Watered Down Negotiations – WMC Picks Both Sides

Watered Down Negotiations – WMC Picks Both Sides

Jan Whyte and Ila Marks look at how WMC’s activities are potentially dividing the Aboriginal people, possibly damaging areas of cultural and sacred significance and maybe degrading the environment. This article was published in the FoE Australia magazine, Chain Reaction, No. 75 (July 1996).

UNDER THE MAGNIFICENT arid landscapes of Central Australia lies the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), one of the world’s largest underground water systems. Around the edges of the GAB, stretching from Queensland to South Australia, are Mound Springs -natural outlets for the underground water. Above the GAB in northern South Australia lies Lake Eyre, a huge salt lake, and a designated National Park. Adjoining the southern edge of the lake lies Finniss Springs Mission Station.

Finniss Springs was a cattle station leased under the South Australian Pastoral Act. In 1992 it was resumed by the SA Government with the intention of creating a National Park. This was never proclaimed and the status of the Station is unclear. The Arabunna people are widely accepted as being the traditional custodians for the land in this area. Members of the Arabunna community were the Finniss lease shareholders until its resumption.

One hundred and twenty kilometres south of Lake Eyre is the copper uranium mine at Olympic Dam owned by Western Mining Corporation (WMC). Water, up to fifteen million litres per day, needed for the mine, metallurgy plant and township of Roxby Downs, is presently obtained from six bores a few kilometres to the west of Finniss Springs (Borefield A) and three bores on the edge of Lake Eyre South.

WMC is opening a new borefield (Borefield B) 100 kilometres north east from Borefield A to accommodate a ‘billion dollar’ expansion of the mine’s operations. Thirty-three million litres of water per day will be pumped from Borefield B and nine million litres per day from Borefield A will continue to be pumped. The water is obtained free of charge by special license from the South Australian Government.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) believes this depletion of water from the GAB and Borefield A has had a deleterious effect on the environment of the Mound Springs which host many rare species of flora and fauna. The Springs and the Lake are also of great cultural and sacred significance to the Arabunna people who are concerned about the damage being done. FOE is also disturbed by the lack of consultation on the part of WMC.

Undermining Consultation

It appears that WMC has embarked on a course of side-stepping consultation with the Arabunna as the traditional custodians. It has also taken similar actions in regard to the Kokotha, the traditional custodians for the actual mine site. One method used by mining companies to side-step proper consultation processes is documented in North America and Canada as well as Australia. Mining companies incorporate small Aboriginal groups in areas under dispute and give them financial support. These groups are then regarded as the official representatives for that area and mining companies proceed to consult with them. Thus, it seems as if the companies are going through the correct legal processes whereas, in fact, they are ignoring parties who have legitimate interests. In the case of Finniss Springs Station a group was established early in 1992 calling itself the Dieri Mitha Council. The people involved in this group had previously identified themselves as being part of the Arabunna community. WMC has signed a co-operation agreement with the Dieri Mitha Council for areas of land in which WMC has an interest, Borefield B and the pipeline corridor through Finniss Springs. FOE believes that WMC has provided money and supplied the Dieri Mitha Council with vehicles. The Dieri Mitha Council currently has a native title claim over Finniss Springs Station. Co-incidentally, its Darwin lawyer also acts for WMC.

In Australia every Aboriginal group has its own beliefs and customs which are linked to their own territory. It would have been unheard of to perform a ceremony on another tribe’s land uninvited. But this is what happened when it appears that WMC financed the Dieri Mitha Council to bring people from the Northern Territory, 1,600 kilometres away, to hold a ceremony on Arabunna land. This was an attempt to prove that the Dieri Mitha are the traditional custodians and still traditionally linked to the land, proof of which is needed to support a native title claim. It would also support WMC’s contention that it consulted with the appropriate Aboriginal group with regard to the pipeline corridor and Borefield B. It appears that the ‘ceremonies’ were assisted by WMC employees and consultants. The Arabunna consider this a sacrilege, and are outraged that a mining company has used Aboriginal culture for its own gain. The ‘ceremony’ took place close to the township of Marree in January 1995. Over the time of the ceremony, which lasted several days, the people of Marree, and especially members of the Arabunna community, were subjected to a high level of terror and fear. As a consequence of the violence four members of the Dieri Mitha Council are serving jail sentences of up to four years for assault (see Chain Reaction Number 73-74).

It is not suggested that WMC were responsible for, or encouraged, the violence that took place.

The Dieri Mitha Council is also involved in frustrating and harassing tactics that prevent or delay plans and projects initiated by the Marree Arabunna People’s Committee. In November 1995 the Dieri Mitha Council used a Court injunction to prevent Finniss Springs Station from being transferred to the SA Aboriginal Lands Trust. Under the care of the Aboriginal Lands Trust the management of Finniss Springs Station would have ensured that sacred areas and sites were protected and a proper land management scheme was put in place. The management of Finniss Springs Station, and the status of the land, remains in limbo, it would seem to the benefit of WMC.

On a community level other projects have been frustrated by the Dieri Mitha Council. For example, they have prevented houses from being relocated within the town to accommodate residents of Marree even though there is an acute housing shortage. Employment schemes have also been stopped. Members of the Arabunna community are prevented from visiting their own land for fear of assault by members of the Dieri Mitha Council.

Borefield Developments

Meanwhile WMC is moving quickly to construct its pipeline and access road across the gibber, break away and sandhill country of Finniss Springs Station. Under agreements with the Dieri Mitha, WMC is obtaining site approval for the pipeline work, the new borefield and the test bores scattered across the country side. Traditional custodians maintain that the Dieri Mitha do not have relevant traditional knowledge and that traditional sites could be violated as a result.

These spring complexes are liable to be affected by the development of Borefield B.

The pipeline construction is a massive operation involving over a thousand semi-trailers transporting pipes from three different states. All of this movement of trucks and people means that it is more likely that sacred sites will be damaged by people who are unaware or do not care about their significance.

In recent years registered Aboriginal sites have been damaged by WMC employees and contractors as well as tourists behaving inappropriately and causing irreparable damage.

Watching The Springs

WMC is engaged in an extensive monitoring program and is gathering information useful for a better understanding of the Mound Springs. This information is not readily available to interested parties, however, and that which is available indicates that the springs have been seriously affected. Since WMC began taking water from the area in 1983 two springs have dried completely. At Venable Spring a pump with two solar panels is still not producing flowing water. Other springs, particularly Beatrice and Bopeechee, have drastically reduced flows.

In November 1995 WMC began pumping two hundred thousand litres of water a day into the aquifer in the vicinity of Bopeechee Spring. By April 1996 there had been no improvement in flows. The Bopeechee experiment is an attempt to determine whether the springs are replenished by water flow or pressure.

The Mound Springs are being considered for World Heritage listing as well as the National Park proposal. It appears that WMC employees and consultants are also active in campaigns to prevent these proposals coming to fruition.

It is time that action was taken to prevent further environmental damage to these unique mound springs and to address the social impacts on the local Aboriginal community.

Jan Whyte and Ila Marks, members of the FoE Anti-Uranium Collective and have made regular visits to the Mound Springs over the last ten years.

Violence in Marree – WMC Interference

Radio National’s Background Briefing – Sunday March 5, 1995. Transcript of story about the outbreak of violence in Marree, SA, in January 1995, and its connection to the Roxby Downs mine.

Reporter :  Helen Thomas  Matt Peacock
Speaker :  Peter SUTTON – Anthropologist
Terry DWYER – Senior Public Affairs Officer, Olympic Dam Operations, Western Mining Corporation (now WMC  Resources Ltd.)
Reg DODD – Co-ordinator, Arabana People’s Committee  Timmy STRANGWAYS – Resident, Marree, SA
Piers BOWMAN – Executive General Manager, Copper Uranium Division, Western Mining Corporation (now WMC  Resources Ltd.)
Peter MAGUIRE – Resident, Marree, SA
Rob CRAIGIE – Analyst, ANZ McCaughan Ltd.  Patricia LANE – Registrar, National Native Title Tribunal  Lyle OLDFIELD – Resident, Marree, SA  Deane FERGIE – Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Adelaide  Phillip JONES – Director, Anthropology Unit, South Australian Museum  Clive ROSEWARNE – Spokesperson, Friends of the Earth  Kevin BUZACOTT – Spokesperson, Arabana Community  Raelene WARREN – Spokesperson, Dieri Community

Audiotape :  91-1775 [C95/0257-1-1] ( )
Transcript :  91-2275 (Online)

This transcript is taken from a tape recording, and freedom from errors, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

MATT PEACOCK : On 12 January, this year, the tiny outback town of Marree in South Australia was the scene of extraordinary activity. Police from as far away as Coober Pedy and Port Augusta descended on the outpost, as did the Flying Doctor, after a violent clash had left one young Aboriginal man fatally shot and several people injured. It was the latest tragic episode in a long-running dispute over land ownership.
Two Aboriginal communities, the Arabana and the Dieri Mitha, claim to be the custodians of the region that takes in the Marree township itself. More significant, though, is the region which runs beneath the land.
Hugh Morgan’s Western Mining Corporation, one of Australia’s largest miners, is so keen to secure access to the water that it signed a consultative agreement with the Dieri two years ago. The company’s planning a billion dollar expansion of its nearby Roxby Downs mine, yet it’s only recently that the Dieri Mitha land claim has been filed with the Native Title Tribunal. Now, the town of Marree that quietly straddles the old Ghan railway line is waiting in trepidation for the next move in a fight that’s already claimed one life. Helen Thomas reports.
TIMMY STRANGWAYS : There was a mob of guys on the road going towards my mother’s and a mob was cutting across from the back fence of my mother’s dragging sticks and…….along the fence, all the way up from the back fence to the front.
HELEN THOMAS : How many guys do you reckon were coming in those two mobs ?
UNIDENTIFIED : Oh, 20 or maybe even 25 – I don’t know. They were going along from the front then, went past my mother’s, throwing stones on top of the roof, throwing rocks through the windows, irons at the house, singing out, yelling the they was. Went next door towards my sister’s place. They were singing out and screaming there, so they decided to pull the screen doors on the house trying to get in, pull window screens off the window. They got a big iron and they were pushing the irons through the window. Then they ripped the screen right up, smashed the windows, the glass.
But before that, there was all the bunch in the front and the young fella was coming over. From the kitchen window, you could see how they were scattered in the yard.
HELEN THOMAS : It was a night everyone wants to forget – a hot, steamy, Thursday evening in January when a little mayhem came ot the town of Marree – from all accounts, just 25 minutes of violence in the tiny outpost that sits on the intersection of the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks.
UNIDENTIFIED : I told my sister to go in the bedroom with the kids, but she ended up in the laundry with them.
HELEN THOMAS : How many kids were in the house ?
UNIDENTIFIED : There’s 14.
HELEN THOMAS : Fourteen kids.
UNIDENTIFIED : Fourteen and a six-month-old baby.
HELEN THOMAS : Were they scared ?
HELEN THOMAS : Screaming ?
UNIDENTIFIED : Yes. Scared, certainly. It was hot inside. It was hot that night – just sweating.
HELEN THOMAS : What happened in that long half hour which left one 19-year-old dead, several people injured and 12 arrested, could have significant impact on the futures of at least two Aboriginal communities and one of Australia’s largest mining companies, the Western Mining Corporation.
PETER MAGUIRE : Well, I say what future ? It’s been 20 years now. Why is it going to change ?
HELEN THOMAS : You don’t think anything can get better ?
PETER MAGUIRE : Only if the government steps in.
HELEN THOMAS : Did it surprise you that the violence got so bad that someone died ?
LYLE OLDFIELD : When you look at the aftermath the next day and try and go through it, I was very surprised only one person was killed, because I think there could have been 9 or 10 quite easily.
HELEN THOMAS : Peter Maguire, bartender at the Marree Hotel and Lyle Oldfield who runs Marree’s Oasis Cafe. He’s lived in the area for nearly 50 years and knows it’s history better than most white men. Like the rest of the town’s 80 locals, he’d heard the predictions of violence.
RAELENE WARREN : If nothing’s done pretty fast and pretty soon, we’ll have a murder on our hands.
HELEN THOMAS : Warren who refused to be interviewed for this program, was right about that, and most in Marree expect more trouble, now. They believe their night of terror, like earlier less tragic outbreaks of violence, is linked to a dispute over land, and multinational mining giant, Western Mining, is right at the centre of this fight in its bid to gain access rights to the water on that land.
PIERS BOWMAN : The key issue to development of Olympic Dam is water. Any project in Australia remote from a site around the coast will have the problem of water, so water will always be a major problem. The Great Artesian Basin has an immense capability to support both local communities and large projects such as Olympic Dam.
HELEN THOMAS : Piers Bowman who is the Executive General Manager for Western Mining’s Copper Uranium Division.
Already the company pumps 13 million litres a day out of the Great Artesian Basin. Kevin Buzacott from the Arabana community.
Kevin, tell us about where we are, where we are standing right now.
KEVIN BUZACOTT : We’re standing, now, right on the shore of south Lake Eyre.
HELEN THOMAS : Lake Eyre ?
KEVIN BUZACOTT : Lake Eyre south, and this is where this pump – this is where they’ve taken all this water now right out of the basin.
HELEN THOMAS : Has it affected the lake at all ?
KEVIN BUZACOTT : It has affected all the other springs around.
HELEN THOMAS : As we were driving up, we noticed you were pointing out smaller bores that are all ready to go, along the way.
KEVIN BUZACOTT : I don’t know how many they’ve got altogether, but there’s heaps of them. And they’re like this one here – either ready to go or they’re already working.
HELEN THOMAS : And you grew up in this territory ?
KEVIN BUZACOTT : Born and bred here and walked this land.
HELEN THOMAS : Do you remember walking as a kid ?
KEVIN BUZACOTT : Oh, yes. We walked this even when I was big.
HELEN THOMAS : Do you still walk it ?
KEVIN BUZACOTT : Oh, I still do when I’m here, when I’m around, you know, but it makes it difficult with all this argument and all these other fellas just going all over the place causing all sorts of problems.
HELEN THOMAS : Two years ago, in its haste to secure access to the land and water that’s fast turning into liquid gold, Western Mining signed an agreement with the Dieri Association, acknowledging that group as the people who have primary responsibilities within Aboriginal tradition for the area.
PIERS BOWMAN : The work that we have done on ascertaining the background, particularly in the areas that we wish to operate on, has indicated that the Dieri have the traditional rights to that area. Now that, of course, is in dispute, but certainly the area that we are looking to progress our water supplies from certainly – it appears from all the work we have done – falls in the Dieri land claim.
HELEN THOMAS : Terry Dwyer, Senior Public Affairs Officer with Olympic Dam Operations, knows the mine like the back of his hand.
TERRY DWYER : This is our metallurgical plant entrance, the boom gate there. The mine is to the east, about a kilometre and a half away, and the ore is transferred overland to a stockpile. And from there we have a concentrator, a hydrometallurgical section, a copper smelter and a copper refinery to process the four minerals we have here – copper, uranium, gold and silver.
There’s a fair bit of construction work going on. We’re towards the end of optimisation number 2 expansion here, which is an $88 million expansion which is going to take us from roughly about 66,000 tonnes a year of pure copper to about 85,000 tonnes a year of pure copper.
HELEN THOMAS : You don’t talk in small figures here.
TERRY DWYER : No. It’s a large plant, and it needs to be, because we’re one of the few places in the world that takes minerals through to their final product and trucks them out as pure product. So you need to have a lot of metallurgical installation on site to be able to do that. So it has cost us a lot of money. It’s cost us, to this stage, around about a billion dollars or over a billion dollars to set Olympic Dam up, and we’ll be spending and expanding here for many years to come before we get to our optimum production levels.
HELEN THOMAS : The two Aboriginal groups involved in this land struggle, the Arabana and the Dieri Mitha, both claim to be the traditional owners. James Noonan, barristers and solicitors, a Darwin-based law firm, filed the Dieri Mitha’s land claim with the National Native Title Tribunal several weeks ago. That firm is also used by Western Mining, but the mining giant rejects out of hand the suggestion that Western Mining lawyers drew up the claim which covers the township of Marree itself, Lake Eyre and 120,000 square kilometres over all.
How did you pay for your land claim ?
RAELENE WARREN : I don’t have to answer that.
HELEN THOMAS : Raelene Warren after January’s fatal shooting. The Arabana’s land claim was filed two years ago by Sydney’s Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service in the High Court. It took in Marree, Lake Eyre and Finnis Springs Station. Reg Dodd, the co-ordinator of the Marree Arabana People’s Committee.
REG DODD : We’ve never opposed mining in any way at all. We’ve never opposed what Western Mining is doing. What we were concerned about – and I was deeply concerned about this – a lack of consultation. Previously, there was good consultation, and all of a sudden that deteriorated and it didn’t exist at all. We didn’t oppose what they were doing. We were happy to sit down and negotiate with them. We were happy to consult with them. It was Western Mining who was trying to discredit this centre.
HELEN THOMAS : Is that still your position ? Would you still sit down with them ?
REG DODD : I will sit down and talk to any person, anyone at all, Western Mining or not.
HELEN THOMAS : Clearly, they want to spend a lot of money expanding Olympic Dam. Are you against that ?
REG DODD : No. We were never against that. We were never against any sort of development of that area. What we were concerned and opposing was the non-proper consultation.
HELEN THOMAS : Western Mining is so close to the Dieri Mitha community that one of the company’s key negotiators was in town on the day of the January shooting attending an initiation ceremony. Background Briefing understands that perhaps suspecting trouble, he left suddenly Thursday afternoon, just hours before the violence erupted. It’s also been claimed that the two four-wheel drives used in the recent incident at Marree were hired at Western Mining’s expense from a company in Alice Springs to take people to the Dieri initiation. Western Mining disputes this.
UNIDENTIFIED : I’m not going to comment on that at all. Western Mining is a very large mining company. We have a massive project 110 kilometres south of this area. The fact that we’re in the area and that there’s a concern between two tribes over land merely raises our recognition on the project. How we’re involved and where we’re involved and so on, I think, is all then cast into some comment. The fact is we are in the area and we’re looking for water. We’re following an environmental program and we are talking to people that we believe are involved in the area as best we can, so I think it’s unfair to try and cast us into some other role.
HELEN THOMAS : Background Briefing has found that a law firm in Darwin sent $4,000 in cash to representatives in Alice Springs who then prepaid for the hire of the vehicles on behalf of the Dieri Mitha. It’s common knowledge in Marree that at least another $7,000 was spent over a five-day period before the fatal shooting by the group taking part in the initiation ceremony.
Peter Maguire runs the local pub with his wife.
PETER MAGUIRE : They never actually came in the hotel and sat down and drank. Now and again, one would have a beer but they’d come in, in groups of three or four, and buy a quantity of alcohol and they’d go away, and then an hour later or maybe two or three or four or maybe half an hour later, another group would come in and buy another heap of alcohol.
HELEN THOMAS : In that time, can you tell us how much they spent on alcohol and smokes, say ?
PETER MAGUIRE : They spent a lot of money that week, in that four days. Yes, they increased our takings probably four or five grand for the week. Everything was cash. They weren’t a problem in the hotel at all and they just came in. In fact, I had to borrow beer from here, there and everywhere to keep a supply going. But yes, it was a good trading week.
HELEN THOMAS : Raelene Warren has said that this money came from a private loan. Well, let me put this to you. It is also alleged that Western Mining has paid for the Dieri land claim to go forward, for the legal expenses involved. is it true ?
PIERS BOWMAN : I’m not even going to comment on that. We’re not involved.
HELEN THOMAS : So no money’s changed hands as far as you’re aware from Western Mining in either of the two Aboriginal groups ?
PIERS BOWMAN : We’re not involved in their land claim. That is their land claim and their problem. Our involvement in the area is to look at how we can progress our environmental impact on the area and to talk to people who we need to talk to and be involved in our process, and to progress that from a government point of view.
HELEN THOMAS : Western Mining’s Piers Bowman.
The roots of the current dispute in Marree twist back 20 years ago and centre around a cattle station that sprung up originally in `859. And like all edge-of-the-desert showdowns, there’s a map at the heart of this saga. Actually, there are two maps : one that’s probably 50 years old and another drawn more recently.
Driving from the copper-uranium mine at Roxby Downs, you get to Marree by taking a borefield road and turning onto the Oodnadatta Track. It’s extraordinary country.
CLIVE ROSEWARNE : It’s quite a beautiful area. It’s an arid zone where the rainfall is much less than the evaporation rates. It’s predominantly gibber plain which is those small, shiny, round stones which reflect the heat back up into the sun. One of the unique aspects of the landscape is the many changes that it’s been through over time. It has been, at various times, an inland sea; it’s been a rainforest. All these go back many thousands of years and have left their particular patterns across the landscape.
It’s a very dry landscape but the amazing thing around that particular area is underneath all this, you have the Great Artesian Basin, and what occurs through the area that we’re talking about are what’s called mound springs where the natural water from the Great Artesian Basin comes up to the surface, percolates out, evaporates – very salty water, high mineral content, and that gets left behind forming little hillocks, little lumps, little mounds, sometimes just springs and creeks, and so there is, paradoxically in this very dry landscape, a lot of water.
There’s a lot of pressure on the water usage in the area and that’s – all these springs, as you can imagine, would be of high cultural significance to the people who live in those areas, and then when you bring any new users in, they put greater pressures and can cause conflicts over that water use, and that’s the situation we’re seeing up there now.
HELEN THOMAS : You’ve obviously spent time in the area. Describe more specifically a mound spring. I mean, when you get up close, what do you actually see ?
CLIVE ROSEWARNE : Okay. You may see a small spring coming out of the ground. You may find a fairly large pond. You may find actually a mound which may be about the height of a normal room, and you’ll find a seepage on the top; quite often, quite springy ground, a lot of rushes around the area, a lot of bird life around the area, brolgas, freshwater water birds, a lot of small birds. They are quite important habitat sites in that sense. Also, because each spring has been isolated from one another for such a long period of time, each spring has quite unique micro-flora and fauna in the water, and the various mineral contents of the waters are quite different. So they are like little islands dotted around in the arid landscape.
HELEN THOMAS : Close to the Strzelecki Desert and no too far from the Simpson, this arid zone could only have beckoned the hardiest of souls at the turn of the century – the Afghan cameleers and early white settlers who pushed the Ghan railway up to Alice Springs with little regard for the Aboriginal communities along the way. A more respectful journeyman was Scottish-born Francis Dunbar-Warren who built the homestead of Finnis Springs in 1918.
And this is the core of the matter, certainly as far as Western Mining’s concerned, because it’s to the east of the station that the mining giant wants to draw more water. Water is already being drawn from bore fields to the west and north-west of Finnis Springs. If the new borefield goes ahead, water will travel by pipeline across the property via an easement to Roxby Downs.
Now, way before any of this, Francis Dunbar-Warren married an Aboriginal woman from the Arabana community and their inhabitants are now embroiled in this fight. From a white Australian’s point of view, this could be seen as a family feud that’s been simmering for too long – a fair-dinkum blue about how the old family property is to be used involving blood relatives and interconnecting marriages. But the Aboriginal communities involved with Finnis Springs say it’s more complex and political than that. South Australian anthropologist, Phillip Jones, agrees.
PHILLIP JONES : I think that the current climate of political events associated with the Mabo decision in the last two or three years has produced an appetite perhaps in the media, certainly among the lawyers, for a product that is Aboriginal culture which is defined as being self-contained, seamless, in the sense that it reaches back into history and tradition.
And if you look at the Marree situation, if you look at the reality of the history there, you find that there’s been tremendous social dislocation over the last century. Communities have fractured and reformed along different lines. There’s a history of fracture in the Marree community between Afghan, European and Aboriginal people, and there’s an argument for saying that that same history of fracture has transferred itself or fed off divisions in Aboriginal society.
Now, the upshot of all of this, as I say, you have very complex fault lines running through Aboriginal groups which simply do allow you to speak of the Dieri or the Arabana or the Kuyani as you can speak, for example, of local groups in Arnhem Land. In other words, the paradigm has shifted and it’s something that lawyers and anthropologists perhaps haven’t taken enough account of.
HELEN THOMAS : Since the 1940s, the boundaries accepted by most Australian anthropologists were set out in a map drawn by Norman Tindale. According to this map, the Finnis Springs-Marree region, now in contention, originally belonged to a third Aboriginal group, the Kuyani community. Jones, head of the South Australian Museum’s anthropology unit studied the late Norman Tindale’s work.
PHILLIP JONES : His intention, with this map, was always to draw a map of the situation as it had perhaps been at the moment of European contact rather than a dynamic and changing situation such as is certainly reflected in the area today. But his conclusion, basically, was that the Finnis Springs area was traditionally occupied by the Kuyani people; to their north-east lay the territory of the Dieri people; and to their north-west lay the territory of the Arabana people. Those were his conclusions. I guess there are groups of Aboriginal people who support those conclusions today. Alternatively, there are groups of people who support the conclusion that the Dieri have come south and have title to that area. And likewise, Arabana people also make a claim to that country.
HELEN THOMAS : In a sense, by publicly siding with the Dieri Mitha, Western Mining is in dispute with the Tindale map. The company has turned to the work of geographer, Stephen Davis.
PHILLIP JONES : I think you’d have to ask the question at what point Western Mining’s interests become the interests of the Dieri people, and vice versa, and until that question is resolved, I think there’s a very strong case to be made for turning to perhaps more objective sources of inquiry and looking into the full range of advice that can be sought across the board.
HELEN THOMAS : In 1993, Stephen Davis who is now Western Mining’s group geographer, published his own map of Australia and its Aboriginal boundaries. Independent anthropologist, Peter Sutton.
PETER SUTTON : The Davis map shows frontiers, in his terms, between a number of groups in that area. It doesn’t show any disputed areas. It also shows one significant area, there, with no group attached to it, around about the area of the Olympic Dam mine. There are many other disputed land areas across Australia which have been a matter of public knowledge for many years. For example, at Daly River and at Finnis River in the Northern Territory, these are famous cases. Again, in those areas, no disputed areas are shown on the Davis map. In other words, we’re presented with an appearance of stability and unanimity which really isn’t there in any land-owning system in the world as far as I know.
HELEN THOMAS : I guess a lot of people who are listening, this morning, are probably wondering should that matter. I mean, is Davis right in leaving it that open-ended ?
PETER SUTTON : They do matter in the sense that people’s personal histories and their sense of themselves are involved at the most local and detailed level, and this can affect conflict between and within families. It can affect your prospects for reasonable emotional health and perhaps physical health, from time to time, so these are vital issues in a day-to-day sense for those people who have to live with them day-to-day. In the current situation, with native title having been legislated and a large number of claims being laid on the basis of native title legislation, it’s now really important that going public on things like who owns what land is done with the greatest care and the greatest responsibility.
HELEN THOMAS : Why is Finnis Springs itself so important in this dispute ?
DEANE FERGIE : Well, I thin it’s important for a variety of reasons. One is because on Finnis Springs, there’s some really important mythological sites, and the one that most people know about are the mound springs which are really crucial, both in many of the kind of mythological tracks in this area. It’s also significant because, historically, it became this incredible focal point for a large number of Aboriginal people, and most of the Aboriginal people in Marree, today, have a really significant – at the very least – historical link with Finnis Springs Station and, in fact, with the work that went on there. So Finnis Springs Station is one of the things that was very obvious from the very beginning of our research in the late 80’s. Long before this blew up in its present form was the incredible sort of focal, symbolic importance. You know, in a sense, if you were to say “What is the heartland of these Aboriginal people ?”, you would say Finnis Springs Station, and they would say it themselves, very much.
HELEN THOMAS : And I guess you’re not just talking about the two groups at loggerheads in this dispute, the Arabana and the Dieri Mitha – you’re talking about other Aboriginal groups in the area ?
DEANE FERGIE : Well, I think the interesting thing is that the people’s relationship with Finnis predates, in a sense, those two distinctions which, in some respects, are very contemporary distinctions.
HELEN THOMAS : In what sense ?
DEANE FERGIE : Well, I think it’s very clear the Arabana People’s Committee was a committee that was formed as an organisation in the 80’s, and the Dieri Mitha was formed even more recently. And although, in a sense, they call upon tribal appellations, tribal names, in their identities, these are organisations of very recent production, I suppose, where people have pulled in the resources of of those language group names, I suppose very recently.
HELEN THOMAS : Can I look at that split, there ? When you were there, were the two groups that we’re talking about now, the Arabana and the Dieri Mitha, in dispute, if you like, over not just Finnis Springs and the old property that still stands there, but also Marree and a large section around both those two areas ?
DEANE FERGIE : Well, at that point we were in the field for, you know, the focus of our research, Dieri Mitha didn’t exist, and at that time, many of the leading identities in that group went to Arabana People’s Committee meetings and although there was a great deal of tension within those meetings, split – as you see it now – it didn’t have the same form, certainly at that time.
HELEN THOMAS : Deane Fergie who lectures in Anthropology at Flinders University. She also lived in Marree for nearly a year working on an oral history project.
DEANE FERGIE : I would argue that, in part, this particular dispute as named, has not just to do with the politics of those Aboriginal people, but a great deal to do with the politics and policies of government. I don’t think it’s any coincidence, frankly, that these people are actually trying to produce an identity which stresses attributes of Aboriginal people that the Government and the public, indeed, have come to expect of them – you know, to be able to give a tribal name, to have a whole series of “traditional attributes” and so on.
HELEN THOMAS : In 1993, Stephen Davis was designated to sign the agreement with the Dieri Association on Western Mining’s behalf. It’s an intriguing document suggesting the Dieri are the traditional owners of the land. But just how significant is this agreement ? Patricia Lane is Registrar of the National Native Title Tribunal.
PATRICIA LANE : It’s always open for Aboriginal groups to consult and negotiate with companies or individuals that want to do things with respect to their land. In fact, we encourage people to speak to Aboriginal groups if they plan to do things with the land. But that’s different from a determination of native title. In the process that we’ve got, a determination is made after all of the parties to the application have reached agreement. Now, that might mean that Western Mining could well be a party to the mediation if the application was accepted. It might also mean that the Arabana people are a party to the application if it’s accepted, and it’s all of the parties that reach agreement, not just one or two.
HELEN THOMAS : So let me get this straight. On the strength of the agreement that they signed in 1993 with the Dieri, Western Mining could in fact become an applicant to the claim now before the tribunal, or would they have to file on their own behalf ?
PATRICIA LANE : Well, they could be a party because if they have an interest in the land which is subject to the application, then the Act provides that parties whose interests are affected can become parties to the mediation.
HELEN THOMAS : So if that application is accepted, if the claim does go forward in the tribunal, what you’re saying is that this particular agreement that was signed between Western Mining and the Dieri could, in fact, be quite significant ?
PATRICIA LANE : Well, it’s up to Western Mining to do what is sees fit to protect it’s interests and, obviously, that may well mean being a party to the application and reaching agreement. If they have agreement with the Dieri people, that’s fine, but they may need to reach agreement with every other party to the tribunal as well.
HELEN THOMAS : The Arabana community claims that Western Mining failed to properly consult with them about the land, and it’s that fact, more than any other, that angers them. Reg Dodd from the Arabana People’s Committee believes the agreement between the mining giant and the Dieri has no status.
REG DODD : It has nothing, nothing whatsoever, and we’ve been told by the then State Government that it didn’t have any legal status. But then, I say to Western Mining why did they not consult with the Dieri people when they first did the anthropological work and the archaeological work ? In their records and in the book – in the statement there – they didn’t speak to any because there weren’t any there. There were people around but they weren’t claiming to be Dieri people then.
HELEN THOMAS : And just so we’re clear on this, you’re saying the Dieri people have really have no claim to this land ?
REG DODD : Nothing, nothing.
HELEN THOMAS : And when you say traditional owners, can you be clear for us exactly what you mean by that ?
REG DODD : What I mean by traditional owners is that if you could go out onto the land and identify with that area, to the stories and to the features of the land in your traditional tongue. and traditionally you go out to do the traditional practices, maybe hunting and passing on that information to your younger generation and that.
HELEN THOMAS : Certainly, a number of people have said that the Arabana aren’t the only people that are entitled to this land, that the Kuyani are, that the Dieri are. What do you say to that ?
REG DODD : I’m happy, as I’ve said all along, to go out and talk about that land in my traditional Arabana language.
HELEN THOMAS : And why is the language important ?
REG DODD : Well, I can’t go out there and explain in English and say : This is my traditional land. I can go out there and relate in the native tongue that my old people taught me to talk in.
HELEN THOMAS : How long have the Arabana people been here ? How long has it been your land ?
REG DODD : Well, it’s been here for ages, you know. The old people said our traditional land runs from here way up to the top end of Dalhousie.
HELEN THOMAS : What are we talking about, a hundred years or more ?
REG DODD : Oh, yes most definitely. I mean, they relate to stories of the ice age and that, so how long ago was that ? And beyond that.
DEANE FERGIE : The Government, I think, displays at times its failure to understand the way in which Aboriginal lives are constituted in a place like Marree. These are not Pitjantjatjara, these are not Maralinga, these are not Aranda people, in that sense of, you know, very tribally-oriented people. On the other hand, they don’t live at Port Adelaide or at Redfern or somewhere else. The people of Marree, the Aboriginal people of Marree, have for a long time sort of fallen through the sieve of government policy in many respects and they haven’t had a lot of the benefits that governments give people who fit into nice categories. These people have, in a lot of respects, had very ambiguous status and they haven’t actually had a lot of the benefits that go with being stridently authentically tribal or stridently authentically urban.
HELEN THOMAS : Anthropologist, Deane Fergie, from the University of Adelaide.
The Arabana alleged that the Dieri Mitha have followed and harassed them out of Finnis Springs and out on the long red-dirt roads for the past 18 months. The group claims the vehicle used in these incidents had been lent to the Dieri by Western Mining. Now, Background Briefing has a copy of a letter dated June 1994 indicating the four-wheel drive allegedly used in these incidents was owned by Western Mining and on loan to the Dieri.
The Arabana claim things took a nastier turn a year ago. Timmy Strangways.
TIMMY STRANGWAYS : We’re just going to head up past the Marree general store and we’re going to head down to my house which is 27 4TH Street where the first incident occurred where they smashed my house up. Now, we’re just coming in towards my house now, and I’ll show you what they’ve done. We’ve had everything fixed up since then but I’ll give you a fair idea of what happened here.
We moved into this house, here, and we were in it about 12 months, I’d say, and I’ve put in a garden and all that, grown some trees, even a lawn, and they smashed every window along the front. If you come down here you can see the rip in the blind and that where the big stones went through.
HELEN THOMAS : They threw stones through ?
TIMMY STRANGWAYS : Yes. And they were all over next-door there having a party all day and most of the night. I was away at the time. Only my wife and kids and my mother, her husband and a couple of my brothers were up here. And as you can see that big rip there, that’s where a big stone went through, and you can still see some of the things on the screens, the big dents. They chucked bricks and everything through.
HELEN THOMAS : Did they break all the windows here ?
TIMMY STRANGWAYS : Yes, every one of them. I had kids in the house. The youngest one was four and the eldest one would have been 12. And they terrorised the kids and the wife, my mother and my brothers and that; they chased them across town and all hell broke loose here.
HELEN THOMAS : Have your kids, has your wife been back here since ?
TIMMY STRANGWAYS : Oh, we come down here every now and then and check the house out, but we’re stopping up the other end of town.
HELEN THOMAS : Is that because, what, you don’t feel safe or it just brings back bad memories ?
TIMMY STRANGWAYS : The kids don’t feel safe here and my wife don’t feel safe and neither do I, you know.
HELEN THOMAS : Seven people were arrested after this and the charges will be heard in Leigh Creek next week. But in January, the night before Black Friday, the mood in Marree got worse. Reg Dodd.
REG DODD : Now, there was bashing, there was people running around from house to house threatening people. And I saw one of the tribal elders, a highly respected lawman, beaten to a pulp…..
HELEN THOMAS : In the street ?
REG DODD : In the street. Now, these people who did that are not from this area.
HELEN THOMAS : How many were there ?
REG DODD : There were possibly 15 to 20 guys. For sure, the leaders, the instigators, were people from here. Now, I was saying all along that this was going to happen but this fell on deaf ears. No one want a bar of that. I’ve written to the Federal Ministers, to the State Ministers, all over the countryside, to ATSIC, to Department of State Office of Aboriginal Affairs, and no one wanted to listen.
REG DODD : I don’t know. I don’t know who they were afraid of.
HELEN THOMAS : You were convinced that that sort of violence was erupting ?
REG DODD : I knew that as sure as that sun was going to rise every morning that that was going to happen.
HELEN THOMAS : It’s been alleged that between 15 and 25 outsiders had come from Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory to take part in the initiation ceremony that week in and around Marree, but one 22-year-old man has been charged with murder and 11 others face various counts of assault and firearms offences in Port Augusta court, next week, so we can’t go into specific detail about the alleged sequence of events that night.
We can say that geographer, Stephen Davis, was the Western Mining employee in Marree on 12 January, the night of the fatal shooting. Although we’re not suggesting he was involved in the violence, Background Briefing understands that Davis, who declined our repeated requests for an interview, had been in town for a couple of days, attending the initiation, and had planned to stay on a day or so more. Instead, he left in a hurry, just hours before the trouble started. This is not the first time Davis has been involved in a land rights matter. Less than a decade ago, he put forward opinion at the Coronation Hill dispute in the Northern Territory. In that matter, a Resource Assessment Commission report specifically rejected his maps outlining Aboriginal boundaries.
DEANE FERGIE : In every sense, you must take account of the role of Western Mining in this context, and I think their position has either been incredibly naive – their role in this position has been incredibly naive – or it’s been incredibly mischievous. There’s not a lot of middle ground in a sense, I think, in this context, and for example, I think their agreement with the Dieri people and the signing of that agreement on Finnis either displayed enormous naivety or enormous political mischievous, and I think that’s something that the State Government might also have taken up. It’s really worth thinking to yourself : Who stands to benefit from Aboriginal people in this area being in discord ? And I don’t know that it’s the Aboriginal people who stand to benefit from being in discord, in being in such dramatic discord.
HELEN THOMAS : Do you think it’s fair to say that Western Mining have stirred an already troubled pot?
HELEN THOMAS : Oh, I think that’s very fair to say.
HELEN THOMAS : Terry, how long have you actually been working here ?
TERRY DWYER : I’ve been at Olympic Dam for about eight and a half years, and I got up here at the start of the major construction in 1986 and it was a fascinating time. There was about a thousand contractors crawling all over the place and spending something like a million dollars a day. It was really good to be part of.
HELEN THOMAS : What existed when you first got here ?Was Roxby Downs the town like it is now ?
TERRY DWYER : Absolutely not. I stayed in the single persons’ camp here. There was no town. And I was taken out by the boss out to a sand dune and shown a couple of guys with surveyor pegs and theodolites, and they were marking out the early stages of town. And I was told then that this was going to be the town of Roxby. It was pretty hard to imagine at that stage, but everything that was said, at that stage, has come true. We’ve built a brand-new, well-designed, thoroughly modern and pleasant town.
HELEN THOMAS : Then there’s the question of a World Heritage listing for this area, which divides the town of Marree into different alliances. Green groups, of course, think it’s a great idea.
CLIVE ROSEWARNE : Yes. We support the need for a World Heritage listing for specific sites around the Lake Eyre Basin. Actually, the proposal for World Heritage listing is not a blanket covering of the whole area. It picks particular sites, and around that area it’s the mound springs which are the areas which are highlighted, plus Lake Eyre itself.
HELEN THOMAS : Clive Rosewarne from Friends of the Earth.
The group has worked closely with the Arabana and their concern about further damage to the area’s mound springs if Western Mining goes ahead with its plan for a second borefield. The main point of contention is just where the company wants to sink it. The Arabana, like Friends of the Earth, worry about the company’s proposed borefield B site, but Reg Dodd sees a way round this.
REG DODD : I can’t say for Friends of the Earth, but I can say for the Arabana centre, we’ve never opposed borefield B – we’ve never opposed that. I’m saying what they should do is go back to their original proposal of taking water from further up into the basin up near the Clayton bore, where they put down a bore.
HELEN THOMAS : So you’d be happy for them to take water from the region, just not that particular spot.
REG DODD : I think because they are taking it from the edge of the basin rather than going into the central point of the basin. And it’s already damaged the Venable bore and some of the springs around there. There’s no water – it’s ceased to flow, the water.
HELEN THOMAS : So how important is the proposed billion dollar expansion of Olympic Dam to the Western Mining Corporation ? Rob Craigie is an analyst with stockbroking firm, ANZ McCaughan.
ROB CRAIGIE : Western Mining are at an early stage of looking at options for expanding the Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold mine. The feasibility studies are started and it should be completed by the end of this year. And if that feasibility study is attractive, if the outcome is attractive, a decision will be made in early 1996 to expand production to 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of copper per year.
You’ve referred to the investment cost and that’s very significant. They’re looking at spending up to a billion dollars on infrastructure and also on mine smelter and refinery costs. The expansion decision is much more decision than two previous, smaller expansions that have been made at Olympic Dam. A decision to double capacity isn’t certain. It involves considerable financial risks; also, clearly, some technical risks; so it’s not an easy decision for Western Mining to make given the amount of money involved.
HELEN THOMAS : Well, given the amount of money involved, I guess most people listening this morning would be wondering how much money they are going to get back. I mean, it’s obviously not a gambler’s industry, as such, is it ?
ROB CRAIGIE : That’s right. Clearly, they are looking for a return on their investment and I think they would expect they would increase revenues by perhaps 300 million to 350 million per annum – that’s sales revenues, not profits – and I guess there’d also be benefits to the surrounding economy in the State from that investment. So there’d be flow-on benefits to all the contractors, service providers, and you’d expect there’d be multiplier effects through the rest of the South Australian economy.
HELEN THOMAS : High stakes, indeed.
UNIDENTIFIED : This is the uranium section as most people know it. It’s a standard uranium treatment where we use sulphuric acid to leach the ore so the uranium is dissolved into a liquid. From there, we clean it up – it’s easier to work with as a a liquid – and then we add ammonium, bring it back to a solid form, heat it or roast it, and it ends up as a dark-green powder. And the final form of uranium is called yellowcake but, in fact, it is not yellow; it’s dark-green, almost black. From there, it is drummed into 200-litre drums, placed into shipping containers, and every three or four months we have a convoy of semitrailers that will have one shipping container on each truck. There’ll be police vehicles and clean-up vehicles and back-up vehicles accompanying the convoy, and they’ll travel down the highway down to Port Adelaide where a ship will be waiting and off to customers overseas.
HELEN THOMAS : Back home, the traditional ownership dispute affects everyone in Marree, and those running the towns’ few businesses – the two shops, the two caravan parks, the garage and hotel – fear the town’s tourist industry is in jeopardy. Peter Maguire.
PETER MAGUIRE : Most of our tourists are over 50 and they want a hassle-free holiday. And the place is hassle free at the moment, but you can’t ring up a tourist and say : Listen, come up here because we haven’t got any hassles. They’re just really bypassing the town. We should have a lot more tourists at the moment that we’re not getting. We’re just getting none.
HELEN THOMAS : And you think that’s because they’re scared to come ?
PETER MAGUIRE : I’m positive that that’s the reason for it. Yes, I’m absolutely positive. And I don’t know how much longer it’s going to go on for. Because with these court cases that are coming up as a result of this, they will all come to the court’s attention right at the start of our tourist season and that will be more publicity. The publicity will scare them off again.
HELEN THOMAS : Clive Rosewarne, in an ideal world, how does this situation get resolved ?
CLIVE ROSEWARNE : In an ideal world, you would not have a major player with a lot of power and influence on the outside pressuring communities to make decisions. In an ideal world, Aboriginal communities wouldn’t be in a position to feel they had to support such a toxic industry as uranium mining in order to get some economic benefit from the land which they have a traditional and cultural link to.
HELEN THOMAS : Do you think that’s what’s happening ?
CLIVE ROSEWARNE : I think that’s the picture; that’s the pressure that Aboriginal communities are being put under in that area. It’s a decision between a toxic industry or nothing.
HELEN THOMAS : Piers Bowman, you’ve been in this job, I understand, for five months, now.
PIERS BOWMAN : That’s correct, yes.
HELEN THOMAS : Have you had a chance to get up to Finnis Springs, to get to stay perhaps for a couple of days at Marree to talk to the people ?
PIERS BOWMAN : No, I haven’t. I have been through the area and I’ve had a look at the area from an environmental point of view and I think that’s where our involvement should be. We have a number of ways of contacts with the local groups and I think that’s the best approach for it.
HELEN THOMAS : Do you want to spend more time in the area ?
PIERS BOWMAN : We will look at how we will progress the issues there and how we can be a party to solving the problems in the longer term.
HELEN THOMAS : Native Title Tribunal Member, Fred Chaney, has been invited to Marree to attend a meeting of both Aboriginal groups, the Arabana and the Dieri Mitha, within the next 10 days. In the meantime, observers ponder Western Mining’s actions in a dispute that needn’t have involved the company at all. And the tiny outback town of Marree waits uneasily for the deadlock to break.
UNIDENTIFIED : One of the problems with this is that everybody’s been trying to pick the winner for long, long time – yes, and I think it’s actually time we stopped trying to pick winners and try and pick a winnable situation. What you’ve got to come up with is actually a resolution with dignity.