First-Ever Aboriginal-Owned Mine Begins Harvesting Bauxite in Northern Australia

The first mine owned and operated by Australia’s Aboriginal people opened on Sunday, making history for a people in a country who have faced incredible hurdles in realizing the value of natural resources on and beneath land they have owned for generations.

Gumatj leader Dr. Galarrwuy Yunupingu anointed the hands of Rio Tinto Group’s Jim Singer and Ken Kahler with bauxite spilling out of his own hands on Sunday, marking the opening of the mine. The bauxite mine, near Gulkula in Northeast Arnhem Land, will sell the bauxite harvested to Rio Tinto for sale to their clients abroad.

“I feel proud. I feel more proud than ever before,” Yunupingu exclaimed.

Linda Murray, Rio Tinto Gove Operations general manager, said this development in Australian history is impossible to overstate.

“As the first indigenous bauxite mine, fully owned, all through the supply chain, this is world breaking, she opined.

Gumatj Corporation chief executive Klaus Helms says the freshly-opened mine will put to work at least ten of the local Yolngu population, augmenting the jobs already created by the firm’s other projects. Two of the ten are fresh graduates of the first class of students at the Gulkula Training College.

“We end up at this stage with around 65 full-time indigenous employees and we hope to build that up to about 100 employees by the end of 2018,” he explained.

According to Yunupingu, the mine would not have come to fruition had the local Aboriginal people not been placed in control of the land.

“When the land rights came it also gave Aboriginal people the right to claim the bauxite,” he explained. “And through those land rights at least one of the land claimants of Australian Aborigines have claimed a mine on the soil where they live.”

Lawyer and adviser Sean Bowden indicated his belief that handing the right to make decisions regarding the disposition and use of the land back to the Aboriginal population meant their future in the area was that much brighter.

“I think you’re seeing an ancient and proud clan group take real steps to enter modernity, to enter the modern world,” he mused.

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