“It's my country and I'm going win.” The mass movement that stopped the Jabiluka
The Mirarr Traditional Owners led an extraordinary mass movement to stop the Jabiluka uranium mine − and won! Hundreds of thousands of Australians participated in protest marches. Around 5,000 people travelled to protest at the mine site. Dozens of Jabiluka Action Groups sprung up around the country.
In the late 1970s, mining companies developed the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, NT, despite the opposition of Mirarr Traditional Owners. The mine operated from 1980 until January 2021 and rehabilitation work is underway.
Mining companies also wanted to develop the nearby Jabiluka deposit. The Mirarr maintain they were tricked, cajoled and pressured into a 1982 Jabiluka 'agreement'. But the mine remained undeveloped from 1983−96 because of the federal Labor government's no-new-uranium-mines policy.
Under the Howard Coalition government, elected in 1996, mining company ERA tried once again to develop Jabiluka. The government approved the mining proposal and work began.
However, the Mirarr led an extraordinary mass movement to stop the mine − and won! Hundreds of thousands of Australians participated in protest marches. Around 5,000 people travelled to protest at the mine site. Over 500 people ‒ including Yvonne Margarula, Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirarr Clan ‒ were arrested during protests at the mine site. Dozens of Jabiluka Action Groups sprung up around the country. A Newspoll found that two-thirds of Australians opposed the Jabiluka mine.
In 2003, rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mine site was complete, including re-burial of over 50,000 tonnes of unprocessed uranium ore. In subsequent years, an agreement was signed by ERA and Mirarr Traditional Owners giving Traditional Owners a right of veto over any future development of the site.
Yvonne Margarula said in an October 2003 statement:
"In 1997 I said “it's my country and I'm going win”. I don't think I was wrong. Tonight I'd like to thank all you people in the Australian community and from overseas who helped the Mirarr to stop the Jabiluka mine. It was very important to Aboriginal people and to Balanda that we put up a fight and speak for country. The mining company will soon be finished putting all the rock they took from Djabulukgu back down where it belongs and I hope to sign an agreement soon which will give us Mirarr the right to stop more mining. Again, thank you for your great support through all the tough times."
Friends of the Earth were proud to have worked hard to support Mirarr Traditional Owners and to help build the mass movement against the mine.
Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation
The history of duress and the Jabiluka Project, 1999 report
Australian Conservation Foundation
Senate References and Legislation Committee, October 2003, "Regulating the Ranger, Jabiluka, Beverly and Honeymoon uranium mines"
Friends of the Earth https://nuclear.foe.org.au/uranium/ and https://nuclear.foe.org.au/racism/
Dirt Cheap 30 years on: the story of uranium mining in Kakadu
2010 Message from Yvonne Margarula
Jacqui Katona and Yvonne Margarula: 1999 Goldman Prize winners
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