Traditional owners of Argyle mine help with the rehabilitation - Mining Software - Technical Assurance, Resource & Mineral Governance - Enterprise SaaS
Traditional owners of Argyle mine help with the rehabilitation

Traditional owners of Argyle mine help with the rehabilitation

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The closure and rehabilitation of Australia’s most famous diamond mine is being seen as an opportunity for traditional owners to reconnect with country and grow an exciting new business venture in the remote East Kimberley.

“We have a dreaming over in the hills, the actual diamonds themselves are a part of that dreaming,” Gija man Kolya Sampi said.

“Back in the dreamtime, our tribal ladies were trying to hunt the barramundi and the scales fell off. They are the diamonds they found today.”

Mine workers watching Traditional Owners performing smoking ceremony
Traditional owners welcomed employees at the final day of work at the Argyle diamond mine.(Supplied: Rio Tinto Diamonds)

Working on country

The former Kimberley tour guide recalled the dreamtime story as he walked through the Argyle mine lease with the Gelganyem seed team, delicately bending branches of Bauhinia trees, shaking its fruit into a bucket.

Mr Sampi is one of 14 Indigenous pickers collecting native seed to help rehabilitate the former Rio Tinto mine site.

“We talk about it when we go back into town, yarn about it with the kids. Get them interested while they’re young so they have a job opportunity in the future.”

An indigenous man in high visibility work shirt, wearing a backwards cap in front of bushland
Kolya Sampi is a traditional owner of the former Argyle diamond mine site in the East Kimberley.(ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler)
  It is a proud moment for the Gija man who is working alongside his brother Ronald McHale, a supervisor on the project.

“It is very good to come back on country,” Mr McHale said.

“The guys we got together at the moment are amazing. You show them a tree, you show them a seed, they’ll just get stuck into the work.

Last month alone they picked up to 19 different local plant species.

A white and indigenous man standing next to each other in orange high visibility work shirts pointing at tree
The Gelganyem seed collection team pick and map native seeds to rehabilitate the site.(ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler)

Skilling up traditional owners

Once picked the seed is transported to the Gelganyem processing shed in Kununurra, approximately 200km north of the mine site.

There the seed is processed through a thresher and cleaning machine, then weighed and bagged before being stored in a giant seed library ready to be sold.

Seed samples are also collected and sent to a laboratory in Perth for viability testing.

A man tipping a bucket of seeds into a machine.
Steven Clark operates the seed cleaning machine at the Gelganyem processing facility in Kununurra.(ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler)

Traditional owner Steven Clark has been trained to operate the facility and hopes to see the processing team expand into the future.

“Hopefully it encourages everyone to go back out on country.”

Growing a sustainable business

Gelganyem is hoping to take its restoration business one step further, recently starting propagation trials to turn seed into nursery stock which they hope to start planting on-site early next year.

The team works alongside seed collection manager Adam Guest and under the guidance of Curtin University ecologist Adam Cross, the manager of restoration services for Gelganyem.

Mr Guest said the project’s aim is to eventually become a sustainable, fully autonomous business offering rehabilitation services across the Kimberley and beyond.

A close up of a man's hand holding two seeds in the palm

       Gelganyem has started propagation trials to create a consistent supply of native seeds for restoration work.(ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler) 


“But beyond that it’s about building a sustainable business model which allows TOs (traditional owners) to work for the future, not just for them but for their kids and their kids as well.

“The seeds we are collecting are local to the area but that doesn’t mean we can’t transfer the skills throughout the Kimberley and hopefully through WA.

“We’ll set ourselves up well to do this for any mine site.”

It is hoped if this project continues to grow it could be used as a blueprint for other Indigenous communities across Western Australia.

“Giving them the ability to not just pick the fruit, but also to process, to propagate and plant the fruit, and also maintain the seed once it’s grown [so] they’re trained throughout the whole project.

“I’d like to give TOs a job, moving forward, for life.”


The start of a new chapter

Back at Argyle, the general manager of the former diamond mine Andrew Wilson said the closure and rehabilitation process would take five years to complete, followed by a further period of monitoring, before the land is handed back to its traditional custodians.

The Gelganyem Trust manages the funds and assets under the Argyle Participation Agreement on behalf of traditional owners.

The Indigenous Land Use Agreement, registered in 2005, provides for the transfer of the lease to traditional owners at the completion of mining operations and for the recognition of native title rights over the area.

An indigenous man sitting picking native seed off branch over bucket
Gelganyem seed pickers harvest native seed in a 200-kilometre radius around the Argyle mine lease.(ABC Kimberley: Courtney Fowler)

Returning the land to its former glory is a legacy Kolya Sampi is proud to establish for future generations.

“It will take a while but my kids and grandkids will actually see that, and I hope they appreciate that too.”


How to drive progressive rehabilitation and closure

[embedyt][/embedyt]   Originally published by the ABC.

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