The Gulliver Ranger Dossier

"All of us wish to hell that uranium had never been discovered. But ... " (1).

"We're getting closer and closer to blood on the streets of Australia on this issue" (2).

"Facing the uranium issue is what may save Australia and set an example to the world" (3).

"We wait with trepidation for the day the Government advocates a heroin and cocaine industry in order to combat drug trafficking" (4).

See current profile on ERA, also the ERA, Peko Wallsend, EZ and North Ltd dossiers.

Information about Australia's most important uranium mine is spread between this entry and ERA. Readers looking for information on the political and economic context in which the mine was given the go-ahead, the formation of ERA, the production figures for the mine, and the contracts concluded, should refer to the ERA entry. Readers searching for information on the public debate surrounding the opening up of the Northern Territory to uranium miners; the Ranger Commission; the reaction of Australian Labor Party and trade unionists; the effect of the mine on its workforce and the environment, and above all on Aboriginal people, need look no further than the following pages.

The Ranger mine went into production with remarkable swiftness (some would say obscene haste) amid the most important debates ever held on the uranium issue anywhere in the world. For Australians - as the quotes heading this essay illustrate - it proved almost the most divisive political issue during the post-war era (second only to Australian participation in the Vietnam war). Formal consent for Ranger was only granted after the government took into consideration the findings of the most comprehensive and far-reaching public inquiry ever mounted into the consequences of uranium mining.


The Ranger Uranium Environmental Commission (or the Fox Commission as it was also known) was set up by the Labor Minister for the Environment, Dr Moss Cass, who insisted on a public inquiry into the environmental aspects of uranium mining, using his powers under Section II (I) of the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act of 1974 - the instrument for undertaking environmental impact inquiries (5). Cass was vehemently opposed to nuclear power (6).

The Commission was appointed on July 16th 1975, issued its First Report on the general issues of uranium mining, proliferation, waste disposal, and Australia's role as a nuclear producer, in October 1976; the Second Report, concerned with the Ranger project, was released in May the following year.

Russell Walter Fox, then Senior Judge of the Supreme Court in Canberra, was made Chair, with Graeme George Kelleher, and Charles Baldwin Kerr (Professor of Preventative and Social Medicine at the University of Sydney) as his two Commissioners. Eight part-time specialist advisors on various aspects of uranium mining (technological, socio-economic, legal, etc) were also appointed.

From the opening of the Hearings in Sydney in September 1975, until their conclusion in March 1977, the three Wise Men sat for 121 days, listening to 303 people, scanning 419 documents, and finally producing more than 13,000 pages of transcript (5).

Within several weeks of the opening of the Ranger Inquiry, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, in an unprecedented abuse of authority, dismissed the Whitlam administration; by mid-September, a Liberal-Country Party coalition government was in power, by and large firmly in favour of uranium mining, and it lifted the embargo on new mines and contracts which had been imposed at the turn of 1972/73 (7). The new government ordered the Inquiry to report by June 1976: the Commissioners refused (8).

The Ranger partners were estimated to have spent some A$500,000 on their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and even more on representation at the Ranger Inquiry, where they had staff constantly in attendance, and often a full-blown QC (Queen's Counsel) (9). For its part, the main opposition group, Friends of the Earth (FoE), relied on members' goodwill, while a request for A$5000 was rejected in 1975. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) was able to afford no more than a 23 weeks' appearance, and then mainly to address issues around the Kakadu National Park. No other groups had any substantial representation, although submissions by trade unionists, peace groups, churches, Aboriginal support groups, and others, were numerous (9). The Fox Commission gave a guarded approval for the mining and export of Australian uranium. It also recommended the setting up of a Uranium Advisory Council to "advise the government on overall problems and impacts of the uranium industry" as well as to investigate a resource-based tax on future uranium earnings (10). This committee was finally assembled in November 1978, under the chair of Sir Lawrence McIntyre, director of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, with a representative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Galurrwuy Yunupingu, chair of the (Aboriginal) Northern Land Council (NLC), and various other academics and theologians (11).

Responses to the Ranger Report and the government's reactions to it came from almost every quarter of Australian political life.

In late 1976, after publication of the First Ranger Report, Ian Henderson, Teaching Fellow at the School of Science, Griffith University, maintained that the Fraser (Liberal-National Party coalition) government had rejected the Ranger Commission's main recommendations regarding the dangers of nuclear power, and should be criticised accordingly (12).

Sir Charles Court, State Premier of Western Australia later retorted that the Commissioners had indeed given the green light to mining, and the "greenies" were simply being obstreperous, as was to be expected of them (13).

Mr H Melouney, a former General Manager of MKU, and a spokesperson for the Uranium Producers Forum, claimed the Commissioners had given a complete bill of health to uranium mining, and that many opponents were a really using this issue to pursue their aim of changing Australia's democratic way of life" (sic) (14).

Edward Teller, the so-called "Father of the H-Bomb" in May hoped "... to God [Australia] will have the determination to ... produce ... and export uranium oxide" (15).

After the Second Ranger report was released, the debate reached a new pitch of intensity. Mining shares slumped (16), as spokespeople for the Uranium Moratorium, which included a wide range of organisations (17), FoE, and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), declared it represented a setback for the mining industry (18).

The Age said the Commissioners had given an "amber" light to mining (18). The Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM), commented that it was not a "bad" report (18), while the Director of the ACF viewed it as a "mixed bag". The Australian commented (rightly) that the Commissioners had clearly come out in favour of sequential development - one mine at a time (16). Already there were some hints that Prime Minister Fraser might give Ranger the go-ahead without allowing a full parliamentary - let alone public - debate (19). In a more perspicacious analysis, the National Times pointed out that the federal government now appeared to accept that the country's sovereignty would be "subservient to US policies". "As with Vietnam in the 1960s," said the magazine, "so with uranium in the 1970s." It also commented that the Reports were a "godsend" to the ALP, giving this divided party time in which to reconcile its anti- and pro-uranium factions. Thirdly, commented the Times, Aboriginals had now been elevated "to possibly the most powerful position they have held in Australian society" (20).

In March 1977, Justice Fox himself had expressed disappointment at the level of public debate on his Commission's findings. But once the Federal government announced the go-ahead for Ranger, in late August 1977, arguments flew thick and fast. The Sydney Morning Herald, while applauding the decision, pointed out two disturbing implications in proceeding with the mine: the continuing dangers of proliferation, and unsolved problems associated with waste disposal (21).

Tom Uren, announcing that the "battle has only just begun" warned, naively, that the industry should not "expect any mercy from a [future] Labor government" (21). Until all demands on waste and proliferation were met, he commented further, "not one sod of earth will be turned" (22). Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam compared the marketing of uranium "on a global scale to the marketing of thalidomide" (23), and demanded a full public debate on all the issues. His call was echoed by the Australian Union of Students, and when Fraser visited the University of New South Wales on the day the decision was made, he was met by huge demonstrations (23, 24), opposed by police in riot gear, the like of which had not been seen "since Vietnam" (25).

As shares in uranium companies - which rose after the government announcement- began to fall (26), the Vice-President of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, Dr Mark Diesendorf, declared that uranium mining would spawn a plutonium (Fast-Breeder-Reactor) society - the very thing the government wanted to avoid (23, 27). Dr Hugh Saddler, a research officer to the Ranger Inquiry, said that a moratorium should be announced (28). Dr Ken Dyer, senior lecturer in social biology at the University of Adelaide, compared radiation hazards to terrorism and war (28). Perhaps more significantly, Professor Charles Kerr expressed the opinion that the government's "safeguards" policy was "virtually useless" (29). Inevitably, public reactions tailed off, but later in 1977, no fewer than 418 people were arrested in Brisbane, as they sought to defy new repressive legislation introduced by the Bjelke Peterson regime in Queensland, banning primarily anti-uranium marches (30).

The ALP and Uranium

"The lesson is that uranium is a running political sore within the ALP. It will not disappear. Almost every year another battle will need to be fought; its potential to sap the unity and extend the divisions in the party should not be underestimated" (31).

In November 1972, in an historic speech, the Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, had promised Aboriginal land rights. Within a few months, Justice Woodward was appointed Aboriginal Land Rights Commissioner to investigate and advise on what such a revolutionary step would mean in practice. Woodward recognised the sham of "terra nullius" (the idea that Australia had been a barren land on colonisation), agreed that the whole of Australia had been in Aboriginal occupation at the time of conquest, recommended the appointment of Land Trusts to hold title, and Land Councils to consult with Aboriginal traditional owners, and advised the transfer of Aboriginal reserves and Missions to Aboriginal freehold control (32). Woodward also stipulated that Aborigines, as well as enjoying control over access to their land, should benefit from mining royalties.

As Woodward was preparing to make his Inquiry, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) naturally agreed that uranium mining should be delayed until his recommendations could be implemented (33).

Five years later, in 1977, two years after the Whitlam government was toppled, and one year after the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, 1976, received the assent of the new National-Liberal coalition government, the ALP declared an unequivocal ban on uranium mining, its processing and export, and on any activity associated with the so-called nuclear fuel "cycle". But, as the ground was laid for the general election in 1983, and right-wing forces within the party saw both the potential for winning over dissatisfied Liberal (conservative) supporters and the glint of some almighty new dollars just over the nuclear horizon, slowly but inexorably, the policy was changed. Between 1982 and 1984 there was indeed a "vast shift" (34) over the middle ground, as both Cabinet and parliamentary party moved from deciding how to implement a uranium ban, to whether uranium should be mined, to how much should be mined. By the time the ALP came to power in March 1983, this was already "the single most contentious" issue facing the government (35).

The new Prime Minister, Bob Hawke (formerly head of the ACTU) soon gathered a strong pro-uranium group around him, including Peter Walsh (Resources and Energy), John Dawkins (Finance), and Bill Hayden (Foreign Affairs). Hayden - formerly one of the most vocal anti-uranium left-wingers - was soon to publicly disavow his previous stand, and earn himself enormous wrath from some of his erstwhile supporters at the historic 1984 ALP Conference.

It was the Victorian ALP State Secretary, Bob Hogg, who, at the ALP's conference in 1982, spelled out the guidelines which were later to be incorporated into party policy, and have permitted the Ranger, Nabarlek and Roxby Downs mines to open. Initially presented as setting conditions which could not be met (37), Hogg's amendments not only enabled the government to purport to be phasing out its nuclear activities, by actually continuing them: more seriously, it enshrined compromise-of-principles ("pragmatism") as the modus operandi of the Labor Party-in-power. Radicals within the party who realised this fact in the early days deserted to bolster the ranks of the movement against uranium mining, or form the nucleus of what was to become the Nuclear Disarmament Parry, which now has one member in Parliament (Jo Vallentine). (People for Nuclear Disarmament, an umbrella group of church people, pacifists and left-wingers, was formed in 1981) (36). Others - notably Tom Uren MP remain within the ALP, no doubt believing (as Winston Churchill once argued about "democracy") that, while the ALP was the worst form of Labor-in-power, all other possibilities were worse.

Hogg's 1982 amendment stipulated that before uranium contracts were made with various countries (France, Finland, West Germany, Japan), certain conditions must be met relating to non-proliferation. Vague resolutions as to improved health, and waste disposal techniques, were also incorporated. And, while the amendment stressed that there should be "no new mines", it gave the go-ahead for Roxby Downs, by "consider[ing] applications for export of uranium mined incidentally to other minerals" (37). Tom Uren ("[this marks] the capitulation of this great party on this issue") and Mr Stewart West, the ALP spokesperson on the environment ("it is an irresponsible document, it is not even credible. It endorses existing policy and then goes on to repudiate [it]") led the attack at the conference (37, 38). But the motion passed by 53 votes to 46. The ALP, when in power, would therefore be able to justify exports to certain countries, at least until the 1990s (38).

Eight months after forming the new government, the Cabinet met to decide its policy in the light of the 1982 compromise. It then formally gave the go-ahead to Roxby Downs (see WMC), set up an inquiry into safeguards, and agreed to defer new contracts until mid-1984. However, ERA would be allowed to meet two new contracts with US utilities (see ERA) (39). Early in 1984, FoE said it might put up anti-uranium candidates to oppose ALP members who supported mining, as the ground was laid for that year's conference (40), and the rightwingers within the ALP moved to scotch the left (41). Senator Walsh circulated a draft policy which would allow the export of yellowcake "under strict conditions", refuse to supply France because of its continued Pacific nuclear testing, and investigate/monitor wastes/health/proliferation etc (42, 55). Walsh claimed that waste problems had already been solved (43): a claim that was rubbished by Tom Uren (43, 44). Indeed, the report on uranium mining the ASTEC report - promised by the government in 1983, which came out the following month, contained a submission from the Department of Resources and Energy stating clearly that waste problems had not been solved (45). In April, the Victorian branch of the ALP decided to adhere to existing anti-uranium policies (46), and attacked the Walsh draft as an "outrageous abrogation of party policy and principles" (46). The ALP Women's Committee, and the National Labor Women's Conference, also unequivocally held to existing bans (47); predictably, Senator Don Chipp, leader of the Australian Democrats, condemned uranium on both economic and moral grounds (48).

The ASTEC report - otherwise known as the Slatyer report, after its chair, Professor Ralph Slatyer - which came out in May, claimed that Australia's role in preventing proliferation would be strengthened by resuming uranium exports. It said there was sufficient technology around for waste problems to be solved; and it recommended participation by the country in other aspects of the nuclear fuel process [such as enrichment] (49). Senator Howe, the Minister for Defence Support, brought out his own rejoinder to Slatyer, while a people's inquiry into uranium mining, led by Professor Keith Suter, also clearly gave grounds for the immediate cessation of uranium activity (50).

As the 1984 ALP Conference drew near, Bill Hayden, the Foreign Minister, finally ditched all pretence of an anti-uranium stance to come out in favour of mining (51) . Meanwhile, some 116 ALP branches expressed their opposition to any dilution of policy (52) and Patrick White, the Nobel novelist (and probably Australia's most famous cultural figure), claimed that the government had lost touch "with the simple needs of the average human being". He promised to support the incipient Nuclear Disarmament Party (53).

In June, the ALP finally voted to overturn its two-year ban. While promising that only three mines would be allowed to export (Nabarlek, Ranger and Roxby Downs) "under the most stringent nuclear non-proliferation conditions, to those countries which the government is satisfied observed the NPT" (54); while banning uranium to France until it ceased nuclear testing; while reserving the right to halt any future supplies to countries not conforming to NPT safeguards; while promising that no other aspects of the nuclear fuel process would be situated in Australia; and while urging strengthening of the IAEA inspectorate, and "encouraging" the development of "passive energy technologies", the import of the resolution was clear: Australia was back in the uranium business with a vengeance (55, 56). At a meeting of fourteen South Pacific Nations (the "Forum") in 1985, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands questioned Australia's pro-uranium policy, but apparently accepted the "safeguards" proposed (57).

The weakening of the already diluted anti-uranium position has been obtained largely through the capitulation of key figures like Hayden, the South Australian Premier John Bannon, and the South Australian delegate Peter Duncan (who tried to argue for the opening up of Roxby, while urging the closure of the mines in the Northern Territory) (55, 56).

It was therefore scarcely surprising that, in 1987, the right-wing of the ALP, headed by Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, John Kerin, sought to weaken the MP's fatally flawed policy even further by arguing that the 1984 "three mines" policy allowed a fourth new mine to be opened, when Nabadek was exhausted (58).

As if to lend support to the "three mines policy", in 1988 the Northern Territory branch of the ALP reversed its anti-uranium policy and agreed to allow continued operation of both Nabarlek and Ranger. Warren Snowden, a former employee of the NLC, supported the motion, although personally still opposed to uranium mining (59). Thus the ALP's left wing reached the point of a final policy erosion, with the savage irony that, in order to hold back the pro-uranium lobby, it had to be seen to be "reasonable" and realistic, and itself pro-mining.

Uranium and the ACTU

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) did not adopt a position on uranium mining until 1975. Over the next decade or more, it has rarely been clear on the issue, and even when Congress policy has been unequivocal, workers activity on the ground has often been contradictory and confusing. Members of some unions have refused to work on uranium projects, while their federal branch approved (such as the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) at Roxby (60). The AWU and the Miscellaneous Workers Union (MWU) conducted legal battles to get control of the majority of trade unionists at both Nabadek and Ranger (60). As the Sydney Morning Herald, in a survey based on ACTU documents put it in 1983: "The picture is of work-hungry men arriving at an outback site, joining whatever unions are ready to enrol them, and beginning to work building townships and plants, mining, processing, and finally carting uranium, despite ACTU policy. The high rates of pay (by 1979, the Northern Territory miners were receiving AS600 to AS700 a week) are also an attraction" (60).

The main anti-uranium unions have been the seafarers' (SUA), Waterside Workers Federation (WWF), and the Australian Railways Union (ARU), followed by the Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwrights Union (AMFSU) and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

Where these unions have refused to work others - notably the MWU and Australian Society of Engineers (ASE) - have moved in (60).

The ACTU made its first policy decision on uranium mining at its September 1975 conference, when it agreed on a ban on all uranium mining until a public inquiry was held, and a moratorium on all exports, except for medical purposes (60).

Within eight months, trade unionists were negotiating a new agreement at Mary Kathleen (MKU) in Queensland, and an eight-month ARU ban on supplies for that mine was called off, pending another ACTU decision (60, 61).

In May 1976, as part of a "green bans" action called by the Australian Conservation Foundation early in the year, the ARU called a 24-hour strike to stop the first new MKU contract being fulfilled. This consignment was held up until June, when a special meeting of the ACTU re-affirmed the anti-uranium resolution passed a year earlier - but considerably weakened its implications by agreeing that the government's commitment should be met by MKU's overseas borrowings from the UKAEA. Only if the government tried to implement a separate licence should unions intervene (62).

During 1976, the SUA and WWF blockaded uranium from Nabarlek - an action broken when the company used non-union labour to load a Philippines boat; the ARU also banned quicklime for Jabiru (another action broken by scab labour).

Then 1977 started with a short stoppage called by the WWF at MKU to protest against the resumption of exports; the union also demanded a five-year moratorium (63).

In July, as the Columbia Australia sailed into Melbourne with a cargo of yellowcake on board, the WWF came out on strike against its own federal officials' advice, joined by anti-uranium protesters, only to be met by police brutality (61). The ship left, (presumably for the USA) (61) with its load untouched. In Sydney, demonstrators carried an anti-uranium petition bearing 50,000 names (64).

That month, the ALP conference decided to impose a ban on uranium mining (65) while recognising that a future Labor government could reverse the ban (66). Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony called the decision "disastrous", declaring that it would make Australians "upstarts in the eyes of the world" (67).

After talks with AMIC, the Australian Council of Churches also called for a moratorium on uranium mining and export (68).

Robert Hawke made his famous remark, "I wish the bloody stuff had never been discovered", on opening the 1977 ACTU Congress, as he prepared to steer the Congress down the yellowcake road (69). The ACTU decided to ban new mines, but allow existing contracts to be honoured. It called for a national referendum before further exports were allowed, and invited individual unions to impose their own ban, should the demand be refused. Anthony, true to form, declared "we are not going to stand by and let [the unions] talk to us like this" (69, 70).

The ACTU gave the government until mid-November to hold a referendum (71). And, not surprisingly, the government refused. Just before the deadline expired, Asian and Pacific Unions at a Pacific regional meeting of the International Union of Foodworkers (28 in all, from nine south-east Asian countries) condemned uranium mining (72).

The ACTU then decided to poll its own members on the issue, and circulated 23 unions directly affected by the uranium industry (60), although some pro-uranium unions, notably the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association, and at least one anti-uranium union (Building Workers Industrial Union, BWIU) were opposed to the measure (73). Only 13 unions responded to the move, of which seven voted to ban uranium (60). Plans for further balloting collapsed, amid criticism of lack of proper representation among the general membership in the voting system (74). As speculation increased that Bob Hawke had changed his position (75), another special unions conference reaffirmed its ban on new mines (pending proper safeguards) and the decision to honour existing contracts (60).

By the end of the year, and the publication of the Ranger Report, federal unions were actively considering lifting the export ban (60). In December, the executive of the ACTU, meeting to consider the Ranger Report, condemned the Fraser government's decision to resume exports, but accepted that contracts (for some 9000 tonnes) should be met from stockpiles and MKU. This was, provided that protective measures for Ranger, recommended by the Fox Commission, were carried out; that a public debate was initiated, before further contracts were negotiated, leading to a referendum; and provided "equal funds, time, and space on television or in other media" should be made available by the government to opposing views (76). In a letter to the ACTU, a government Minister, Mr Tony Street, categorically rejected the requests (77). However, the ACTU - namely Bob Hawke - then issued a statement implying that the terms for a referendum had been accepted by the government, so the uranium ban could be lifted (33, 78).

As the NLC moved towards an agreement on opening-up Ranger, the ACTU found itself in a quandary (79) and apparently unable and unwilling to act against workers engaged in constructing the Ranger mine.

The dry season saw members of at least three major unions, the AWU, Federated Ironworkers Association (FIA) and the MWU, actively engaged at the Ranger site (60). ACTU President Hawke stressed that, as the ACTU is a "voluntary" body, it could not impose its "will" (ie its anti-uranium line) on its affiliates (60). In April, the AMFSU, ARU, and ETU banned labour and supplies for Ranger, as other unions continued to build up the mine-site (60).

At the September 1979 ACTU conference, Hawke received a major blow. After stating the "deep concern" within Australia over the dangers of uranium use, the fact that waste problems had not been solved, and that "Aboriginals have repeatedly stated that if they were given a free choice they would oppose all the uranium mining proposals" (80), the Congress re-affirmed its continuing opposition to mining, and support for the federal ALP policy of a moratorium "until satisfactory safeguards are met.

The motion was passed by 512 to 318 votes, while Hawke seethed in disgust: "You may luxuriate in your morality, but you will have done nothing positive ... you will have destroyed the credibility of this great organisation" (81).

Within three months, Hawke seemed back in the saddle. The WWF appeared to say that it would only enforce anti-uranium action if other unions backed its stand (60). A Melbourne ACTU "summit", attended by eighteen unions involved in the uranium industry, voted 13 to 11 against an executive proposal to mount industrial action to enforce a ban (82). At the same time, the anti-uranium campaign was financially downgraded - justifying expenditure of a mere A$20,000 out of a total of A$2.2 million (82).

Workers at Jabiru township, led by the MWU, argued that they suffered similar disabilities to workers at the mine itself and got a A$23.20 per week wage increase (83).

However, the campaign was not completely dead. In July 1980, workers at two Queensland steel companies (members of the AMFSU) imposed a new ban on steel contracts for Ranger, as part of ACTU policy (84) - the first such ban since September the previous year (85). Within a few weeks, WWF workers also voted to ban the export of uranium through the port of Darwin, and tried to get Darwin City Council to declare the town a nuclear-free zone (86). Cliff Dolan and other ACTU executives visited Ranger - and Nabarlek - asking employees not to work: they were politely received, but work continued as before (60). The ACTU executive drew up a list of uranium mine construction suppliers, asking unions to "consult" with their members over banning materials for the new mines (60).

In January 1981, the Darwin WWF reluctantly decided to resume shipments of uranium threatened by legal action under Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act (relating to secondary picketing), and since "almost no other union, no matter what statements are made, has so far been prepared to carry out ACTU policy" (87), the WWF was feeling understandably isolated. However, a November action by the WWF and the SUA held up 20 containers of yellowcake for several months, after the Transport Workers and the Merchant Services Guild joined the boycott, which was only circumvented by the government chartering a barge, using nonunion workers (88). Eight people were arrested during a Trade Union and FoE picket at Darwin docks. A shipment from Brisbane the same year was met with international action organised by Greenpeace International and the British Columbia Federation of Labor. The train carrying the yellowcake was interrupted several times by demonstrators - at risk to their lives - as it steamed through British Columbia and Ontario. A third Brisbane shipment was banned by the SUA - with the result that the ACTIVs owners (Trafalgar House investments and Cunard) offered to unload the offending uranium; at which point the Australian government threatened the company with legal action, and the Seaman's Union with damages (89). The yellowcake finally sailed after considerable agonising within the SUA as to whether or not to defy other unions which had decided not to implement the ban.

As 1981 trickled to an end, the ACTU executive voted by 16 to 9 to handle uranium exports, pending an officer's report, with the option of a special uranium conference or congress (60).

A report from the officer, delivered in May 1982, showed that 5957 tonnes of yellowcake had left Australia since 1977, despite the supposed bans. An ACTU decision not to hold a special congress, but open a voluntary publicity fund, received only one contribution - A$250 from the WWF (60).

Massive radiation doses were received by two workers in the Ranger yellowcake packaging room in July 1983, when uranium oxide spilled over them as they were unclogging a packaging chute (90). The accident was not investigated fully - and this incident contributed to the strikes declared three years later.

There was a 24-hour stoppage over conditions and wages at Jabiru in November, with eight protesting unionists arrested as workers lay down in front of trucks belonging to ERA (91).

In early 1984, with the publication of the new ALP policy draft on uranium (see ALP section in this write-up) some trade union leaders began to feel betrayed. John Halfpenny, the State Secretary of the AMFSU, found the new plan "disturbing", while a representative of the BWIU, Pat Clancy, declared that he was not simply "disappointed" - but "bloody angry about it" (42).

Two months later, the ACTU executive, in what the Financial Review called "the familiar double-speak which has become a feature of ACTU or ALP jargon on the contentious uranium mining and export issue" (92), re-affirmed its "general" opposition to mining, but said it would not concentrate on those issues around which it could get maximum consensus: proliferation, waste and health (93). Assistant Secretary of the AMFSU, Laurie Carmichael, responded, saying his union would continue to take action, and dilution of ACTU policy "could not be tolerated" (50, 94).

Although united trade union action now seemed a forlorn prospect - which receded even further after the ALP conference - during July, Greenpeace divers were in action, trying to prevent ships operating (95). Also in July, after three Greenpeace blockades against the Bankline vessel, MV Clydebank, 49 containers of yellowcake left Darwin for the USA, West Germany and Great Britain, for processing (95, 96).

Aborigines and Uranium

The Ranger Agreement was the first signed after passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976. However, the original version of the Act had been presented to Parliament only six days before the ALP government was kicked out of office by the Governor-General. The new Liberal-Country Party administration tried to dilute, and even do away, with some of the key clauses in the Act: Aboriginal control over access to land, and a limited right of veto over mining.

In the event, public pressure ensured that the final Land Rights Act for the Northern Territory (NT) was restored to something close to its draft form. However, in one key respect, there was confusion and a critical weakness. In the original legislation, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was entitled to over-rule an Aboriginal mining veto, "in the national interest". Aboriginal groups could, however, appeal to Parliament, and either House of Parliament could over-rule the Minister. In the final version of the Act, Aborigines were stripped of the veto in several important spheres. Oil, gas, and other mining projects (specifically MIM's venture at Boroloola) given consent before the Act came into force, were to be allowed to proceed. And under sub-clause 40(6) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act, the Ranger project was specifically excluded from the power of veto (97).

Because of its rush to get Ranger on stream, the new government also omitted to appoint a Land Commissioner to investigate and recommend on Aboriginal claims in the area covered by the mine: this was instead to be handed over to the Ranger Commission itself (98).

As was pointed out at the time, the Second Ranger Report hinged not on whether uranium mining might harm Aboriginal communities, but on whether they could be adequately protected from it. The scene for such contemplation was hardly well set by the NT's own Social Development branch, whose director, John McDonnell, told the Commissioners not only that Ranger would bring full employment to Aborigines, but that "welfare" problems would be adequately handled throughout the project's life (99). When asked by an adviser to the Commission which anthropologists and sociologists (let alone Aborigines) he had consulted for his report, McDonnell confessed "none". Nor had he consulted with any other agency with experience in uranium mining (99).

If he had asked Aboriginal people on his own "home patch" he would have been left in little doubt of their opposition to the Ranger plans.

In contrast to McDonnell, the Fox Commissioners went to extraordinary lengths to assess Aboriginal response to the mining project flying into bush meetings, allowing tapes to be used in evidence, and generally resisting the objections of the miners that an improper procedure was being followed (100).

However, there is little doubting that the judicial procedure dominated by whites (there was no Aboriginal adviser to the Commission) circumscribed much of what they wanted to express. Many Aborigines were at the crucial Darwin meeting of the Commission in May 1976. "There's a dreaming long that rock, they call it Djidbidjidbi. None allowed to get in there," said Jimmy Maneee Namanjarlawarkwark, "there" referring to sacred Mount Brockman. When asked if he wanted miners on his country, he replied "I want some money for mining, for my kids", seeking to explain this apparent ambiguity with the words "they are taking my country, but I want money" (101). Silas Roberts, Aboriginal advisor with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, added, referring to the dreamtime creatures in the region, "These great creatures are just as much alive today as they were in the beginning ... the sickness [people] get [from mining] [is] nothing to the sicknesses they will get if they hurt our sacred sites" (101).

The people of Oenpelli and Gagudju (Kakadu) have had long and bitter experience of white hunters, traders and missionaries over a period of more than 130 years (102) . At bush meetings among communities affected by Ranger, they found words to passionately name and indict the threats they confronted. As Tony Ganggali put it in one speech at Red Lily lagoon, "First you say it won't kill us, then you say you'll give us plenty of money, then you say if we refuse we'll pass it on the basis of the national interest clause. To hell with the meetings. Give it to them! I'm entitled to die first as a sacrifice. The Europeans are oppressing us. I'll be the first to die for this" (103).

In other community meetings, Aborigines were to express at length their expectations of the bad effects which follow from the building of new roads (an issue which was to create militant opposition in the case of the Nabarlek mine), the devastation caused by liquor, racism, tourism, and of course, ill health caused by radiation, dust and pollution (103). On numerous occasions, community spokespeople expressed concern about the "breaking up [of the land] with machines", the changing of rivers, despoliation of hunting grounds, the encirclement by fishermen in the north and miners in the south (a special fear for the coastal communities of Goulburn and Croker Islands) - above all, of the "shifting" of the djang, (or sacred dreaming sites and tracks), of Djidbidjidbi and Dadbe (Mount Brockman). As Dick Malwagu summarised it in 1977:

"How much a time we got to tell the government that [is] our djang, that we can't dig here or use it or knock some trees or push some the rock away ... Be nothing left of this land we can't stay any more longer because you doing a lot of damage on our country ... You know I said we losing, we losing, this country, but up here this northern part is getting smaller and smaller ... I wonder 50-60 years time, what will happen this Northern Territory ... When you smash a djang, well, just like a church you moving church away ..." (103).

The Fox Commission damned ERA for failing "notably in its evaluation of the total impact on the Aborigines of the region" and stipulated that the company's proposals in its 1976 form "should not ... be allowed to proceed" (104). The Second Ranger Report acknowledged virtually all the fears expressed by Aboriginal objectors, and sought to encompass them in its recommendations. It recommended that all Crown lands in the project area be ceded to Aboriginal people under the 1976 Land Rights Act, together with two cattle leases, and that the southern border of the mining zone be moved away from Mount Brockman, so that dreaming sites could be adequately protected. It ridiculed the ERA proposal for a mining town of 10,000 inhabitants - a size which would be "disastrous" for the area" (105), and urged that the township of Jabiru should be planned and regulated with the participation of the NLC (106). While proposing a number of programmes of education and health care (107, 108), the Commissioners agreed that it was "not likely that the mining venture will add appreciably to the number of Aboriginals employed" (109). They also thought that Aborigines were unlikely to benefit under the present or proposed education system (107). Perhaps the most damning indictment of the whole project centred on the Commissioners' assessment of the adverse effect of a massive influx of non-Aboriginal people to the area. This, said the Commission, "will potentially be very damaging to the welfare and interests of the Aboriginal people ... All the expert evidence on this matter was to the effect that, despite sometimes sincere and dedicated effort on the part of all concerned to avoid such results, the rapid development of a European community in, or adjacent to, an Aboriginal traditional society has in the past always caused the breakdown of the traditional culture and generation of intense social and psychological stresses within the Aboriginals ..." (110).

Assessing the putative value of material benefits from the mine against its potentially negative impacts, the Commissioners concluded: "While royalties and other payments ... are not unimportant to the Aboriginal people, they see this aspect as incidental, as a material recognition of their rights. The material benefits they visualise as likely ... are things like motor vehicles, hunting rifles, fishing gear, and the like. Our impression is that they would happily forgo the lot in exchange for an assurance that mining would not proceed" (111).

Notwithstanding this, the Ranger Report formed "the conclusion that [Aboriginal] opposition should not be allowed to prevail" (104).

Compounding this grotesque judgment, Justice Fox himself, in an interview with the New Scientist on the publication of the Second Ranger Report, commented that, while mining could bring "tremendous benefit" to Aborigines, foregoing royalties "would be a small price to pay to stave off racial conflict" (65, 112).

On August 25th 1977, Ian Viner, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, announced the terms for Aborigines under which the Ranger project would be allowed to proceed, while the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, set out the government's uranium export policy. In the weeks leading up to the decision to mine (actually announced by Fraser in mid-August) (1 13), Fraser had made the hypocritical observation that Aboriginal welfare, and protection of the environment, as well as international safeguards, were "more important than commercial considerations", and admitted that "proper progress in relation to Aborigines [had begun] too late" (114). James Yuemipingu commented that it would take "up to five years to explain concepts which Aboriginal communities had only eight weeks to consider" (115), while the Aboriginal lawyer Paul Coe promised to take out an injunction to prevent uranium mining, as a threat to the religion and faith "of the Aboriginal nation" ( 11 6). Three months later, South Australia's Attorney General, Dr Duncan, backed Coe's stand (117).

The new uranium policy laid down thirteen points: these included promises that the mining township would be limited to 3,500 people; that Aborigines would receive royalties directly, and could also negotiate directly with the mining companies; the establishment of a scientific committee to look after the National Park's environment; a special uranium advisory council would be set up, and companies would be "likely" to pay a resources tax on their uranium exports. However, the way was now open for the states to make their own decision on uranium mining, and the Fox recommendation of sequential development (to minimise the impact on people and environment) was denied (23).

For his part, Ian Viner declared that the government had accepted all the major recommendations on Aboriginal matters made by the Commissioners. Traditional Aboriginal claims to vacant Crown land would be granted, while the Mudginberri and Munmarlary pastoral stations would be consigned to Aboriginal use, with the government taking over the leases. The southern boundary of the project area would be shifted from Mount Brockman, and Aboriginal land would become part of the National Park "as proposed by the Aborigines" - to be part-managed by Aborigines (118), with Aboriginal rangers. "Aborigines would also be trained as health workers, and encouraged to accept other opportunities for employment created by mining development." There would, said Viner, be a scheme "to improve the morale of the Aboriginal people, enhance their welfare, and reduce their dependence on alcohol". Possibly an Aboriginal liaison officer would be appointed to inform tourists regarding Aboriginal customs.

Gross revenues to Australia, it was estimated, would be around A$20,000,000,000 (119).

The Minister claimed that Arnhemland Aboriginal people would get around A$400 million of these, at the rate of at least 2.5% of revenue; 30% of such payments would go to Aboriginal communities directly affected by the mine, while another 30% would "advance the general well-being of Aborigines throughout the NT on the advice of an all-Aboriginal advisory committee" with a special emphasis on programmes for alcohol control (27, 120). (Rather a case, one might think, of trying to dry the baby, once it had been washed out with the bathwater.)

Announcement of the royalties - despite being well below rates negotiated in similar situations elsewhere in the mining world - prompted a spate of racial stereotyping in the press. "Blacks will get millions" trumpeted the Herald(121). "Aborigines strike it rich" chortled The Australian, while an unrestrained Telegraph declared the "Uranium bonanza" would create "Stone-Age millionaires" (122, 123). According to a "special report" from the News, the Gunwiggu "Tribe" had also become Stone-Age millionaires, sitting on a bonanza "worth A$ 15 million each year" (123). A little more circumspectly, The Australian estimated that the 800 members of the Gunwiggu communities would get A$6500 for every man, woman and child in the Arnhemland tribe" (122) - a figure one-thirtieth the estimate given by the News but still calculated to arouse envy and resentment among white readers. To all this hogwash, Aboriginal politician Neville Bonner gave the response: "If they do become millionaires, why should anyone object to that?" (124). Perhaps this was not a well-thought-out response, since the issue of royalties was to cause huge discontent among Aboriginal people in the coming decade. Bonner might have made a better point by asking what profits ERA executives would derive from the exploitation of purloined land and filched resources.

Viner blithely assured Aboriginal people that they could apply for legal constraints if they were unhappy about mining (125). Paul Coe had already issued his writ, and at the end of August, four other Aboriginal people took out writs to prevent mining and export of uranium, seeking A$20,000,000,000 in damages if it went ahead (126). While Gerry Blitner, on behalf of the NLC and the Oenpelli people, confessed they "do not understand [the Ranger proposals] completely" (127), FCAATSI, representing 74 Aboriginal organisations, solicited the support of 500 other organisations, declaring that uranium mining would destroy Aboriginal societies: "safeguards would only make destruction slower and more acceptable to public opinion" (128).

The first round of negotiating between miners and the NLC took place in Darwin in October 1977, when a draft encompassing all the Fox recommendations was presented to the federal government, and some details were leaked by ERA (129). No response was received to this until May the following year, when formal negotiations commenced (102, 130). Well before the end of 1977, construction work on Ranger had started without consultation with the NLC - a point complained of by Stuart McGill on behalf of the NLC ("The government is riding roughshod over the Aboriginals") (131), the Labor Party's Tom Uren (132), and NLC chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu. When Prime Minister Fraser urged that "consultation should continue", Yunupingu retorted: "Of course consultation is not protection" (133).

In November, Yunupingu claimed that mining companies had met the government in secret session two months before, to draw up guidelines for further uranium exploration in the proposed Kakadu National Park, while Aborigines had been left out of the consultations. Viner replied that such exploration had been agreed "from the start" (134).

Some of the terms of the draft agreement, together with details of other demands made by the NLC or the mining companies, leaked out during the first part of 1978. In February, the NLC said that the draft was modelled on the 1974 agreement between CRA and the Papua New Guinea government over Bougainville (see CRA), with its concept of a profitability tax, and preventing the mining companies making windfall profits; a certain percentage of Aborigines would have to be employed at the mine. The hand of Stephen Zorn - who negotiated the revised Bougainville agreement - was clearly visible behind these proposals (135). At this time there was an "unofficial" adjournment of the ERA proposal, while the Supreme Court heard an NLC application to stop mining, and Peko and EZ themselves applied to explore outside the Ranger lease (136).

In March, Yunupingu claimed that ERA had given a copy of the draft agreement to other mining companies and he divulged that one of its terms was that no Aborigines would live in the Jabiru township, while its residents would have "instruction" in Aboriginal culture and traditions (137). At this point, the NLC demanded that compensation for the loss of land should be at least 36% of royalties (138) - the "biggest obstacle to development" of Ranger, according to the Age (139, 142). A meeting of traditional owners at the Mudginberri pastoral station in March once again demanded that mining should not commence: if it did, only Ranger and Nabarlek should be given the goahead (140).

In April, as the government built up pressure to get Ranger on stream before the wet season (139, 143), and 25,000 anti-uranium marchers protested in Melbourne and elsewhere (141), FoE got hold of draft legislation seeking to substantially alter the Atomic Energy Act (144), and introduce new measures relating to environmental problems of uranium, land rights and national parks. Under clause 22 of the proposed new law, according to FoE, "the Government would have virtually uncontrolled power to lock up demonstrators, dissidents, and anti-uranium campaigners, without trial, for as long as it wishes; to tap phones, control buildings and industries; or anything else it wishes to do". The crucial governing phrase was "situation resulting from a uranium activity" where "health and safety" were at risk, but it was clear that this proviso could be applied to strikes, blockades and the release of information surrounding an accident, or regarding an act of"terrorism" (145).

Within a week, deputy Prime Minister Anthony said the Fraser government was going for a June start-up, and confirmed that, in a new "uranium package", there would be regulations restricting the disclosure of public information, not only by the supervising scientist, but also the Land Councils. The Penalty? A$ 1000 or six months inside (146). (Two years later the government was to embark on a review of no fewer than ten acts relating to nuclear safeguards, environmental protection, defence, and the effects of uranium on Aboriginal communities) (147). Yunupingu retorted that negotiations would take 12 months and that compensation terms were the main stumbling block (148). While the Ranger partners fulminated that there was already an 18-month supply gap of uranium, and that the mine could be delayed from producing until 1981 (149), Fraser played both ends against the middle, telling ERA (and others) "I don't think any time has been lost" (149, 150).

In May, seven hours of talks between Anthony, Viner, and the NLC, confirmed that the NT authorities would play a role in the Kakadu National Park, despite vehement NLC objections (143). It was established in principle that the Park, while belonging to Aborigines, would be accessible to anyone else, although its administration was vested in the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service (not the Territory) (152).

Over the next two months, the royalties/compensation issue loomed largest in on-going talks between the government and Aboriginal negotiators, and ERA (153). The Federal government passed its six uranium "enabling" acts at the beginning of June. Yunupingu was still holding out for a 36% royalty on gross profits, while Anthony was rumoured to be proposing an extra 1.75% topping on the 2.5% already guaranteed under the Land Rights Act (154).

In July, 50 supporters of the NLC sat-in at the Ranger offices (155). Although the NLC scaled down its royalties demand to 18% and the government confirmed an offer of 4% (156), talks were still deadlocked between the black and white parties (157).

Between then and November 1978, when the Ranger Agreement was finally signed, the most important set of negotiations in recent Aboriginal experience (and, it could be argued, in recent Australian history) became so confused and labyrinthine, that - fourteen years later the full story is still a subject of great controversy.

The main actors in the drama are not disputed: Yunupingu, adept, charismatic, a master of compromise; Stephen Zorn, the world's most experienced white lawyer advising indigenous peoples on mining agreements (158); deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Resources Doug Anthony, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Viner, leading the government side, with a mixture of blandishments and threats. On the sidelines were the miners and the white advisers to the Aboriginal councils, notably the NLC's manager Alex Bishaw, who appears, at one stage, to have become a kind of agent provocateur working against the people who employed him. Further to the sidelines were those who should have been at centre-stage: Leo Finlay, Simon Maralingura, Dick Malwagi, Johnny Marali No.1, and around 40 other Aboriginal men and women whose objections to the agreement were never properly heard, and were ignored by their own leadership.

The Ranger Report, as already stated, was presented to the NLC under Section 44(2) of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. In 1976, when the original ALP-framed legislation had been considerably revised by the Liberal administration, an arbitration system was introduced, allowing the government to impose a settlement in the event of Aboriginal resistance to a mining proposal (130). However, the majority of uranium proposals in the NT had already been exempted from the need for Aboriginal consent: Sections 40/44/46 stipulated that any mining licences granted before the 4th of July 1976 would not be covered by a Land Council veto. Under Section 40(6) the Ranger project had specifically been exempted from such a veto (130) . In any event, whatever Aboriginal powers were granted with one hand could be taken away by another clause which allowed mining to proceed "in the national interest" (159, 160).

As an alternative to the Land Rights Act, the government could use its authority to mine uranium under the Atomic Energy Act of 1953. While the Fox Commission argued against invoking this power, the federal government rejected the Commission's recommendation (160).

This bundle of provisos and controls meant that the government (under Section 41 of the Atomic Energy Act) could at any point nullify Aboriginal land ownership; could impose severe penalties (already mentioned) for divulging information on uranium exploitation, transport and use; that uranium mined on Aboriginal land became the property of the Commonwealth (Federal Government) (161); and that Aborigines would not be paid direct royalties, which would go instead to a Trust account and to Aboriginal organisations, which need not exceed a mere 2.5% of revenue (160).

So, effectively, the government had both its yellowcake, and the consumption thereof: using the Land Rights Act as an apparent show of its good intent, when it had already over-ruled an Aboriginal veto, and backing this up with the draconian Atomic Energy Act that it could have employed in the first place.

On August the 25th 1978, agreement was announced between the NLC and federal negotiators. Its actual terms were not officially announced, and had to be leaked by the leftish magazine National Times. Even then, there seemed doubt as to whether agreement had been reached on royalties: the Australian stating that the government had offered 3.75%, while the NLC was sticking out for 5% (162). A little later it was confirmed that 4.25% had been offered and (presumably) agreed: the royalty would be split three-ways, with 40% going to the three northern land councils - NLC, Central Land Council (CLC) and Tiwi Land Council (TWC) - the NLC securing another 30% and the remainder going into a Federal Trust Fund (163). The NLC would also have to endorse the agreement as a body (163). Formal ratification took place on September the 8th (164). Hardly was the ink dry upon the draft, when protests began to be heard. Negotiator Stephen Zorn - who said he expected to be accused of "selling out" the Aborigines (165) stressed that the agreement was only one "in principle" (166). The Oenpelli people reminded Yunupingu that they didn't want mining under any conditions (167), and H C Coombs, claiming the agreement was "not freely negotiated", stated Aborigines would not feel morally bound by any NLC agreement, and there might be violence as a result (168). The Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM) claimed the government was behaving in a racist and duplicitous fashion, which was encouraging the miners to try to expand their leases - a direct result of the refusal to give Aboriginal owners full title to the Kakadu National Park (see next section) (169).

The following chronology of events, from early September until the end of November, has been compiled from several primary sources:

  • September 1: 42 delegates from 19 coastal communities meet at Gailwinku on Elcho Island where they call on the NLC to defer any signing of agreements until Aborigines are given control of entry to coastal waters surrounding the communities which will be affected by the projects. Wesley Lanhupuy says it would be "inconceivable if the NLC by-passes the people it [is] supposed to represent" (129, 170, 171, 172).

  • September 4: Pancontinental is given permission to extend the Arnhem highway (173).

  • September 5: Yunupingu, stating that traditional owners oppose the road and that the NLC supports their stand, threatens not to sign the Ranger agreement if the road extension proceeds (174).

  • September 7: As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Viner wines and dines Yunupingu (172), the NLC telegrams delegates advising them of a land council meeting on September 12. At a press conference, Yunupingu, reiterating the NLC's stand on the Pancon road, also adds that the draft agreement was simply a "recommendation"; it would have to be translated into "language" and all 42 delegates to the NLC would have to agree it: this could not happen before the onset of the wet season. Yunupingu also stated that the government was applying pressure on the NLC to sign, and that the agreement was "rotten" - a piece of paper "Mr Anthony should save for the next time he goes to the toilet" (171).

  • According to Johnny Marali No. 1 and John Gwadbu, in their later affidavits to halt the Ranger negotiations, the NLC's notice to outlying communities did not specify why the meeting was to be held, nor that all delegates should be present. It did not say that the September 12th meeting was to be a final decision-making forum on Ranger (175).

  • September 8: Yunupingu meets in Darwin with Prime Minister Fraser, Anthony, Viner, and an executive member of the NLC. A joint statement from Yunupingu and Anthony states that the Aboriginal leader will recommend ratification of the Ranger agreement at the next NLC meeting, while the Arnhem highway extension will not proceed, at least until the Pancon mine is given the go-ahead. Yunupingu calls the meeting "very successful" (129, 171) even though he himself at a later stage claims that Fraser had stood over him, threatening to destroy the NLC and outstation movement (172) . Previously, Yunupingu had said he would not attend the meeting were Anthony present (which he was) and in the absence of Stuart McGill, the NLC's astute Legal Officer - McGill was excluded at the Ministers' insistence (129, 171).

  • September 9: The Milingimbi community resolves to formally protest against government pressure tactics and issues a press release to that effect. Yunupingu says that the September 12th meeting will last a week, enabling outlying communities - such as Croker Island, Milingimbi and Goulburn Island - to attend (176).

  • September 11: Alec Bishaw in Canberra apparently states his view that, if the NLC refuses to sign the agreement, an arbitrator would not be appointed, but Fraser would dissolve the NLC and amend Land Rights legislation accordingly (172).

  • September 12: As the NLC prepares to meet, Stephen Zorn tells a reporter from the Age that the Ranger deal was the best Aborigines could get; that there was no point in continuing negotiations or taking the matter to arbitration; and that the only other resort was violence "get[ting] in front of the bulldozers with a shotgun" (177). Shortly before this, Zorn had presented his own negotiator's report to the NLC, which showed a Ranger royalty of 9.25% (Zorn having arbitrarily added 5% as "cost of environmental protection") (129).

    Briefing notes are given to NLC delegates which purport to outline the positions of the ALP and anti-uranium movement, and which describe the agreement as promising "thousands of square kilometres of land for the local people ... a National Park offering land and work ... the best arrangements in Australia for protection of the land and people from effects of mining ... substantial payments offering Aborigines the real means of achieving self-determination in Australia for the first time" (129,171) . Any delay in signing, or going to arbitration, could be construed as evidence that Aborigines didn't know what they are up to, and provide "a wonderful opportunity for people of ill will" to persuade the government to change the Land Councils system.

    This travesty of the true situation was compounded by Alec Bishaw, who then told the delegates that Bob Hawke had warned him the government would "nail the NLC's ears to the wall" if they didn't sign (a statement utterly repudiated by Hawke, who forced Bishaw to apologise) (178); and that the agreement had to be signed. Yunupingu also quoted threats from Fraser which the government later denied (179), and misrepresented rehabilitation work, after mining was finished. (He gave the impression that the pits would be filled in, level to the ground) (170).

    Wesley Lanhupuy was not allowed to vote or submit a resolution from coastal communities demanding Aboriginal coastal control before mining commenced (151, 170). A statement opposing mining from the people of Numbulwar was not read out, and when Leo Finlay from Borroloola asked for more time to consider the question, Yunupingu refused; most important, delegates from Oenpelli were allowed neither to address the meeting, nor discuss the problems with other delegates (170).

    At no point was the draft agreement read out, nor were any translations prepared. Indeed, its terms were barely discussed (180).

  • September 13: US lawyer Bob Krueger arrives in Darwin, is met by Bishaw who refuses to let him address the NLC, and storms out, telling the press how miserable are the royalties offered for Ranger (172). By the 14th of September, with telegrams from black delegates flooding into the office of Bob Collins (ALP member for Arnhem in the NT Legislative Assembly) demanding they be allowed to send delegates to the meeting, only 23 out of the 42 NLC delegates had actually arrived.

  • September 15: Fraser announces that Yunupingu had informed him of agreement by the NLC on both the Ranger and Kakadu leases (129, 171). Aborigines from Croker and Goulburn Islands, Milingimbi, Maningrida, and Elcho Island rush to Darwin to discuss and state their opposition to the agreement.

  • September 18: Dehne McLaughlin, a field officer with the NLC, resigns after telling the press he was "appalled at the pressure and strong-arm tactics used at the meeting last week". McLaughlin maintains that field officers were conveying directives from outlying communities which were being "manipulated" by the Council. "They feel the NLC is just another part of the government" (129, 171).

    Bob Collins produces tapes of the Council meeting, maintaining that the NLC had acted under misinformation (181). Yunupingu then announces that he has sacked "dissident" white lawyer Stuart McGill, ostensibly for "leaking information" (182). At this point "dissident" Aborigines apply for an injunction against the signing, in the NT Supreme Court (172).

    (Irony of ironies: that the chair of an organisation pledged to disseminate information to his people, on the most important event in their recent histories, should get rid of a white man, precisely for informing blacks of the detail behind that event.)

  • September 19: The NT Supreme Court grants an injunction restraining the NLC from signing the Ranger agreement, after submissions by Dick Malwagu (NLC executive member, chair of the Mijilang Council) and Johnny Marali No. 1 (from Goulburn Island, chair of the Warruwi Council) acting on behalf of six Aboriginal communities (166). The court requires the NLC to demonstrate that the agreement was reached in accordance with Section 23(3) of the Land Rights Act which states that all traditional owners must consent, after they and their communities have fully understood the terms of the agreement (129).

  • September 20: By now more than 1000 Aborigines protesting against the Ranger signing have arrived in Darwin (183). Anthony tells Parliament he wants to see a voluntary agreement, and not go to arbitration. Ian Viner says that the future of land rights is at stake, and names Bob Collins and Stuart McGill as among those responsible for opposition to the agreement (184) . Later, Aborigines angrily deny that they have been manipulated by whites and state that they oppose the agreement in their own right (182, 184).

  • September 22: The injunction is removed, after Aboriginal leaders agree to give themselves more time to discuss the agreement; Yunupingu promises to translate the agreement into Aboriginal languages, and Viner's charge that "rebel" Aborigines were out to destroy Yunupingu is seen as a spur that makes Council members determined to reach an agreement (185). A procedural meeting of the NLC will now be held on October 2, and a final decision will be made on Ranger only "after an indefinite period is allowed for the people to decide" (172).

  • October 2: The NLC meets under the chairmanship of Gerry Blitner, in Yunupingu's absence. Dick Malwagu presents a 21- point procedural plan, which includes an initial meeting of all traditional owners in the Alligator Rivers area, a consultative panel to visit each settlement and outstation, translations of all relevant material, and a final NLC decision-making meeting only after 30 delegates stated in writing that they are ready to vote (129,171). Although Gerry Blitner announces that the plan has been accepted by the 31 delegates present, Yunupingu later denies that it has (186). The Oenpelli people say there must be a full NLC meeting to ratify the agreement (187).

  • October 3: After another NLC meeting, Yunupingu tells reporters that the 21-point plan has been put in the rubbish bin; instead, the Oenpelli community would be asked which other communities should consider the agreement, and a panel would then explain the agreement to those communities; he adds that a Ranger agreement would be ratified within six weeks (129). Leo Finlay presents a petition from 11 Council members calling for the sacking of Bishaw, Yunupingu refuses even to allow it to be considered (172) . According to Tribune, Viner also threatens to appoint an arbitrator, apparently reversing Anthony's conciliatory position a fortnight earlier (187).

  • October 4: The Borroloola community decides to withdraw from the NLC (11, 188).

  • October 10: "King James" Yunupingu flies into Goulburn Island, to be met by a demonstration of 300 people. He leaves quickly, after delivering copies of a translated agreement (189, 190).

    The Oenpelli community meets to decide which communities to involve in the consultative process, and look at the terms of the agreement (190).

  • October 11: Yunupingu, in a belligerent mood, says that NLC meetings to determine the attitude of Aborigines are a "bloody waste of time". If the government wants to mine uranium, "it will go ahead and do it and I am not going to stop them" he is quoted as saying (191). Mary Elliot, who attended the Oenpelli community meetings on October 10th and 11th states that "the people clearly rejected the tactics of the NLC ... [they] asked for consultation with all communities . . ." (172).

  • October 12: Forty traditional owners of the Oenpelli community issue a statement which rejects the Ranger agreement ("at this time"), calls on the NLC to hold a full Council meeting, and to fully consult with all communities affected by the mine, including those of Croker and Goulburn Islands (192). Some of Yunupingu's own people concur with the Oenpelli leaders, while others accuse him of expressing the feelings of white officers, rather than Aborigines (193).

  • October 13: Although initially accusing his opponents of being manipulated by white anti-uranium groups, Yunupingu on October 13th apparently promises to support the Oenpelli decisions (194).

  • October 17: The Cabinet decides not to appoint an arbitrator, until satisfied that the NLC definitely won't sign the agreement; and Yunupingu stresses that Aborigines and legislators could sit down and come to agreement without arbitration (195).

  • October 23: After Anthony has declared "we have to consider ... to what extent we can allow a small group of people, a manipulated group of people, to stand in the way of a development of tremendous national and international significance" (196), Stephen Zorn reverses his position on Ranger, stating in a letter to Yunupingu that the NLC had tried to push Aboriginal people into signing; that there were, by now, several communities within the NLC who were highly critical of its leadership (166); that royalties were too low (197).

  • November 1: The NLC convenes a secret meeting (at Bamyili), chaired by Yunupingu, with Bishaw, solicitor Eric Pratt (who "simplified" the Ranger agreement for Aborigines), and two solicitors who had helped Yunupingu contest the previous month's Supreme Court injunction (171). Although Viner had apparently been invited to this meeting, several important delegates couldn't make it, because of short notice. Delegates from Borroloola were simply told the meeting was "to discuss general business" (171). According to Leo Finlay of Borroloola, who attended the Bamyili meeting with three other delegates from his community, there were about 30 members at this meeting. When challenged about not following the 21-point plan laid down in October, Yunupingu retorted that he was "only doing his job" (198) . November 2: Viner arrives at the meeting to make a long speech, in which he stresses that the government has to act "in the national interest" and on behalf of Japan (171). He says the Oenpelli people's demands to settle the Kakadu issue, before the mining agreement is signed should be "put aside". In the afternoon, according to Leo Finlay, although Yunupingu batted members' questions and criticisms in an offhand manner, he did make one significant concession: promising that the traditional owners could still say "yea" or "nay" to the agreement. Most people, according to Leo Finlay, accepted this, but he himself viewed it as a trick. As the vote was called, most delegates - considering that they were approving further consultation raised their hands (11, 171).

  • November 3: The Crucial Day - and action transfers to Oenpelli itself, as Viner, Yunupingu, Bishaw, Pratt, and two other lawyers fly into the community, ahead of anyone else from the NLC. Simon Maralingurra, chair of the Oenpelli Council, has invited a film crew and journalists from the Age newspaper to witness events, but both Yunupingu and Viner object: Viner is abusive to the media crew, and Yunupingu storms "I am running this meeting, and I have given the order" (199).

    Only three traditional owners from Oenpelli attend this most important meeting in the life of their community - Toby Gangali, Frank Djandjul and Midjau Midjauwu - leaving the traditional owners outnumbered by the NLC executive and their white advisers. According to Leo Finlay (who was present) apart from Yunupingu and himself, the other NLC executive members were Dick Malwagi, and Bill Lalaru (deputising for Gerry Blitner). A white linguist, Peter Carswell, who was accompanying the NLC and had flown to Oenpelli, confirms that only four out of forty traditional Oenpelli owners were present. Simon Maralingura himself a former chairperson of the NLC - declared that the meeting was "wrong" (11) and sat in a car parked at the edge of the meeting place (171). Later the Labor spokesperson on Aboriginal Affairs also stated in Parliament that only three of the "thirty" traditional owners attended the meeting and claimed that Viner did not answer this charge of gross under-representation (200).

    Yunupingu then addresses the "meeting" in English, with Viner following his lead. Of the NLC members present, only Toby Gangali appears to have made a statement: "I've given up. I'm not fighting any more" (171, 201).

    After lunch, and without any indication from the NLC heavies that the agreement was about to be signed, a car whisks the Council members - not to the airport, as they had expected - but to the office, where they are presented with the Agreement, and pens with which to sign it. There is wide speculation as to who was present at the signing, and who actually signed it. Finlay was later quoted as saying that "many people" signed (171), but in a 9-page document handed to The Australian newspaper within a few days of the Oenpelli ceremony, he claimed that "only Toby Gangali, Joseph Garadpul and Nipper Garadpul" were present (201). However, there is no doubt that no more than a tenth of the community most affected by Ranger, and entitled under the Land Rights Act to full consultation and agreement before it proceeded, actually put their names on the Ranger Agreement, and received platinum pens for their compliance (171).

    Later, in Darwin, Viner was to claim that the agreement "had unanimous support of traditional owners", while Yunupingu (clearly referring to "white dissidents" who supported the rights of the majority of aboriginal people) claimed he "knew the Council would work better without whites hanging around" (202).

  • November 7: Stephen Zorn is sacked, following publication of his critical letter of October 23 (203). Although Zorn praised the agreement in several respects, he clearly views the royalties as inadequate, its environmental measures as leaving something to be desired, and the whole agreement as negotiated under pressure (203).
  • The Ranger "Agreement" was fraudulent: "negotiated" under duress, illegitimately "signed", and a symbol of the degree to which a white administration was prepared to impose its will on Aboriginal people, for the sake of its own greed. That Yunupingu misled Aboriginal people, and refused to comply with their overwhelming wishes, is clear from all the evidence. To give him some due, some years later he was prepared to damn the Agreement he had bulldozed through the north, and argue that it should never have been signed (see below); but, by then, it was far too late.

    The Agreement

    The Agreement purported to be comprehensive, and in many ways is the most detailed document licensing a uranium mine ever drawn up with the supposed participation of indigenous people. (This doesn't say much, of course, since those living on such sites rarely get the opportunity to do more than sue for compensation when they are slung off them.)

    Here are the main provisions:

    1. Environmental Aspects (clauses 5, 6, 8, and 9)

    The Joint Venturers have agreed with the Commonwealth to observe all environmental requirements specified or imposed by law.

    "Best practicable technology", as defined, shall be employed in the design of the plant and mine, and in the mining, milling and related operations.

    The Commonwealth is to arrange for health monitoring programs which will continue for as long as the authority conducting them considers them to be effective.

    2. Liaison (clauses 10 and 11)

    The Joint Venturers are to provide for the formation of an Aboriginal Liaison Committee; members shall be the mine manager, one person appointed by the Manager and two appointed by the Northern Land Council.

    Functions of the Committee are primarily:

  • to receive and hear representations of local Aboriginals on the one hand, or by an employee, agent, or contractor of the Commonwealth or the Joint Venturers on the other;

  • to make recommendations to the Manager as to which Aboriginals are available for employment; the Manager will not employ any Aboriginal without first consulting the Committee.
  • 3. Employment and Training (clause 12)

    The Commonwealth shall require the Joint Venturers to ensure that:

  • as many local Aboriginals as is practicable are employed where those Aboriginals are capable of carrying out in a satisfactory manner the particular work required;

  • an "operator training scheme" for Aboriginals be established with a view to the Manager employing trained Aboriginals;

  • by agreement with the Northern Land Council, further employment training schemes are sponsored;

  • all practical steps are taken to adjust working hours and conditions to suit the needs and culture of Aboriginal employees, through consultation between Joint Venturers, the Northern Land Council and trade unions;

  • working conditions for Aboriginals shall be as for any other workers under the appropriate awards in force in the Northern Territory.
  • 4. Local Business Development (clause 13)

    The Commonwealth shall support, encourage and advise local Aboriginals wishing to establish enterprises and businesses for the purpose of providing goods and services to the Joint Venturers;

    The Commonwealth shall require the Joint Venturers to make maximum use of Aboriginal sub-contractors where their goods and services are competitive. The Joint Venturers, however, shall not be required to employ any sub-contractor unless the sub-contractor is capable of carrying out the work in a satisfactory manner and work is available;

    The Commonwealth shall require the Joint Venturers to ensure that appropriate training facilities are made available where skills are not sufficient for the satisfactory performance of sub-contracting tasks, if the circumstances reasonably so require.

    5. Control of Liquor (clause 14)

    The Commonwealth shall ensure that no liquor is brought onto, or sold or consumed within, the Ranger Project area, except through the Jabiru Sports and Social Club and subject to the rules detailed in the agreement.

    6. Rights of Traditional Owners (clause 16)

    Traditional rights to use and occupation of land may be exercised subject only to specified restraints to avoid interference with the Project.

    7. Sacred Sites (clause 17)

    Commonwealth to act to protect any sites not adequately protected by legislation, on NLC request.

    8. Instruction in Aboriginal Culture (clause 18) Commonwealth and Joint Venturers to promote "knowledge, understanding and respect for the traditions, languages and culture of the Aboriginal people" among employees and contractors, in consultation with NLC.

    9. Review and Term of Agreement (clauses 20 and 21)

    Every five years the parties shall meet to discuss the operation of the Agreement and may agree to changes;

    The Agreement to continue for 26 years unless sooner terminated, renewed or extended.

    10. Payments (clauses 3 and 25; annex B) Agreed amounts to be paid by the Commonwealth to the NLC on signing of the Agreement and when the project is authorised and at designated stages of the construction,

    Additional annual amounts of A$200,000 to be paid during the currency of the Agreement,

    Amounts of up to A$ 150,000 annually for the first four years to meet NLC costs associated with the Ranger Project,

    Payments in the nature of royalties at 4.25% to be made to the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account for distribution in accordance with the Act: Land Councils (40%), communities affected by the Project (30%) and Aboriginals in the Northern Territory generally (30%) (102).

    What Happened After?

    Hardly a year after the Ranger Agreement was signed, and the final barrier to exploiting Australia's most significant uranium deposit had toppled, Galarrwuy Yunupingu summarised Aboriginal feelings: "We are not getting anything from the mining, while the companies are getting everything they want - development, roads, unlimited access - over our land. What money we have got, we had to fight for" (204). A year later, Colin Tatz concluded there was "a pervasive Aboriginal belief that as present mining activity increases it may mean the death of the whole Region, in their terms" (103). Added Tatz: "An NLC executive member sees only rape of the country, the holes in the ground, the scarring of the landscape, the visual impact, as the worst of the happenings to date. The people need a 15- to 20-year moratorium on further activity, he says ..." (103).

    Tatz, in his rather bitty 1982 conclusions on visits to Arnhemland, found that, while expansion of the Jabiru township (still a bitter point of administrative contention between federal and NT administrators) (205) was a considerable future fear, its impact took second place to concerns about what a bitumen highway would do to the land and food supplies, and worries among a small but important section of the people as to the potential destructiveness of increased "grog" drinking.

    Importantly, Tatz rubbished uneducated conclusions that employment was the major benefit Aborigines derived from the mining (both at Ranger and Nabarlek). By late 1981, he stated, there was almost no Aboriginal interest in employment, while the Ranger mine had taken on only seven Aborigines - an office worker and six men for agricultural "regeneration" (103).

    For the "at-least-they'll-be-rich" rationalisation, Tatz reserved his most damning observations. "To date, revenue money has been a good deal less than expected and its distribution disastrous." Tatz and other researchers, including his own Committee, found that the Gagudju (later Gagadju) Association, incorporated at the end of 1978, had paid out A$300,000 only, by the end of the first year - much of this was anyway tied to future capital projects. Distributions had caused arguments and rifts between families; money was only being spent on booze and fourwheel drive Toyotas "and the poor mix of the two". Otherwise there was nothing on which to spend the money, and no proper banking facilities had been established in Arnhemland. "Greed has arrived in an ungreedy community", declared Tatz. There has been "unease, uncertainty and confusion", concluded the Social Impact Committee in September 1979 (206).

    Lastly, Tatz, in his 1982 survey of the impact of mining, found that the NLC was a "grossly over-worked, under-staffed and under-financed" body, which had "yet to become its own master" (103).

    In 1984, the Committee presented its consolidated report, covering the first six years of study, and the mine's impact. It was a devastating indictment by any standards.

    The Committee distinguished between findings and conclusions. Among its conclusions were that:

  • The Fox Commission recommendation on minimising adverse social impact had not been instituted. However, fears that changes in diet would be deleterious, that disease and alcohol abuse would run rife, that racial tension would be exacerbated, and that there would be gross intrusions into Aboriginal privacy or on sacred sites, were not realised.

  • Serious inequities had been created in the distribution of royalities, and there had been a "general deterioration in Oenpelli's productive economy".

  • Employment had not had a major impact on Aboriginal people, and there continued to be little interest among Aborigines in working on the project.

  • Aborigines had not been adequately informed about the dangers of uranium and most people were ignorant or confused about the subject; several groups were anxious about its effect on water and food supply.

  • The Jabiru township had not become an "open" town and was not exceeding the population limitations laid down by Fox.

  • Notwithstanding any of the "positive" (or at least, non-negative) spin-offs mentioned above, the social impact of mining on Aboriginal culture had produced a "SOCIETY IN CRISIS" (in capital letters in the original document):

    "... the current civic culture is one in which disunity, neurosis, a sense of struggle, drinking stress, hostility, of being drowned by new laws, agencies and agendas are major manifestations" (207).
  • It was in this context that the failure to institute social programmes was most dramatic. Aborigines, said the Committee, were in transition from a wardship system to one of independence and self-management. Because they had had mining imposed upon them, in order not to sink beneath it they had to understand it, as well as "modern industrial economies, western technology, uranium as a nuclear fuel and as a weapon of war, the system of Territory and of national politics, global strategies between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations" (208). Aborigines needed new skills, which should be provided by "a national task force of competent professionals, the best in the country"; they needed to be drawn further into decision-making processes. Above all, there should be no new mining development in the region: if there were, it should be preceded by a new EIS, in which Aborigines participated (209, 210).

    The findings of the Committee covered nearly three hundred pages. Only its most important observations can be encapsulated here:

  • Two classes had been created in Aboriginal society, between haves (those with mining revenue) and have-nots (those without) (211).

  • There had been no informed debate on health dangers with Aboriginal people (212).

  • Mining couldn't cease, yet safety couldn't be ensured: this posed an inevitable "dilemma" (213).

  • Drinking had enormously increased (214).

  • There was a passion for owning and using vehicles, which itself legitimised the purchase of vehicles by the more powerful in the community, to the extent that it became "totemic" (215).

  • The Oenpelli people were faced with a "massive task of social reconstruction" covering all aspects of their lives (216).

  • The inadequacies of the Fox Report had basically worked in favour of the mining companies (217).

  • "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that somehow there has been a considerable surrendering of humanity - and certainly, from the Aboriginal side, a considerable surrendering of control, including control over the investment of meanings into the landscape" (218).
  • One result of the enormous opposition created by the Ranger and Nabarlek proposals was an insidious government-inspired campaign which ran up until the 1983 elections, proposing drastic alteration - or abolition - of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, in order to give mining companies greater access to indigenous land (204, 219). This notwithstanding the fact that in 1981 the Federal Minister for Mines and Energy accused miners in the NT of being "arrogant" and failing to employ Aborigines (220).

    By the mid-1980s the uranium issue was still dividing as well as disturbing Aboriginal communities in the NT, like no other issue before or since. While members of the NLC and some traditional owners actively campaigned for further mines - notably Koongarra - to be opened (see Denison, Noranda and Pancontinental), other Aboriginal people, and land councils outside the Territory, strenuously fought against such developments.

    In 1983, the Gagadju Association discovered that a white employee of the Association was living in a A$114,000 house in Darwin while Aborigines had to live in shelters costing a mere A$18,000 - which had not even been completed (221). By then the Association had received A$2.05 million in royalties plus an annual rent of A$200,000 from ERA. Despite this, they were living in tin-roofed humpies in a camp under some trees (221).

    Two years later, the Association declared that it wanted to break away from the NLC, because. Of discontent with its administration (222). The same year, a report by an Australian National University academic, leaked to the Melbourne Age, claimed that millions of dollars in royalties, supposedly set aside for Aboriginal use, had been siphoned off by the government and was being used for general purposes in the Northern Territory. The Aboriginal Benefit Trust Account had, according to Dr John Altman, received some A$ 17.064 million in "royalty equivalent" in 1983-84, only 11.7% of which was given directly to Aborigines (223). Of the remainder, much had been invested without earning any investment income. Some A$200 million might have been lost in this fashion since the mine opened (224).

    Shortly afterwards, the NLC itself went to the Australian High Court, seeking to halt operations at Ranger until a new safeguards and royalties agreement could be negotiated. Both the traditional owners at Oenpelli and the NLC argued that they had no contractual relationship with ERA, and royalties allowed them were "grossly inadequate" compared with mining agreements in other countries (225). Galarrwuy Yunupingu, citing the recent spillages at the mine-site, maintained that the NLC had been unable to enforce environmental safeguards (226).

    The NLC sought an injunction on the grounds that the Ranger Agreement had been signed out of"duress, undue influence and unconscionable conduct by the Commonwealth [federal government]" (224). Critical information and crucial documents had not been made available in 1978; the federal government had threatened to impose the Agreement and the traditional owners were "inexperienced" in commercial matters relating to uranium (224). Galarrwuy Yunupingu also maintained that a provision for a review of Ranger's operations after five years had been ignored - and for the first time acknowledged that only 3 of the 40 traditional Oenpelli owners had been at the signing ceremony for the Agreement. Moreover, in 1979, the federal government had violated its obligations to Aboriginal people by not informing them of the proposed formation of ERA (226). "We have grown up a lot since [1978]," declared Yunupingu (226).

    Bernard Fisk, for ERA, countered that negotiations were a matter for the government, not the company, and that the NLC's main concern (in his view) was to get more money (226). The Australian Democrats promised support for the NLC in their action (226).

    The court case dragged on through 1986 (227), when the High Court promised to test whether the fiduciary relationship between Native Canadians and the Canadian government could apply to Australia (228). Finally the case was ordered to be heard by the Full Bench of the High Court - a development which had has ensured that until 1991 the case has not yet been argued in full (229).


    The Kakadu agreement was signed along with the Ranger Agreement, and talks between the federal government and the NLC over the National Park proceeded apace with the mining talks (102). In fact the idea of a national park had been around for a long time (102, 230). The Fox Commission viewed it as a necessary "buffer" between uranium projects and both Aborigines and the environment (231). The government ostensibly followed all the Commission's main recommendations on Kakadu, and by August 1977 had mapped out a modus operandi for declaring the National Park. Stage One would be started immediately (delineated in blue on Map 16 of the Ranger Second Report) (232), together with a rectangle of land immediately south of that boundary, and the Woolwonga Aboriginal reserve and wildlife sanctuary (119). The Djindibi and Djoned clan areas would not be granted Aboriginal freehold (Fox found "insufficient" evidence of Aboriginal traditional occupation) (233) and - as already mentioned- Fox advised that the Mudginberri and Munmarlary pastoral leases should have their title taken over by the government and be leased back to Aboriginal people, for inclusion in the National Park (129).

    There would, declared the government, be no mining or exploration "for the time being" in this area - and mining would only be permitted in Stage Two of Kakadu, with the express authority of the government (119). The regional township of Jabiru would be within the National Park boundaries, but not on Aboriginal land. Both the Ranger and Jabiluka mine-sites would be excluded from the National Park, but included in Aboriginal land areas ceded under the Land Rights Act (234).

    The agreement was signed at Oenpelli in November 1978. As with the Ranger Agreement, virtually no time was allowed for Aboriginal people to discuss its terms (the draft was only presented to the NLC in September) (129). Its main provisions were: a 100-year lease of Aboriginal land within the Park to be made to the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife service (ANPWS); further lease of Aboriginal land in the area, should the director request it; the Director could sub-lease any area of the Park, provided it was set out in the management plan; the Director was obliged only to "consult" with Aborigines in making the management plan; Aborigines would be employed in managing and controlling the park (though only in "reasonable" numbers - whatever that might mean); traditional owners could move freely in the park; sacred sites would be identified and knowledge of Aboriginal culture and traditions would be "promoted" (235).

    It is essential to point out that Aboriginal people were required to lease their own land to the ANPWS: the penalty for non-compliance would be the appointment of an arbitrator exactly the mailed-fist-behind-the-velvet-glove in the Ranger negotiations (129).

    In the first half of 1978, the NLC had made it quite clear to the federal government that at no point should any part of Kakadu be consigned to the NT administration - Aborigines would "just go down the drain" declared Yunupingu in May that year, should the NT take over day-to-day running of Kakadu (143, 236). A year before, confidential talks had already been held between the Canberra and Darwin authorities, after the Chief Minister of the NT, Doug Everingham, expressed concern that a National Park would "obstruct mining" (237).

    By 1988, pressure from the NT opposition to take back control over Kakadu was formalised in a policy to "repatriate" the National Parks of both Kakadu and Uluru (Ayers Rock), when the NT achieved statehood. A future Liberal-National Party coalition government would also reverse the "three mines" policy of the ALP (238).

    The first stage of Kakadu was declared in June 1979. It comprises some 6,000 square kilometres between the East and South Alligator Rivers, most of it south of the Arnhem highway, with a few strips elsewhere - including an area along the coast, north of Mudginberri and Mamalary (102).

    These two pastoral leases were to be included in Stage Two of Kakadu - a somewhat bigger (7000 square kilometre) area - which was declared on November 15,1983. By then the park was a huge tourist attraction, with US tour operators and their clients comparing the region with Amazonia (303). The number of tourists had reached 200,000 by 1988 (304) when the Four Seasons Kakadu Hotel, owned by the Gagadju Association, managed by the white Four Seasons group, joined the Cooinda Motel and Border Store and partly-owned South Alligator Motel among the tourist interests held by the Aboriginal association (239).

    By 1983, the tussle between the NT and Federal administrations had deepened, and was to become critical after the ALP came to power. Apart from the Ranger and Nabarlek mines, the Mereenie and Palm Valley oil fields, and the Jabiluka project, mining exploration had all but come to a halt in the NT (240) and about a third of the state was under Aboriginal claim (241).

    In 1983, the Koongarra lease - previously excised from Kakadu Stage One (242) - was reincorporated into Stage Two, after fears that the ALP would renege on its "three mines" policy (243). This angered some Aborigines, who by then were more in favour of mining than being the junior "partners" in a National Park which had clearly not enjoyed their support (see Noranda and Denison). Three years later, Aborigines again objected as the federal government proceeded to include the Ranger 68 deposit in Stage Two (244), and announced that there would be a Mining Conservation Zone in Kakadu Stage Three - which would actually be a Mining Permit Zone. BHP, together with EZ and Noranda Australia, had plans to exploit gold, platinum and palladium at Guratba (Coronation Hill) in Kakadu Three - the site of Rum Jungle uranium mining in the 1950s and 1960s (239). In late 1988, the Jayown people - custodians of the land in the "Sickness" country (so-called because uranium mining had disturbed the ancestral being Bula, thirty years before) - laid claim to the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases, which had been compulsorily acquired by the federal government for Kakadu Three, but have not been ceded to Aboriginal control. The Jayown people made it abundantly clear that they wanted no mining or exploration in the Sickness country (239) (see BHP).

    The 1984 Consolidated Report on the Social Impact of Uranium Mining on the Aborigines of the Northern Territory - while delivering a swinging attack on other aspects of the Ranger project - gave Kakadu a comparatively clean bill of health (207). It concluded that the Park was providing the "buffer" envisaged by the Fox Commission, "generally promot[ing] Aboriginal interests, had a strong commitment to Aborigines and had been a successful employer of Aboriginal people" (207).

    Clearly the ANPWS staff had worked overtime to allay fears expressed three or four years before: specifically by the same Social Impact Committee which, in 1981, had challenged the concept of "consultation" embraced in the draft plan of management, pointing out that it substituted for true "participation" (245). Fears expressed by Colin Tatz, the Chairman of the Uranium Impact Project Steering Committee, had been even more trenchant. He conjectured, in 1982, that Kakadu was "in many ways ... a microcosm of Australian Aboriginal issues". The plan of management tended to equate Aboriginal interests with management interests; was ignoring the role of "buffer zone"; ignored Justice Woodward's strictures on management; and made Aborigines simply the "receivers of consultation" (103).

    There has obviously been some improvement since then in operations, if not principles of management. One major development was the listing of Kakadu Stage One as a World Heritage site in 1980; Kakadu Stage Two would be listed seven years later. Then the World Heritage Commission praised the Australian authorities for its management of the Park and said it would consider also listing Stage Three (246). Such listing of National Park land is bound to strengthen conservation interests - although listing of Aboriginal land outside the Park may be calculated to diminish Aboriginal control (247).

    Environmental Disasters

    The Fox Commission made it clear that the Ranger partners' pre-1976 plans did not meet their criteria for environmental protection in several respects. The lease was too close to sacred Mount Brockman and the boundary would have to be moved, thus excluding the No. 2 deposit (248). The Commission also insisted that tailings should be returned to the mine-pits, and that strenuous measures should be taken to limit the spread of contaminated water: alternatives to their proposals should only be accepted if they reached the same ends (112).

    Ranger Mines Uranium Pty Ltd drew up its initial Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in February 1974. The EIS acknowledged problems from radiated water seepage, but maintained these would be no greater under mining than they already were in nature, producing "... radium levels in billabongs which are above levels set by the World Health Organisation for potable water". The EIS also agreed that, in the dry season, such levels sometimes exceed "the toxic limit at which 50% of fish die" (249). To limit the increased dangers of this "natural" phenomenon, the mine would have a series of "bunds" (retention walls) and retention ponds. The Australian Mining Industry Council (AMIC), in a broadside against the land rights movement, delivered in Canberra in February 1978, attacked the standing of the NLC - especially in relation to share of royalties and compensation (251). One month later, AMIC firmed up its position, claiming that compensation should only be paid to Aborigines on the basis of disturbance to their land (250).

    One particular aspect of the Fox Inquiry's recommendations (305) stuck in the gullet of the miners as represented by the AMIC. This was that "the environment protection provisions should be made legally enforceable, and both the Director and the Northern Land Council given standing to enforce them". AMIC couldn't stomach an Aboriginal body monitoring the activities of whites with picks and shovels, and urged the government to review this recommendation (251).

    In the final event, however, the AMIC was over-ruled, and the NLC is represented on the Co-ordinating Committee which meets monthly to review operations of the mine (252).

    ERA set up its Environmental Division one year before production began, to monitor water quality and flows, air quality, dust concentrations, as well as radioactive atmospheric emissions, and other phenomena: the division is also responsible for rehabilitation of the Project Area, and its monitoring of radiation is supposedly carried on well beyond the mine site itself. ERA was required to operate the ALARA principle (keeping radiation exposure "as low as reasonably achievable", taking into account "social and economic" (sic) factors), and operate its environmental programme according to BPT (best practicable technology) (253).

    But "BPT" is a catch-all phrase which can mean many things to many people (254). The Fox Commission made it clear that BPT was not simply to be an adaptation of existing practices in other uranium mines, or in other kinds of mining projects in Australia (129), but to be exactly what it implied: the best available from anywhere, to meet the needs.

    Within a short period, the Ranger partners had diluted BPT to become "the most economical technology" (255) - confirmed by project manager Alan McIntosh as late as 1979, when he declared that "uranium mining should be treated just like any other mining operation" (256).

    Whether or not, as the company grandiosely claimed, "never before in the history of Australian mining had environmental considerations played such an important role" (257), in theory unusual and (for Australia) unprecedented measures were taken to limit radiation exposure on site - including the provision of thermoluminescent dosimeters and the regular hosing-down of all vehicles (253).

    Ranger is located in the Alligator Rivers region of the Northern Territory, a hot "wet-dry" area, with monsoonal climate, and highly variable water flows (258). Both the Ranger and Pancontinental deposits are located in the catchment of the Magela Creek system, an area teeming with wild life, on land and in water, and which includes the Arnhemland escarpment, as well as lowlands, flood-plains and tidal flats. During the dry season, the system evaporates, to a series of disconnected swamps and billabongs (258).

    On the announcement that Ranger could proceed, the federal government appointed a Supervising Scientist to supervise virtually all aspects of the mining with new legislative powers. This scientist would head a new Research Institute with experts to advise him. In addition, he would call on a Co-ordinating Committee, compromising the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, the mining companies, and the Northern Land Council (259). There was also to be a Research Institute. Initially these three bodies were entirely under the federal government - the Ranger Commissioners having strongly condemned the environmental protection record of the Northern Territory administration (citing the pollution at Gove in particular - see Aluusuisse) (260) But after the NT gained self-governing status in 1978, it us brought increasingly into the picture, particularly in environmental monitoring (261).

    From the start, the Supervising Scientist - under the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, passed in June that year - could only pronounce on uranium mining as such; exploration, the social impact of miners and tourists, the effects of the new township of Jabiru, were not included in his or her brief (252).

    The Supervising Scientist has to carry out his duties amid a complex web of legislation, ranging from the Atomic Energy Act of 1953 (under which Ranger was officially given permission to proceed), to the Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Act of 1978. The major instrument, however, was the Uranium Mining Environment Control Act of 1979. In addition, the Environmental Requirements for Ranger, based to a large extent on chapters 5 and 6 of the Second Ranger Report, laid down the environmental conditions under which Ranger itself could operate (252). Among the 45 Requirements (262), were those ordering the mining partners to submit their tailings dam and water retention plans to the Supervising Scientist for approval, and a demand that tailings should be replaced in the pit "as soon as practicable" (252).

    The latter provision was one which was lengthily debated between the NLC and the federal government, before Aboriginal consent was obtained for Ranger.

    While the Supervising Scientist has few powers of enforcement (these are delegated to the Coordinating Committee) his or her powers of regulation, under the "Environmental Requirements" are clearly considerable.

    A 1977 study by the Department of the Northern Territory and the AMIC pointed out that the groundwater in the region already emerged through at leat one bore (at Oenpelli itself) with radioactivity above the recommended level set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), while "wastes entering the [South Alligator] River might reach [other] aquifers" (263, 264).

    A list prepared by the two authorities, of potential wastes which might affect the high water-table, included: suspended solids entering the creek system from the top soil dumps; dissolved radium, uranium, zinc, lead, copper and other heavy metals leached from the overburden, ore dump, and pit water; and radium, uranium, heavy metals, amines, acidity and soluble sulphates deriving from neutralised raffinate and the tailings dam. The report demanded a high standard of design of the tailings dump, careful siting relative to surroundings, and collection and pumping back of any seepage (263).

    This report - and others - confirmed that Ranger's aquatic environment was the region most likely to be affected by uranium mining (266). The most dangerous single factor was the release of contaminated water from retention ponds, or seeping from the tailings dam, which "may potentially affect a large area of the downstream Magela Creek catchment" (266). Inevitably (but reprehensibly) the actual effect of the release of heavy metals from the mine-site (estimated by Barry Hart to be 25% of the natural loads of copper, lead, zinc and uranium per year, notwithstanding a "no release" strategy from the second retention pond) could not be calculated in advance. However, by the end of 1979 one team of researchers was suggesting that levels of copper as low as 10 micrograms per litre could rapidly kill the algae (267).

    Other preliminary surveys raised considerable doubt about the ability of the Creek system to handle a huge excess of suspended solids; a lot in the future would depend on successful revegetation of disturbed areas, and "whether the tailings are replaced in the mine pits or left in the tailings dam" (266). Then there were the contaminants from the town of Jabiru - particularly phosphorus and nitrogen im domestic sewage (259), and pesticides used at the Mudginberri pastoral lease, which "may already have cause malformation in certain frog species" (266).

    The tailings dam - the biggest earth wall dam in Australia (248) and the major storage site for solids and radioactive wastes which could seep into the river and creek systems - was the subject of considerable appraisal by the Ranger Commissioners who, several times during the Inquiry, asked the company to re-submit its plans with more details (268). The dam was projected to cover an area of about 125 hectares, and to be 4 kilometres in length and up to 30 metres above ground level. Built of earth and rock on the outside, it would be lined with a "relatively impervious clayey material" (258) and an exterior trench of the same material "grouted" to a depth of 40 metres underground. Importantly, the Commissioners also insisted that a blanket of water should cover the tailings dam, even in the driest of weathers (258). This was primarily to reduce radioactive emissions from the tails: such a cover, the Ranger partners estimated, would reduce radioactivity from 3.9 curies/day to below 0.4 curies/day (269). The Commissioners estimated that, when full, the dam had the potential of releasing no less that 30,000 curies each of radium 226 and thorium 230 (a figure based on original estimates of the deposit reserves) (269).

    The height of the dam was to be raised "progressively" in six stages over 20 years, providing for eventual containment of some 27 million cubic metres of "settled tails" from orebody No. 1. Provisions would have to be made separately for the estimated 18 million cubic metres of tailings produced from Orebody No. 3 (269).

    From the start, the Ranger partners were quite clear that, although three methods of constructing a supposedly "impervious" blanket to the dam had been under scrutiny (one using clayey material, a second using a mixture of clay and bentonite, and a third using butyl rubber membrane) none of these "is expected to achieve any appreciable reduction in the contamination of deep aquifers, and the overall reduction in seepage would be negligible" (269). As the butyl solution was both the most expensive and the least tried of the three alternatives, it was naturally given the shortest shrift.

    It was claimed that all run-off would be retained at the start of the wet season (November-December), and any deliberate release would be made then (269). As we shall see, this rule-of-the-thumb was broken on several occasions over the next decade.

    Although the Ranger Commissioners did not believe that seepage from Ranger would be as disastrous as that from Rum Jungle (see CRA) (270), they conceded that the extent of damage by acidity, heavy metals, and toxicity along the Finniss River from the Rum Jungle mine was not known. Similarly, "the rate at which radon would escape from the [Ranger] tailings dam is even more uncertain than the rate of radon release from the pit" (271). In addition to uranium and radium behind the dam, there would also be high levels of magnesium, calcium, manganese, arsenic and mercury (268). In a twenty-year period, seepage directly into Gulungul Creek from the dam could reach nearly 300 cubic metres a day.

    The Commissioners were especially worried at the tendency of fauna and flora in the region to take up excessive doses of radioactive materials (272). A report by the NT Medical Service, four years previously, identified several factors particularly affecting the health of Oenpelli Aboriginal people: tuberculosis, typhoid, leprosy, parasitical- and vector-borne disease (malaria, encephalitis, schistomiasis), social and environmental disease - and radiation-induced diseases (273). The Alligator Rivers Study (mentioned above) reproduced almost all the findings of the NT Medical Service, with the exception of a notable passage relating to radiation-induced disease. This passage reported a higher-than-average incidence of carcinoma of the lung and leukaemia among the Oenpelli people - which it said might be attributable to natural radiation and "may tend to increase [with the] disturbance of the uranium deposits ..." (273).

    The Ranger Commissioners confirmed this worry, stating that "local Aborigines not associated with the mining activities are much more likely to be exposed to high levels of ingested radium" (274). In addition, the Commissioners found evidence that, during release periods from the tailings dam, "the concentration of some metal contaminants in the creek would rise to levels some five to ten times above the calculated safety levels" (275).

    Equally important was the likely situation after mining, when the tailings dumps were abandoned, plugged with rock and revegetated. The Ranger Commission foresaw enormous consequences from such dams, however well-contained, sticking up above the level of the countryside, with erosion and seepage which could affect the local people and environment "... for thousands of years" (276). In the event, the companies did agree to return tailings to the mine-pits, but could not guarantee that they would be filled-in level to the ground (129).

    Even before the dam was fully constructed, and the mine operational, problems were being reported. In early 1980, Ranger engineers had to breach the partly-built dam, after heavy rain threatened the entire edifice. The Northern Territory Anti-Uranium Group called for an inquiry (which the NT Minister of Mines and Energy, Mr Tuxworth, refused), citing the fact that the dam builders were none other than Mineco, a subsidiary of CRA - the very company responsible for the disastrous pollution of Rum Jungle (204).

    Between 1979 and 1981, the Ranger site was subjected to hundreds of major "blastings", each measuring around 4.2 on the Richter scale (277). These certainly did not contribute to the stability of the tailings dam! Little wonder that micro-cracks began to appear, extending for long distances, and water began to seep out from under the pile - a prospect warned against in the Ranger Report. Although the company kept six pumps busy, trying to push water back into the dam to cover the tailings, seepage was so extensive that an island appeared in the middle of the dam, and the mine itself was closed for four days (277).

    The Shadow Minister for Environment and Conservation, Stewart West, pointed out that as the dam had not been built down to bedrock, such radioactive seepage was bound to occur (278). The Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment, Mr McVeigh, counter-claimed that no contamination had been discovered, and the environment was quite safe. The buck was passed from Ministry to Supervising Scientist, and back again (279). But instead of changing practices, the authorities decided to change the rules. Henceforth, it would only be necessary to keep the tailings damp (280). (In any case, as the Financial Review pointed out at that time, the Codes of Practice under which the mine operates only had to be observed voluntarily by the authorities) (281). In mid-1982, a prestigious government body, the Australian Science and Technology Council, in a report to Prime Minister Fraser, declared that research necessary to set safety standards and environmental protection in the Alligator Rivers region was proceeding "far too slowly" - a permanent field laboratory had still to be built, and the staff of the Supervising Scientist comprised a "barely visible research team" (282).

    However, little more was heard of the seepage problem until 1985, when, by the middle of the dry season, the dam was brimful with water and the company's "juggling tricks" (283) - pumping from the pit to the dam and (presumably) back again - had failed to contain the crisis. By then ERA was claiming that periodic release of excess water was part of its "best practicable technology", while conservationists and the Northern Land Council were adamantly opposed to the release of any water that was not of potable quality (283). Keith Taylor of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) argued that the company had deliberately restricted its options (building another storage dam, land irrigation, enhanced evaporation) to keep costs down (283). Such a release, said Keith Taylor, would mean "8,000 years of pollution due to radioactivity" (284). The Supervising Scientist's office apparently advocated a one-off discharge (283), although it admitted that the effects of heavy metal contamination on the environment would be "indeterminate" (283).

    In the event, the NT Minister for Mines and Energy refused the company's request (283). However, disorder in tailings management was meanwhile giving rise to a series of "accidents" involving spillages, leaks and failures in the tailings line (285, 286). "The whole thing is now leaking like a sieve" commented mining engineer Willy Wabeke (287).

    In September 1985, up to 150 cubic metes of contaminated, radioactive water was sprayed under pressure over a 2000 square metre area outside the Restricted Release Zone (286). Only a few days later, it was discovered that tailings water had been pumped for ten days through a trial irrigation spray system, intending to evaporate excess water (286), and used to water a lawn (226)!

    In an interim report to the federal government, the Supervising Scientist, Bob Fry, commented that this incident "confirms my view that Ranger should lift its game in relation to what might be described as basic housekeeping practice" (288). (Game? Housekeeping? Where did this man Fry do his training? On a croquet lawn?)

    By November, ERA itself was admitting to something of a crisis. In a report submitted to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Environment, called "Application of the Best Practicable Technology to the Water Management System", the company outlined several options besides release into the creek. These included spraying the water onto land near the mine, constructing more evaporation ponds, and treating contaminated water before spraying (289).

    In response, the Minister, Mr Cohen, refused to allow release of water into Magela Creek, declaring that ERA had made "a series of blunders" which included over-estimating the rate of evaporation, under-estimating precipitation, and miscalculating the density of tailings suspended in water (289).

    The following year, the chair of the House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation was suggesting that the company would have to construct another retention pond, as well as carry out local irrigation (290).

    By then, however, the company had been allowed to release 160,000 cubic meters of water from the waste rock dumps adjacent to the Magella Creek; otherwise, it insisted, it might have to close in two years (291). This experimental release succeeded in aborting huge numbers of mussels (292). ERA got further permission in February 1986 to release another two million cubic metres of water from a retention pond (292) - a measure, one journalist stated, which would make the decade's "earlier ecological bunfights pale into insignificance as the traditional landowners at Kakadu, the Gagadju, join with outraged conservationists to mount a concerted campaign to protect the area in which they still live, hunt and fish" (291).

    A serious leak of sulphuric acid affected 60 workers in March 1986. It was met with a walkout by workers from the MWU and Australian Society of Engineers (ASE), and a shipment of 27 containers was held up (293, 294).

    Scab labour failed to prevent a fire breaking out in the crushing plant (295), and these incidents led to an "indefinite strike" as the unions called for safety reviews by independent consultants; again, there was no response from ERA (295). Instead, the company alleged "induced breach of contract" and sought damages of A$3.17 million due to delays over shipment. Various right-wing Australian newspapers joined the inevitable "union bashing" (293, 297).

    In 1987 and 1988 there was a distinct impression of deja vu, as the grim pantomine continued to unfold; the company seeking permission to release contaminated water, the government prevaricating or refusing, and the dam "spilling" anyway. March 1987 saw two federal ministers fencing over the issue; the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Evans, in favour of allowing the company to release more water; the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Clyde Holding, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Environment, opposed (298).

    In early 1988, the Northern Territory Environment Centre insisted that the NT government should prove its claim that there was no damage to the environment (306). This followed yet another spill, when up to 100 cubic metres of contaminated water, containing uranium and calcium carbonates, overflowed into the restricted zone - and only hours before a Senate safety team called at the site (299).

    Both the Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Environment, John Black, and the NLC, protested: the NLC in a forceful letter, stating that it was "absurd" for Aboriginal people "to expose their society to this political risk". It pointed out that, among northern mining companies, Ranger alone had failed to answer Aboriginal concerns "through appropriate designs and contractual commitment to zero release management of contaminated water" (300).

    Only half-a-year later, however, the tailings site was once again endangering not only Aboriginal people, but also the 1200 residents of Jabiru township, the 100,000 annual tourists to the Kakadu National Park, and even drivers using the Arnhem Highway, as an abnormally dry wet season exposed no less than a third of the tailings in the dam to the air (301). Said FoE representative, Pat Jessen, "[The authorities] have shown a blatant disregard for public health at the mine and in the surrounding area". FoE called for the mine to be shut down until the exposed tailings could be adequately covered (301).

    Soon afterwards, the Office of the Supervising Scientist reported a fault in the radiation monitoring equipment at the mine, which had apparently permitted a "quantity" of uranium to find its way into the tailings dump (302).

    In early 1989, Ranger released contaminated water from its retention pond no.4 (RP4) - the collection point for runoff from the waste rock dump at the mine (307) - provoking tremendous anger among the traditional owners and a demand for an inquiry from the Northern Land Council (308). It appeared from contemporary reports that the contamination originated among nearly half a million tonnes of waste material "accidentally" dumped in 1988 (309). Dr Vince Brown, deputy director of the Office of the Supervising Scientist, declared the release "out of control": "We will never know what dilution the water will get," he announced referring to the dispersal of radioactivity in the Magela creek system - "Safe disposal of water demands control and we've lost control" (310). Although the release on this occasion was stopped after around 10,000 cubic metres had been siphoned over a spillway to the Djalkmara billabong (which exits into the Magela system), another two releases followed soon afterwards (307).

    At the 48th annual meeting of the Northern Land Council, the members expressed outrage at the events. Said Yunupingu: "The traditional owners have always said they didn't like the mine, but they accepted it because the environmental controls over it were supposed to be really tough ... They thought their country was going to be protected and now many have stopped hunting near the Magela Creek system because they don't know whether there could be any damage. Ranger is treating our people as if they are invisible and their real worries of no consequence. The Federal and State Governments are playing politics, while they argue about who knows best and what scientific methods should be used. Aboriginal people don't care about these games; but we do care about our right to have a say over what happens in our own country."

    Confirming the strong feelings of the Aboriginal people at Kakadu, the Supervising Scientist, Bob Fry, in his 1988/89 annual report, said that the willingness of Ranger to cooperate with his office had "diminished" (307): "By increasingly ignoring OSS advice on environmental issues [Ranger] appeared to wish to establish that the OSS performs no useful function ... It has attempted to impugn the scientific credibility of the Office and has lobbied for its disbandment."

    Conceding that the changes in water quality criteria around the mine were "not large compared with conventional water quality criteria for the protection of aquatic biota" Mr Fry nonetheless said that "their actual effect on the ecosystem is not known" (307).

    Ironically, in 1991, Ranger received a four-star safety rating, placing it among the safest industrial sites in Australia (311). A few months later, ERA bought up the Jabiluka uranium deposit of Pancontinental (312), thus opening the way for a merger between the two operations and a large scale expansion of Ranger (313).

    Further Reading:

    There is a huge reading list of critical material on Ranger - probably more than for any other project in the history of uranium mining, including Rossing. The following list inevitably includes publications now out of print: further information can be obtained from FoE Melbourne, or MAUM Sydney, at the addresses below.

    In 1977/78, the Australian MAUM (Movement Against Uranium Mining) produced an excellent study pack entitled ENERGY and U, including essays on all aspects of uranium mining, Ranger particularly. Several papers addressed the (false) economics of nuclear power.

    Unfortunately, there is no exact date or publisher included on the pack. Readers interested can contact: Minewatch, 218 Liverpool Rd, London N1 1LE, for further details and off-prints of specific articles.

    The First Report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, 1976, (Australian Government Publishing Service/AGPS), Canberra, 1976.

    The Second Report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, 1977, (AGPS) Canberra, 1977.

    Australian Union of Students, The Case against Mining and Export of Australia's Uranium, 1975.

    Australian Council of Churches, Uranium and a Nuclear Society, (ACC) 1977.

    Denis Hayes, Jim Falk, Neil Barrett, Red Light for Yellowcake, the Case Against Uranium Mining, (FoE Australia) 1977.

    Uranium Mining in the Northern Territory, (Christian Action Group, Galiwin 'ku Parish, Uniting Church of Australia) 1978. (This is a sketchbook: simplistic, but effective.)

    Uranium Mining: Impact on the Australian Economy (MAUM) Victoria, undated. (A well-thought-out, if brief, analysis on the one major aspect of the Ranger project not covered in this essay of the Fik).

    Land Rights and Uranium: Uranium Mining as it affects Aborigines in the Northern Territory, (FoE & MAUM) Sydney, 1978.

    What do Aborigines say about Uranium? (Black Defence Group).

    Reaction to Fox Report, (Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders/FCAATSI) 1977.

    Uranium: Citizens' Response, (FoE) Victoria, Melbourne, 1977.

    People's Guide to the Ranger Inquiry Second Report, (FoE Darwin, and NT Trades and Labour Council), Darwin, 1977.

    The New Uranium Legislation, (MAUM) Melbourne,1978.

    Uranium miners get off our land! compiled by Bill Day from "Bunji" (FoE and MAUM) Sydney, 1978.

    The Second Ranger Report: Implications for the Aboriginal People, (Aboriginal Land Rights Support Committee).

    Speech by Bill Hayden MP, Uranium Rally, Sydney, Dec 3rd 1979 (cyclostyled).

    C Kerr, The Components of the Uranium Package: The Fox Inquiry and its Recommendations paper for SIUM Project Workshop, AIAS, Canberra, 8l78.

    (Ed) Stuart Harris, Social and Environmental Choice, the impact of uranium mining in the Northern Territory (CRES /Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University) Canberra, 1980. (Contains important essays by R M Fry on environmental protection and uranium mining; by Charles Kerr on work hazards; by H C Coombs on the social impact on Aboriginal people.)

    (Ed) R M Berndt, Aboriginal Sites, Rights and Resource Development (Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, University of Western Australia Press) Perth, 1982. (Contains article by J R Von Sturmer, Project Director of the Social Impact project referred to in the last two titles, raising essential questions about Aboriginal self-management, without providing any answers - except the quixotic comment that without the Ranger and Nabarlek mines, there would not be the money to enable Aboriginal communities to manage themselves in the face of the pressures they have newly been put under!)

    (Eds) Nicholas Peterson and Marcia Langton, Aborigines, Land and Land Rights, (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies) Canberra, 1983. (An excellent book all round, with the most pertinent contributions - to the uranium issue - being by Daniel Vachon and Phillip Toyne, Peter Carroll, Sue Kesteven, and Marcia Langton.)

    "Northern Territory", Ross Howie, in (ed) Nicholas Peterson, Aboriginal Land Rights, a Handbook, (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies) Canberra, 1981. (Succinct summary of Land Rights legislation and legislative background to Ranger agreement.)

    (Ed) Mary Elliott, Ground for Concern, Australia's Uranium and Human Survival, foreword by Paul Ehrlich, (Friends of the Earth/Penguin Books) 1977.

    Paul Kelly, The Hawke Ascendancy, A Definitive Account of its Origins and Climax, 1975-1983 (Angus and Robertson) London, Sydney, and Melbourne, 1984. (Stimulating blow-by-blow account inter alia of how an anti-uranium party became a pro-uranium one. See especially pages 193-198, 220-210.)

    SOURCE: "The Gulliver File - Mines, people and land: a global battleground" by Roger Moody.

    Published in 1992 by Minewatch, 218 Liverpool Road, London Nl ILE, UK, and WISE-Glen Aplin, Po Box 87, Glen Aplin Q 4381, Australia.

    Distribution: Sales to bookshops: Pluto Press, 345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA, UK. Sales to the mining industry and libraries: Uitgeverij Jan van Arkel, A. Numankade 17, 357t KP Utrecht, the Netherlands.

    ***Note to electronic texts: selections from Minewatch are available to researchers on corporate and mining affairs. However, the detailed REFERENCES and CHARTS in the print version are not available in electronic form. You are encouraged to order the complete book from the sources above.***

    All rights reserved. � Minewatch, 1992.

    Page last updated December 6, 1997.
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