Kimberley Heritage


Protecting the Mitchell Plateau

For the last 54 years The Mitchell Plateau has been earmarked as part of a large bauxite development (bauxite is used to create aluminium) in the North Kimberley, which has created great concern amongst the Traditional Owners, and many locals who have formed a group called "The Mitchell Plateau Association” aimed at saving the Mitchell Plateau.

But unfortunately their voices are struggling to be heard amongst the mining, state government and national interests in this debate. Wider public support is needed if this iconic place is to be protected.

The ‘bauxite’ plateau is the “Giant Sponge” – the primary water storage that allows the palm forests, the surrounding rain forests, the wetland areas and the waterfalls and creeks further afield (such as Mitchell Falls) to exist beyond the wet season.

To mine the bauxite means the end of this water storage and the end of this totally one-off tropical ecosystem. The region would definitely become a “desert”, rehabilitation is completely impossible; bauxite mining is “strip mining” and there is no technology known to be able to recreate or replace the bauxite “Giant Sponge” or the palm forests.

Throughout the Mitchell Plateau the bauxite deposit is only 3 to 5 metres deep in the ground, which means they would have to do strip mining, or clear/scrape the ground (including the rare palm rainforest ecosystems), and then push up large areas of land using bulldozers to extract enough bauxite to be profitable.

Test areas around areas such as Kandiwal Aboriginal community show how the mining company has replaced the palm tree rainforests with introduced species - African Mahoganies’ and pine trees. These of course have all been planted in dead straight rows. There are also large man made mounds where the ground has been pushed up everywhere from bulldozers.

The local aboriginals believe that living in the bauxite deposits are the “Wungurr” – the great creative ‘Rainbow Serpents’, that dominate the mythologies of the Wunambal people, and ensure the rejuvenation of the country and the people.

The imminent destruction of the plateau capping (bauxite) where these serpents live, would irretrievably destroy a basic and overriding religious belief of the Wunambal Traditional Owners, and cause great cultural destruction. The “Living Waters” of Ngauwudu (the plateau bauxite deposits), are the manifestation and home of these creative serpents. The argument that mining royalties would benefit Aboriginal people and communities is dangerously flawed. You can see this in the Pilbara region, through the devastation that has occurred there. As well as the areas around Weipa, Nhulunbuy, Jabiru through the impacts that development has had on Aboriginal communities. Mining royalties should not be seen as a replacement for governmental mismanagement!

Kandiwal communityThe slow and steady building of cultural tourism ventures, and land management employment, represents a far better future for our children, and their children. We need to look fifty or one hundred years ahead for the future of the people, their culture, the country, the environment and the nation.

The Mitchell Plateau region is of worldwide significance, and desperately needs to be protected and managed properly in a sustainable manner. The Traditional Owners have proposed a joint management arrangement with the State Government, through the Dept. of Environment & Conservation, of the Ngauwudu region as a National Heritage Listed National Park. The application has been lodged with the Federal Environment Department. This is believed to be the best long-term outcome for Ngauwudu, and its highly important values.In years to come the tourist attraction value, (in economic terms) of a place like Ngauwudu, would far outweigh the bauxite in the ground, if a long-term view is taken.

Bauxite is the 2nd most common mineral on the planet - to desecrate this totally one-off, unique ecosystem and culture in the pursuit of short-term gain would be a sacrilege.

Wandjina creative spiritsThe future of worldwide tourism, coming to a unique area such as Ngauwudu, will in the longer term, more than compensate for declining to devastate the Ngauwudu region.

Have no doubt; mining would not only destroy the future of tourism to Ngauwudu but major cultural heritage sites and the most unique biological environment in the Kimberley....

Goonack once said ... " You can't sell this land ... it's got no price. You cant find a price for this country ... because that would make it worth nothing. When you share this country then it is worth more ... when you walk in it ... live in it ... then you can't sell it ... no-one got enough money to buy it. "

Information and Kandiwal Community photo generously supplied by Chris Brown (Browney). Copyright Chris Brown and Kandiwal Community 2009