Traditional owners welcome protection against mining

Keira Jenkins |

Mirarr people have long opposed any mining at Jabiluka, in the Kakadu National Park area.
Mirarr people have long opposed any mining at Jabiluka, in the Kakadu National Park area.

Kakadu traditional owners are one step closer to winning a 25-year-long battle to protect their country from mining, after the Jabiluka area was granted new protections.

The Northern Territory government declared special reserve status over the Jabiluka area, in the surrounds of Kakadu National Park, on Wednesday.

Corben Mudjandi, a Mirarr man, said his people have been fighting against mining on the site for generations, and this decision makes him feel it’s a battle that’s almost won.

“It feels like it’s coming to an end,” he told AAP.

“I’m really happy, it feels like we’re one step closer to winning – we’re not there yet but we are close, it feels like we’re coming to the end of the race.”

Corben Mudjandi
Mirarr man Corben Mudjandi said his people have been fighting against mining for generations. (HANDOUT/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation)

Mirarr people have long opposed any mining in the area, holding protests in the late 1990s and early 2000s when more than 5000 people travelled to Kakadu to prevent uranium mining at Jabiluka.

The decision to protect the area was also welcomed by environmental groups.

The Northern Territory Environment Centre executive director Kirsty Howey said it was a crucial step to prevent mining at Jabiluka.

“This is groundbreaking and wonderful news, and testament to the incredible resistance and resilience of the Mirarr Traditional Owners over many decades,” she said.

“We look forward to the day when we can say Jabiluka is dead and buried, and to working with Traditional Owners and both levels of government to achieve this outcome.”

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) announced in March it had applied for a renewal of its mining lease at Jabiluka, which contains uranium.

ERA’s current mineral lease is due to expire in August.

The NT government said a decision on ERA’s application is “expected in due course”.

“While the reserve land area is in place, it will prevent new applications for the grant of a mineral title over this area,” Mining Minister Mark Monaghan said.

“The creation of the reserved land area does not foreshadow or imply any decision regarding the current renewal application by ERA.”

Mr Mudjandi said Mirarr people would be disappointed if the application was approved.

“It’s been going on long enough, long before my time, so I think it’s time to put it to rest.”

He would like to see the area gain the same protections as Kakadu National Park, so people can visit and share in the rich cultural history of Jabiluka.

Jabiluka protest
A uranium mining lease at Jabiluka is due to expire in August. (HANDOUT/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation)

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the government must not extend the Jabiluka mining lease to ensure long-term protection in the area.

“While very welcome, today’s development is not the final chapter in the Jabiluka uranium story and struggle,” campaigner Dave Sweeney said.

“It is imperative now that the intent expressed in the special reserve declaration is matched in reality with no extension of the current Jabiluka Mining Lease.”