for Country" 

Koongarra

Download more information about Jeffrey Lee's succesful campaign to protect his country from uranium mining

The former Koongarra Project Area (KPA) lies within the traditional lands of the Djok clan and is a region of approximately 12,000 hectares. Until February 2013 Koongarra was excluded from the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park, which completely surrounds the area. The uranium deposit is very close to the world famous Nourlangie rock where thousands of visitors view ancient rock art every year. The area is important in traditional storylines that include the Rainbow Serpent and Lightning Man. It is also home to an estimated 15,000 tonnes of high grade uranium which the French nuclear and mining giant Areva has been trying to access and develop for several decades.

Jeffrey Lee Senior Traditional Owner of the Djok clan, speaks for Koongarra. Jeffrey has long resisted Areva's promises of wealth and remained firm in his commitment to care for the land. In 2010 Jeffrey Lee asked the Federal Government to protect Koongarra by including it within Kakadu, stating at the time: "When you dig a hole in that country you are killing me. I don't worry about money at all." The Government promised to honour his wishes and three years later, it did. The area is now permanently protected from uranium mining and included within the National Park.

The Mirarr have a company clan relationship with the Djok and have supported Jeffrey in his efforts to protect his country from mining.

Watch Jeffrey Lee talking about his efforts to protect his country from uranium mining.

 

2017/07/05/3a2pe8kmu0_ranger.jpg ranger.jpg Uranium has had an impact on the lives of the Mirarr and their community for over four decades 2017/07/05/5khqcpezwy_ranger.jpg ranger.jpg Uranium mining has long caused controversy in the Kakadu region false Show
Staff 2017/07/05/4de3pirnei_JOB_dicussing_proposals_with_Mirarr.jpg JOB dicussing proposals with Mirarr.jpg 2017/07/05/7cgfqbetyb_JOB_dicussing_proposals_with_Mirarr.jpg JOB dicussing proposals with Mirarr.jpg This page is under construction, more information coming soon false Show
GAC

The Mirarr established Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) in 1995 to assist them in managing a balance between sustainable development, traditional practice and living culture on their land.

GAC represents the rights and interests of the Mirarr as well as receiving, distributing and investing royalties from the Ranger uranium mine which was imposed on Mirarr land in 1978.

GAC is run by a Mirarr board, it provides services and support for Mirarr members and other Bininj (Aboriginal people) affected by the Ranger Mine in line with cultural obligations.

GAC works to ensure the cultural and economic future of the Mirarr is secure and stable. This work falls into five broad categories:

  • Protect Mirarr country
  • Long-term beneficial health and housing outcomes
  • Protect the physical and spiritual culture of the Mirarr and neighbouring clans
  • Ensure Bininj control of Bininj lives and country using robust and transparent good governance
  • Develop sustainable incomes and businesses for future generations

GAC’s vision for the welfare of the Mirarr extends well beyond the current projected end of the Ranger uranium mine in 2026.


In 2010 the Corporation had six fulltime staff. In 2017 it has grown to over 50 staff.

GAC is responsible for a range of facilities and businesses in addition to the main office: Djidbidjidbi Residential College, the Community Centre, Marrawuddi Gallery, Bowali Cafe, the post office and the newsagency.

Gundjeihmi runs many cultural and community programs and engages with strategy, policy and management across several issues including land and cultural rights, environment and conservation, mining, education, health, child protection, retail and tourism.

2015/01/27/5yivjhmq48_gac.jpg gac.jpg The Mirarr established Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) in 1995 to assist them in managing a balance between sustainable development, traditional practice and living culture on their land. 2015/01/27/1ckoh6xycx_gac.jpg gac.jpg false Show
Contact Us

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation 
5 Gregory Place, 
PO Box 245, Jabiru NT, 0886 
+61 (0) 8 8979 2200 
gundjeihmi@mirarr.net

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About Us The Mirarr are Traditional Owners of parts of Kakadu National Park, the Ranger and Jabiluka uranium deposits and parts of Western Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory. true Show
Kakadu

Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park, 250km west of Darwin and east of the vast Arnhem Land plateau.

It is a place of living culture used by Mirarr and other Bininj (Aboriginal people) every day.

This living culture stretches back thousands of years as can be seen in numerous prehistoric rock art paintings, as well as dreaming tracks and sites of cultural significance.

Age-old stories have been handed down from tens of thousands of years ago to the present day.

Aboriginal people have lived continuously in the area now known as Kakadu for over 60,000 years and the region contains one of Australia’s oldest sites of human occupation.

By comparison, British occupation is recent, dating back to the 1890s.

Even by Australian standards this is a short time, spanning only five or six generations. 

Roads, the township of Jabiru, mines, airstrips and the national park are even more recent additions, arriving from the 1970s onwards.

These big changes to the cultural and economic landscape of Kakadu pose big challenges for Bininj (local Aboriginal people).

Ensuring that Bininj derive lasting benefit from these changes is a key role for the GAC.

Seasons

Balanda (European Australians) see three tropical seasons in the top end - the monsoonal ‘wet’, the ‘dry’ and the (humid) ‘build-up. However local Aboriginal people (Bininj) see six seasons with distinct weather and biological patterns.

Gudjewg – monsoon season
Banggerreng – storm season
Yegge – harvest season
Wurrgeng – cool and dry season
Gurrung – hot and dry season
Gunumeleng – storm season

These varied weather patterns account for Kakadu‘s diverse landscapes which include tidal flats, mangrove forests, floodplains, billabongs, savannah woodlands, monsoon forests and sandstone escarpments.

This rich biodiversity means Kakadu literally hums with bird and animal life, many species here which are found nowhere else in the world.

World Heritage

Kakadu National Park received World Heritage listing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1981 due to its outstanding cultural and natural features. 

It is Australia’s largest national park, representing an extraordinary array of cultural and ecological features.

Culture

Mirarr cultural practices are resilient and dynamic, forming an ongoing and strong bond between past practices and contemporary life.

Mirarr have important obligations and responsibilities to look after country (gunred) and people (guhpleddi).

Mirarr speak an average of three Aboriginal languages plus English with Gundjeihmi (pronounced kund-jate-me) being the most widely spoken language.

Kakadu’s complex and detailed rock art galleries are one of the values cited by UNESCO in its World Heritage listing.

Nature

Kakadu’s extensive waterways give rise to a profusion of birds and animals.

Almost 300 different species of birds can be found in Kakadu including a number listed as migratory, endangered and vulnerable.

The brilliant birdlife is one of the many reasons Kakadu was acknowledged as having World Heritage status and is a key attraction for the many thousands of visitors to the area every year.

 

2017/06/21/2hxpwnlk37_ambrose_almudj.jpg ambrose@almudj.jpg Kakadu is a vibrant, thriving cultural landscape. For the Mirarr it is home. 2017/06/21/94ya6qehix_ambrose_almudj.jpg ambrose@almudj.jpg Kakadu is a vibrant, thriving cultural landscape. For the Mirarr it is home. false Show
DjidbiDjidbi Residential College 2017/07/05/o2vh0nuk5_Davis_Nabarnadi_Shelton_Nango_and_Ralph_Nadjamerrik.jpg Davis Nabarnadi, Shelton Nango and Ralph Nadjamerrik.jpg 2017/07/05/7tolyoyx6e_Culture_First_Class_undertakes_field_work_with_ANU_rock_art_researchers.jpg Culture First Class undertakes field work with ANU rock art researchers.jpg false Show
Mirrar

Mirarr country is a stunning place. Most Mirarr land is within the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park including the vibrant wetlands of the Jabiluka billabong country and the stunning sandstone escarpment of Djidbidjidbi (Mount Brockman). The Mirarr estate extends beyond Kakadu to Western Arnhem Land and also includes the Ranger uranium mine, the Jabiluka mineral lease and the mining town of Jabiru.

Mirarr speak an average of three Aboriginal languages plus English. Of these languages the Kundjeyhmi language is the dominant tongue (pronounced kund-jate-me).


Yvonne Margarula is the Senior Traditional Owner and leader of the Mirarr people

Yvonne Margarula lives on Mirarr country and is regularly called upon to make decisions in consultation with other Mirarr on an extraordinary range of issues affecting Aboriginal people of the Kakadu region.

Mirarr established Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) in 1995 represent their rights and interests.

In accordance with customary law and tradition Mirarr have obligations and responsibilities to other Bininj affected by Mirarr decisions about Mirarr country. 

2015/01/27/7g2i6tp5eq_gac_tile.jpg gac tile.jpg The Mirarr are the Traditional Aboriginal (Bininj) Owners of lands in the north of Australia’s Northern Territory 2015/01/27/99xwyjvjx0_gac_tile.jpg gac tile.jpg The Mirarr are the Traditional Aboriginal (Bininj) Owners of lands in the north of Australia’s Northern Territory. false Show
Board

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) is governed by a board structure.

All members of GAC are Mirarr Traditional Owners and members elect board directors from the membership at the Annual General Meeting. 

The board directs the day-to-day running of GAC which is managed by the Chief Executive Officer and staff

The Board meets regularly to discuss and make strategic decisions about the long term direction and activities of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation.

Board members respond to an extraordinary range of requests and issues relating to Mirarr land and the region.

Mirarr engage their long time associate Murray Garde as interpreter for many discussions

2015/01/27/9cvvd0dcl8_board.jpg board.jpg All decisions about the strategic direction of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation are made by the Mirarr board. 2017/06/30/8jrnbobgk5_GAC_board_2017.jpg GAC board 2017.jpg false Show