NATIONAL: Aboriginal people have been done over by big miners countless times, writes CHRIS MUNRO*. Which is all the more reason to enter the industry ourselves.
When it comes to mining in this country, most Aboriginal people are hard-wired to oppose it; regardless of what shape or form it takes. I was one of those people until recently. Although understandably, I had more than a few very good reasons to.
When it comes to pulling minerals out of the earth, Aboriginal people routinely get shafted, no pun intended – we rarely come out on top.
Firstly, there’s the destruction of the environment. For generations miners have been downright reckless where the landscape is concerned. They’ve plundered at will, in many cases destroying pristine natural environments unchecked.
You can throw in the wilful destruction of Aboriginal sites as well. Thousands of our important cultural sites have been destroyed over the years, many at the hands of miners.
We’ve been taken to the cleaners by the resources sector for years too, and continue to get fleeced.
Every other week we read of mining giants offering cash payments and a few million dollars a year to dirt-poor Aboriginal communities, while they pull billions of dollars worth of minerals out of Aboriginal land.
History points to profoundly flawed systems of devising and collecting royalties that lack accountability, split communities and families, and rarely generate lasting employment or change for Aboriginal people.
A staggering 60 percent of Australia’s mining operations take place next door to an Aboriginal community, yet we remain mired in poverty and inequity.
It’s a pretty bleak old picture isn’t it? Well, at least there’s some sort of change afoot, and companies such as Rio Tinto are leading the way, but it’s little wonder many Aboriginal people trust miners about as far as they can kick them.
For many years ‘experts’ have recommended changes to tax systems and royalty schemes along with an overhaul of the way agreements are made between miners and Aboriginal groups.
But perhaps that’s precisely the problem. Until now, many Aboriginal people haven’t really dared to think big…really big. What happens when our mob become the miners themselves? What happens when the playing field suddenly levels out?
Of course I’m referring to the publisher of Tracker, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).
It’s no secret NSWALC’s dipping its toe into the resources sector. But for many Aboriginal people, this decision by the elected council is a perplexing one. After all, Australia’s wealth and industry success is built upon the theft of Aboriginal land, and for many the mining industry is the jewel in the crown of this criminal act.
So why then should Aboriginal people support the move? Why on earth should Aboriginal people join the ranks of an industry that’s hoodwinked and hustled them for more than 100 years? Well, why the hell not?
I’ve heard countless arguments from both sides of the fence since NSWALC made their announcement, and to be honest, I can relate to them all. One argument in favour of mining though has stuck with me.
Digging up minerals in exchange for wealth isn’t going to stop. Some variations of ‘extraction’ may be banned in the future.
Refinery practices will no doubt become too cumbersome and damaging to the environment one day – who knows. But let’s get one thing straight here…mining will never stop completely.
And that’s exactly the reason our very ‘Aboriginal’ way of thinking, (the same thinking I’ve held on to myself for so long), needs to change, and change fast.
Australia is in the grips of a modern day gold rush. We’re riding the crest of an enormous resources boom we’ll never see again.
It’s hard to tell how long this ‘bottomless’ pot of gold will last – 20, 50, perhaps 100 years. But one thing is dead certain in all of this… someone, somewhere, will be mining in Australia as long as there’s a product under our feet that’s economically viable to pull out.
It’s pretty straightforward really. If Aboriginal people continue along the path of resistance to mining activity, however principled, there’ll be consequences.
Our communities and our people will spend another 200 years in poverty with our hands out to the white man. The natural environment we hold so dear will continue to be misused, void of Aboriginal care and vital land knowledge. Non-Aboriginal miners will continue their wilful destruction of our cultural sites.
And the erosion of our languages, our culture and our heritage won’t slow down either.
We can’t keep treading water, holding-out for a better deal anymore. We’ve been staunch in our fight for 200 long, bloody years, but we’ve still got someone dictating to us what we do and how we go about it.
I’m sick of being cunningly corralled by white financial dominance. I’m sick of going to Aboriginal funerals. I’m sick of reporting on and reading about the desperately low educational outcomes of our kids. Sick of seeing our communities constantly in turmoil and our Elders tortured with angst.
I’m done hearing about the sky-rocketing rates of self-harm amongst even our youngest kids. Sick to death of looking over the federal budget every single year and seeing my people overlooked and neglected amidst more than a decade of record surpluses.
I’m sick of white Australia sniggering and cracking ‘jokes’ about Aboriginal poverty and disadvantage. I’m done with travelling to Aboriginal communities on unpaved roads with no streets lights, no local store, no library, no swimming pool for the kids, in fact no real amenities or services of any kind.
When do the first peoples of this country, its true owners and protectors, get their turn?
Emphasis needs to be placed on the word ‘protect’ too. There’s no-one in this country better placed to undertake the mining of Aboriginal land responsibly, ethically and with best practice than the first peoples themselves.
We must be strategic about this though. Profits need to go back into protecting sensitive environments the Aboriginal way, and with Aboriginal money. That’s something mining can deliver, and deliver in spades.
If we chose to wait for government to invest in our communities and in us as people, we’ll be waiting another 200 years.
Shrugging off the long hand of government control means Aboriginal people must push for self-determination in its purest form.
It’s time we take the steps to finally start taking care of our own business. There’s no holding back the tide of mining in this country. And if we don’t do it, someone else will – simple as that.
The iron of opportunity is white hot. It makes nothing but good sense to strike right now.
*Chris Munro is a Gamilaroi man, former NITV political correspondent and Acting Director of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council’s Media & Marketing Unit.