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Rio Tinto / BHP's iron mining destroys sacred Aboriginal sites, Western Australia

To make way for iron mining Rio Tinto destroys Juukan George, of significance to aboriginal people. BHP follows suit. Protests against such barbarity make companies apologize (too late) and reconsider decisions.


The Pilbara is a large and thinly populated region in the north of Western Australia. It is known for its Aboriginal Banjima people; its ancient landscapes; the red earth; and its vast mineral deposits, in particular iron ore [1]. Exactly here the mining giant BHP Billiton wants to expand its South Flank iron ore mining project [2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Rio Tinto / BHP's iron mining destroys sacred Aboriginal sites, Western Australia
State or province:Western Australia
Location of conflict:Pilbara
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Specific commodities:Iron ore
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In June 2018 BHP made a final investment decision on the $4.5 billion South Flank Project, which created 2,500 construction jobs and 600 ongoing operational roles. However, historical Banjima Aboriginal sites, culture and identity are at stake.

Level of Investment for the conflictive project4,500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:500-1000 [2]
Start of the conflict:05/2020
Company names or state enterprises:Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from United Kingdom
BHP Billiton (BHP) from United Kingdom
Relevant government actors:The Western Australia government hopes to pass its new Aboriginal cultural heritage bill this year (2020), which will provide for agreements between traditional owners and companies to consider new information and be amended by mutual consent. Hower the WA Government approved BHP Group’s application to disturb 40 culturally significant Aboriginal sites.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Banjima people
- Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation (PKKPAC)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Banjima people. Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people.
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of alternative proposals
Objections to the EIA
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Proposal and development of alternatives:Historical sites significant to Banjima people under consideration. Rio Tinto promised a comprehensive review of heritage processes [5].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Due to both Aboriginal and civil society protests Rio Tinto has apologised for the 46,000-year-old cave destruction but it is unknown whether reparations are being considered. Western Australia’s heritage laws, written in 1972, are under review. BHP was stopped in June 2020 from carrying out similar destruction neaby. Yet the project has not been canceled.
Sources & Materials

[1] Wikipedia: Pilbara, Western Australia
[click to view]

[2] The Guardian 2020: BHP to destroy at least 40 Aboriginal sites, up to 15,000 years old, to expand Pilbara mine
[click to view]

[3] News 2020: BHP halts destruction of 40 sacred Aboriginal sites amid outcry over Rio Tinto blasting of Juukan caves
[click to view]

[4] The Sunday Morning Hearld 2020: BHP halts mine expansion plans after backlash over Aboriginal heritage sites
[click to view]

[5] 2020: Hundreds rally in Perth over Rio Tinto rock blast that destroyed ancient Indigenous site
[click to view]

[6] Reuters: Australian state says BHP can disturb 40 sacred sites in mine expansion
[click to view]

[7] Melanie Burton. MELBOURNE (Reuters). 12 June 2020.
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update15/06/2020
Conflict ID:5096
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