Two native title cases victorious
There was an air of jubilation in Roebourne last week after a longrunning legal dispute that had divided family, friends and the town finally had its day in court.
Justice Steven Rares’ judgment last week gave the Yindjibarndi people exclusive native title rights over a 2700sqkm tract of land in the Pilbara, on which Fortescue Metals Group’s 70mtpa Solomon Hub operations sit.
Yindjibarndi elder Tootsie Daniel could barely hold back the tears as she described her joy in the decision.
“This is a time to celebrate and remember my dear old people,” she said.
“It is a happy time and moment for all Yindjibarndi people. “This means a great deal to me.” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the Yindjibarndi people had won in the face of significant obstacles.
“Like many other litigated areas of native title, this has been a difficult and drawn-out process for the Yindjibarndi people, and has caused fractures within their community,” he said.
“However, today’s result is a tremendous victory for the Yindjibarndi people and I hope they are able to unite and work together to ensure they are able to utilise their now recognised native title rights to benefit all members of the Yindjibarndi community.”
Fortescue began negotiating a deal with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation for Solomon Hub, which includes the Firetail and Kings Valley mines, in 2006 when the miner launched a feasibility study into the expansion project.
But negotiations stalled in 2008 after the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation rejected the company’s offer of $4 million a year and $6 million in housing, training and employment opportunities.
YAC wanted Fortescue to pay a 0.5 per cent royalty on the ore it took and sold, similar to agreements with rival miner Rio Tinto.
A splinter group emerged in 2010 with the aim of accepting the company’s offer and an acrimonious split among the Yindjibarndi people ensued.
Fortescue was accused at the time of bankrolling the breakaway group and trying to mislead members of the Yindjibarndi to vote against their own interests so it could secure permanent access to Solomon.
Fortescue chief executive Neville Power said the company was likely to lodge an appeal.
“It’s a very unusual decision in that the judge found exclusive native title possession on this land, which we think is unlikely . . . so we will be looking at it,” he said.
Senior Yindjibarndi lawman Michael Woodley has vowed to launch a compensation claim against Fortescue.
But Mr Power said that writing a cheque to ease the company’s conscience would only add to the Yindjibarndi’s despair.
He noted that Fortescue had employed 13,000 indigenous people, including Yindjibarndi.
Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Michael Woodley, second left, with Charlie Cheedy, Barry Pat, Angus Mack, Terrance Warrie and Curtis Lockyer.