Aboriginal owners outraged by a spiritually important site being chosen for Australia's first nuclear waste dump

Don't nuclear waste Australia

A South Australian cattle station that is part-owned by the state’s Liberal party director and next to an Indigenous Protected Area has been provisionally selected as the site of Australia’s first nuclear waste dump, outraging traditional owners. The federal resources minister Josh Frydenberg (Liberal) has announced that Wallerberdina Station near Barndioota in South Australia's Flinders Ranges region is now the only site to be further assessed for a national radioactive waste facility. Wallerberdina Station lies just under 500km north of the state capital, Adelaide, and was one of six sites nominated for the proposed dump last year.


The Flinders Ranges site has the highest concentration of Aboriginal artefacts, including ancestral bones, in South Australia, says local Adnyamathanha woman, Regina MacKenzie, and using it for nuclear waste would strip Indigenous people of their culture. She calls the proposal an attack on the Aboriginal owners’ belief system.


McKenzie said hearing the news felt like hearing news of a death. “We don’t want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation).


“They [the government] has got to stop doing this assimilation. And that’s what it is for us. They’re trying to assimilate us, they’re trying to take us away from our culture. What little we have left, let us preserve it. We’re fighting for our survival, our spiritual survival as well, as Aboriginal people. The erosion of our culture is really distressing.”


The Chief Executive Officer of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA), Vince Coulthard, calls it cultural genocide. “This is our land, we have been here forever and we will always be here and we are totally opposed to this dump. ATLA is the main ‘key stakeholder’ yet they have shown us no respect. This is in our sacred country with a very important spring just nearby. This is another example of cultural genocide. This cannot happen!”


Frydenberg refers to a four-month consultation process to make the choice from six sites being considered, with the final decision to be made within 12 months. Coulthard says meetings were only “meet and greet” devoid of substance.


Frydenberg says an independent Indigenous heritage assessment, conducted in consultation with traditional owners, would be undertaken as part of the next phase of the project, and that the government would talk to Indigenous stakeholders “to explore local ecotourism opportunities.”


“In selecting the final site, we will consider a range of views within the community, including from residents, stakeholders and local organisations. Ultimately we are looking for a site which has broad-based community support. We will not create a site where there is extensive community opposition,” Frydenberg said.


The federal government has offered AUD 10 million for infrastructure and community grants for the site, plus attractive settlements for the purchasing of land.


The Australian Greens have called for an independent, deliberative inquiry into long-term stewardship options for spent nuclear fuel, drawing widely on international experience.


Their nuclear spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, said Wallerberdina Station was only chosen because community action led by Aboriginal leaders managed to defeat the proposal to dump nuclear waste at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory.


“Unless the government wants a repeat of that disaster, it needs to listen to local voices now. Minister Josh Freydenberg and his predecessor Ian MacFarlane said they would not proceed without consent. That consent is clearly missing: the community is saying no, and this must be respected.”


Finding a site to dispose of domestically produced nuclear waste has been a thorny issue for successive Australian governments over several decades.


Following a long-running dispute with traditional owners the federal government and the Aboriginal Northern Land Council in June 2014 gave up plans to build a dump site in Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.


In November 2014 the federal government handed back parts of Maralinga that had been previously held by the Department of Defence. The area had been used by Britain in the 1950s and 1960s to test atomic bombs, leading to a contamination of the area and the deaths of many Aborigines living there and unaware that the bombs were being exploded.




Aboriginal resistance led by nine senior women in their late 60s and 70s stopped the Australian government’s first attempt to dump nuclear waste in South Australia. The government announced its intention to build the d dump near Woomera, 500 kms north of Adelaide, in February 1998, just a few months after it announced its intention to build the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.  



After six years of campaigning, in which the ailing Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta (Cooper Pedy Women's Council) travelled thousands of kilometres across Australia and around the world seeking support, they won their cause in 2004 when the government dropped the dump plan.


The Kungka Tjuta elders had seen the effects of nuclear waste firsthand. Between 1953 and 1963, the British military conducted 12 full-scale nuclear weapons tests on their country in the South Australian desert.


The government told Aboriginal communities this testing was completely safe. There are tragic accounts of Aboriginal families innocently sleeping in highly toxic bomb craters. Without knowing the danger of the bright light and immense cloud of black and red smoke blanketing the sky, communities were caught in the nuclear fall-out.


One of the women, Eileen Kampakuta Brown, vividly recalled the day a black radioactive mist filled the desert skies: “The smoke caught us. We tried opening our eyes in the morning, but we couldn’t open them. Our eyes were sore, red and shut.”


Many got violently sick with radiation poisoning; others went blind; many developed cancer and quickly died. Kangaroo, emu and echidna (porcupine) in the area, an important food source for Aboriginal communities, were also poisoned. Brown’s nephew was one of those who lost their sight as children. Birth defects, cancer and asthma are now alarmingly common among Aboriginal communities in the area.


The Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta story is inspiring and has mobilised many non-indigenous Australian environmentalists. It’s widely referenced on the Internet.


Some of my favourite reports: Communities had already endured fifty years of government-sanctioned contamination   |  Aborigines inspiring environmentalists   | Most concerned about the risk of nuclear contamination seeping into the groundwater   |   “We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets”   |  Remote indigenous communities have borne the brunt of nuclear devastation in Australia   |   With the help of a nun and a fax machine   |  Sharing the cultural and environmental wisdom of their grandmothers and respecting the oldest culture on earth.   |   A book about the campaign.    


The government claims the dump will be only for low-radiation waste, such as from medical procedures. But the Greens suspect it will ultimately also house spent fuel from the only nuclear reactor in Australlia at Lucas Heights, a suburb in southern Sydney, with 4.8 million people (more than a fifth of the entire Australian population) Australia’s largest city.


Representatives of the other five communities originally shortlisted for the dump now chosen have released a statement offering ongoing support to their friends near the Wallerberdina Station site, stating they “stand shoulder to shoulder” with that community and “will offer whatever support [they] can.” The affected communities have supported each other throughout the nomination process and undertook a joint lobbying trip to Canberra in February this year.


Keep up to date via the facebook page Fight the Nuclear Waste Dump South Australia.

WGAR News is published by the Working Group for Aboriginal Rights and archived here.


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Media Statement 29 April 2016



Mirarr welcome ERA-Rio Tinto credit agreement for Kakadu clean-up


The Mirarr Traditional Owners of the Ranger project area at Kakadu National Park have welcomed uranium miner ERA’s announcement that it has entered into a conditional credit agreement of up to $A100 million from majority shareholder Rio Tinto. The announcement is a vital step towards the rehabilitation of the Ranger mine and the incorporation of the area into Kakadu National Park


Senior Mirarr traditional owner Yvonne Margarula welcomed the news. "I am happy that ERA has listened to us. It has taken a long time and we have had to argue a lot, but they are doing the right thing now," Ms Margarula said. 


CEO of Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Justin O’Brien, said: "This is heartening news, to see that ERA and Rio Tinto have seriously engaged with our concerns over rehabilitation funding. It’s important to note that this credit facility may be terminated by ERA. We strongly encourage ERA to maintain this credit facility to ensure sufficient financial reserves to fully rehabilitate the Ranger site." 


Chairwoman of Gundjeihmi Corporation and Yvonne’s younger sister, Annie Ngalmirama said: "We want to see ERA do a complete job and clean up the Ranger mine so it can be put into Kakadu National Park. We have been wanting this all for many years." 


Mr O’Brien added that timing is of the essence. "Timing is vital here, given the proposed ending of milling in 2020 and the fact that all rehabilitation works at Ranger must be completed by January 2026. The next three to four years will be the most important for the bulk of the Ranger rehabilitation works to be properly planned and commenced," he said. 


For information and comment please contact 08 8979 2200


[Ranger, Australia's most controversial uranium mine is expected to close. All mining and processing must cease by January 2021. ERA appears to be about $150 million short of rehabilitation money. Its 68.4% Rio Tinto owner has offered to lend it the rest, but only if ERA does not pursue its planned underground mine. Neither the federal nor Northern Territory governments have any fear taxpayers could foot the clean-up bill.]

Protect KakaduOpen cut pit capped as part of ongoing site rehabilitation   |   Fire threatened thousands of Kakadu rock art sites   |   No approval for future mining at Ranger   |   2013 Radioactive slurry spill   |   Spill of contaminated material   |   Radioactive acid spill   |   Ranger mine burn-off spread to Kakadu National Park   |   The long and controversial history of uranium mining in Australia

Adrian Buggabugga[Statement by traditional owners opposing one of the world’s biggest coal mines and coal ports planned by the Indian Adani company along the Barrier Reef.]


Friends, we have made it abundantly clear to the world — as we have been doing for some time — that when we say no, we mean no. We put our culture before coal. www.culturebeforecoal.com

We are fighting hard on a number of fronts - though the system is stacked against us. With your support, we have launched legal action against the Queensland Mining Minister, Anthony Lynham’s decision to issue the leases for the Carmichael mine

And we will take this further.  We have lodged a Racial Discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. We intend this as the start of a challenge to the Native Title Act which sets aside the Racial Discrimination Act and allows our rights to be treated differently to other Australians.

We want to let you know that the generous donations you have made and the moral support you continue to give us help us enormously. Thank you.

Our rights are not protected and we will test the limits of the law in this country. We will never give our consent, or have our consent extracted by misrepresentation, misinformation and inducement.

With your support we will continue to pursue all legal and political avenues, Australian and international, to put a stop to this diabolical and dangerous project. 

This is just the start in another chapter of our long but determined struggle to defeat this coal company and all those who would sell our ancestral land and heritage out from under us. The future of our people and culture, and of our lands and waters and plants and animals, and our sacred sites and stories that connect our homelands together into our spiritual home, cannot and will not be based on coal mining.

You may have read or heard some confusing things in the media in recent times about Wangan and Jagalingou agreeing to a deal with Adani for the Carmichael mine.

This is what Adani and their backers in Government and the media want you to believe.  

But Adani bankrolled a sham meeting which has engineered a sham outcome. We will be challenging Adani’s phoney land use deal in the Federal Court and will properly discredit it. 

As the traditional owners of the land, our fight is far from over.

When we say no, we mean no.  

Thank you. 

Adrian Burragubba & Murrawah Johnson for the Wangan & Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council


P.S. You can help… buy a Culture Before Coal t-shirt to support our campaign and help get our message out www.culturebeforecoal.com



1: Traditional owners shrug off Adani’s land use pact in Australia - Representatives of the traditional owners said there was no land use agreement reached between Adani and W&J http://www.livemint.com/Companies/Xbx5U6mEicKdpjh60tjTRM/Traditional-owners-shrug-off-Adanis-land-use-pact-in-Austra.html 

2: Revealed: traditional owners accepted payments to attend Adani meetings - Exclusive: Indigenous representatives who helped resurrect a pivotal land agreement for Australia’s largest proposed coalmine pocket ‘sitting fees’ http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/16/revealed-traditional-owners-accepted-payments-to-attend-adani-meetings

3: Acrimony and legal threat as Indigenous group approves Adani mine - Anti- Adani Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council says it will launch a federal court challenge over ‘sham meeting’ to endorse Carmichael mine http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/17/wangan-and-jagalingou-indigenous-group-approves-adani-carmichael-mine

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Regina McKenzie, who lives at Yappala Station near the proposed Wallerberdina Station dump site and is a member of Viliwarinha Yura Aboriginal Corporation, said:

“Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners weren’t consulted about the nomination. Even Traditional Owners who live next to the proposed dump site at Yappala Station weren’t consulted. The proposed dump site is adjacent to the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area.


“On the land with the proposed dump site, we have been working for many years to register heritage sites with the South Australian government. The area is Adnyamathanha land. It is Arngurla Yarta (spiritual land).


“The proposed dump site has countless thousands of Aboriginal artefacts. Our ancestors are buried there. The nominated site is a significant women’s site. Throughout the area are registered cultural heritage sites and places of huge importance to our people.


“There are frequent yarta ngurra-ngurrandha (earthquakes and tremors). At least half a dozen times each year, we see and feel the ground move.


“It is flood land. The water comes from the hills and floods the plains, including the proposed dump site. Sometimes there are massive floods, the last one in 2006.


“We don’t want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation).


“We call on the federal government to withdraw the nomination of the site and to show more respect in future.


“We call on all South Australians − all Australians − to support us in our struggle. Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners and Viliwarinha Yura Aboriginal Corporation will fight the proposal for a nuclear waste dump on our land for as long as it takes to stop it.”