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Historic Gove agreement struck

Posted: Thu, May 26, 2011

Gumatj dancers perform at the celebration of the agreement struck bewteen Yolgnu traditional owners and Rio Tinto Alcan. Picture: Bob Gosford

A new era in respect and co-operation has been ushered in on the Gove Peninsula, with the signing of an agreement between traditional owners and mining giant Rio Tinto Alcan. The agreement will extend the life of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Gove bauxite mine and alumina refinery for a further 42 years, providing long-term opportunities for education, employment and economic development for the Yolngu peoples of the region.

The mine, which was established prior to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, had previously operated for more than four decades without an agreement with traditional Aboriginal owners.

The bauxite mine led to the Gove Bark Petition being sent to Federal Parliament, sparked a High Court challenge and, ultimately, led to a Royal Commission which paved the way for land rights in the Northern Territory.

Clearly emotional at the signing celebration, former Australian of the Year and Gumatj clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu said, while the agreement was long overdue, it would help provide employment and business opportunities for his people.

“We have been direct as to our needs and the company has supported our vision for the future. We go to the future with Rio Tinto as a partner,” he said.

“This agreement is with the traditional owners of the land – but it is, in reality, for all Yolngu of East Arnhem Land. Our land is a shared future.”

Mr Yunupingu’s  sentiments were echoed by senior leaders of traditional owner groups, the Gumatj and Rirratjingu.

Rirratjingu clan leader Bakamumu Marika said the agreement was “forty years overdue”.

“This partnership secures for Yolngu people participation in mining on their lands, on commercial terms,” he said.

Much of the royalties received under the deal will be placed in future funds, which will help develop education, training and employment initiatives for Yolngu peoples.

Northern Land Council Chairman Wali Wunungmurra said the landmark agreement  “would go a long way to righting the wrongs which have occurred on the Gove Peninsula since mining began more than four decades ago.”

“This is an historic day for traditional owners, who have been fighting for an agreement like this since the 1969s and 70s,” Mr Wunungmurra said.

“I praise Rio Tinto Alcan for conducting good will negotiations throughout this long process.

“Their willingness to listen to the needs of traditional owners. This agreement will provide economic development opportunities for all Yolngu peoples, not just the identified traditional owners.”

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin both attended the signing ceremony, along with hundreds of Yolngu, executives and employees from Rio Tinto Alcan and a large gathering of local and interstate media.