Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Xstrata Dreaming: The Struggle of Aboriginal Australians against a Swiss Mining Giant

Xstrata Dreaming: The Struggle of Aboriginal Australians against a Swiss Mining Giant

by Michael Deibert, Special to CorpWatch

February 16th, 2009

The McArthur River winds through Australia's remote Northern Territory creating lush floodplains that sustain vast herds of kangaroos, wallabies and cattle. Above them, finches, wild turkeys, and flocks of migratory birds fill an endless sky. The area around the river, which runs 300 kilometers before emptying into the Gulf of Carpentaria, also provides spiritual sustenance to the region's four main Aboriginal linguistic groups: the Gurdanji, Yanyuwa, Garawa and Mara.

Australia's indigenous culture is among the oldest continuously existing communities in the world, and one whose spiritual cosmology, known as the Dreamtime, ties its members closely to the land of their ancestors. At once a mythical time of creation and a present-day spiritual cycle, the Dreamtime includes such totemic animals as the Rainbow Snake, the Turtle and the Alligator. Rituals in tribute to these symbolic guides and protectors must be performed at certain times and in specific places around the expanse of this immense but sparsely populated continent.

Despite the region's glaring lack of basic services, education and employment opportunities, Aboriginal residents value the McArthur River area for its spiritual wealth. But a multinational mining company's pursuit of material riches threatens the core of this already beleaguered culture. In the 1950s, Mount Isa Mines (MIM), a mining concern based in neighboring Queensland state, discovered vast lead, silver and zinc deposits beneath and around the river, and conducted extensive exploratory drilling and feasibility studies.

The Yanyuwa had lived in the region for millennia and were able to legally claim the land in 1977 under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which allows indigenous people to establish ownership of land based on traditional occupation. Nonetheless, MIM, which by then had been operating in the area for three decades, began underground mining activities along the river in 1995.

In 2003, the government of the Northern Territory approved MIM's application to transition from underground to above-ground ("open-cut") mining, a process involving the diversion of the McArthur River. A short time later, MIM sold its operations to Switzerland-based Xstrata Plc, Europe's largest zinc producer. Described on the company's website as "a global diversified mining group" with a "meaningful position in seven major international commodity markets: copper, coking coal, thermal coal, ferrochrome, nickel, vanadium, and zinc," Xstrata has operations that span 18 countries.

Now, as full owners of McArthur River Mining Pty Ltd, Xstrata is authorized to extract 43 million tons of the resource over the next 20 years.

Read the full article here.


waiquarterly said...

just a small factual error in an otherwise comprehensive article.

it's crocodile not alligator. Alligators are Americian, Crocodiles are Australian.

Michael Deibert said...

Indeed, you are correct. My sincere apologies and glad that you liked the article, many thanks.