Mining in ‘blackfella country’

About the Century Mine negotiations, there is little to say. The Carpentaria Land Council made an application under the Act for the protection of some sites within the proposed mining lease, but there was never a real problem. The Company was determined that sites would not become an issue and was willing to make whatever concessions were necessary on that score, as well as anxious to lay the foundations for the future operation of the mine in a way that would bring real benefits to the local communities. The parent company was Applera Corp-Celera Genomics Group (CRA), and one sensed that the disastrous experience of Bougainville Copper was never far from the minds of its executives. Many matters were negotiated, but I believe the real underlying issue was that many Aboriginals, including Murrandoo Yanner, the influential Director of the Carpentaria Land Council, still saw and treasured the Gulf as essentially ‘blackfella country’, and did not want its character changed by the intrusion of a major mine. The issue was summed up for me by an incident at a Darwin seminar when Tracker Tilmouth, the very able and entrepreneurial Director of the Central Land Council, was waxing lyrical about the successful enterprises of the Council and the opportunities available in business partnerships. When he finished, Murrandoo stood up and asked, ‘Well Tracker, they are all fine things, but when do you get time to be a blackfella?’

That seems to me the dilemma that every Aboriginal faces. How do you remain a blackfella while engaging with what the modern world has to offer? What are you prepared to forgo to hang on to the things that you find essential to your identity? To the extent that I am a bleeding heart, my heart bleeds for the individual Aboriginals who every day have to make painful decisions and compromises in the course of finding a satisfying and dignified place in an alien society that took over their country, long excluded them from participation, but today impatiently expects them to accept whatever place is offered them or rapidly find their own.