The future of Gove Peninsula – Bauxite mining has kept Gove alive for decades

By Tony Ryan

The Land Rights Act (1976) was designed for “the doing of simple justice to a people who have been deprived of their land without their consent and without compensation” (Woodward 1974:2).

Before the future of Gove, Northern Territory, can be decided, we need to know who owns the land on which it stands. Their co-operation is required. If this is bypassed, it will be only a matter of time before costly litigation and legal embargoes undermine enterprises.

Seven clans had their land alienated and only two received significant compensation.

One clan has dominated mining royalties based on manifestly false criteria.

Gove Peninsula, NT

The legal intent of the Land Rights Act is clearly focused on the extent and quality of alienation suffered by Yolngu (Aborigines), not to whatever purpose the alienated land was put by the developers after the act of legal, social, and economic alienation.

Gumatj Corporation basically took over the land, and royalties, by dishonestly exploiting concepts under European Law that did not apply to the Gove situation. Essentially, the Gumatj Corporation argument was that compensation and royalties applied only to people whose land was to be mined. This was not the intent of the Act, as stipulated by Woodward, or as manifested in the Act.

In point of fact, the Gove Operation demanded much more land than was actually excavated for Bauxite. These demands included:

School zones, housing suburbs, the commercial village centre; recreation zones, Arnhem Road zone, highways, the Airport, recreational use of beaches (Wirrwawuy, Woody Inlet, Buffalo Creek), the wharf, the processing plant, the ship-mooring site, the barge landing, the sewerage treatment plant, and the industrial village.

Although not geographical, also alienated were: water pollution zones, social impact, and fishing zones (which are endemically competitive, resulting in a dramatic reduction of local catch). Wallaby (Weti) populations also plummeted, further reducing protein intake.

Clearly, there were direct impacts on at least eight clans: Gumatj, Rirritjingu, Waramirri, Galpu, Dadiwuy, Golumala, Lamamirr, and Djambarrpuyngu. There were also indirect impacts on Burrawanga Gumatj, and Wangurri.

That adds up to ten clans suffering alienation in various ways, all of these significant in impact, yet the bulk of compensation went to Gumatj Corporation members because the Chairman of the NLC was also Gumatj, which was a blatant conflict of interest. The Chairman also had access to anthropologists and lawyers, who many Territorians believe bent the rules to suit the powerful.

In an absolute travesty of land rights, Wangurri language group was inveigled to sell their land to Gumatj for a cattle station, Galatia. This a direct impact of overweening Gumatj power.

In a second generation of land-grab, only two clans have realistic access to this process of conversion of Aboriginal lands to a commercial free-for-all, which in fact is a carve-up by what is known in the local vernacular as the Nhulunbuy Mafia, in collaboration with the media, mining, and US military.

We are faced with three propositions:

The current proposed carve-up, which is orchestrated by the ALP, NT Government, Northern Land Council (NLC). Develop East Arnhem Land (DEAL), and Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA) which is believed to be a front for the Pentagon/Raytheon/LockheedMartin/ ADF alliance.

Fund the Yolngu Nations Assembly (YNA) to launch a Yolngu Peak Legal Conference, which would enable a democratic and accurate mapping of actual Aboriginal land on the Gove Peninsula, followed by an all-parties appraisal of all factors to be taken into account, as perceived by all residents, resulting in a macro-community decision on the future of Gove, regulated by consensus protocols. In other words, the normal application of Democracy which, surely, is a reasonable ask. This is also pursuant to the intent of the Land Rights Act. Optionally, we can also work with Gove businesses to cost leases with commercial profitability and reasonable security of tenure, advise Yolngu of viable returns, and negotiate conditions that are equitable.

Or the last-ditch desperation alternative (3) A legal challenge to the entire process, commencing with the presentation of the findings of Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Harry Talbot Gibbs, as defined by a future High Court. Concomitantly, a challenge to the Lawfulness of the Land Rights Act (NT 1976) as this pertains to the Gove mining acquisition, in the wake of the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975.

The only reason these challenges integral to (3) have not hitherto been mounted is that no parties wanted to see their comfortable sinecures terminated in the wake of dissolution. This was, indeed, the observation of Chief Justice Gibbs. Today, no such security exists, and we, the citizens of the Gove Peninsular have nothing to lose. Page 2/