Jabiru native title claim victory for Mirarr traditional owners
Traditional owners in Jabiru, 300 kilometres east of Darwin, are celebrating after their native title rights and interests were successfully recognised under Australian law.
- Native Title application first lodged on behalf of the Mirrar people in 1998
- Determination gives native title parties security to ensure their rights are protected
- As mining interests leave, traditional owners hope to revitalise the struggling town
Generations of Mirarr people have lived traditionally and used the land within the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park for thousands of years.
In 2017, researchers uncovered a wealth of artefacts on Mirarr country which indicated humans reached Australia at least 65,000 years ago — up to 18,000 years earlier than archaeologists previously thought.
Today, a special on-country hearing will be held to present the Mirarr native title holders, led by five senior women, with hard copies of the native title determination over areas of the Jabiru township.
The Mirarr estate extends beyond Jabiru to include areas affected by the Ranger Uranium Mine and the Jabiluka mineral lease.
In 1998, Yvonne Margarula, the daughter of Toby Gangale — one of the most prominent Mirarr people to opposed the mine in the 1970s — filed the application for native title with the Federal Court of Australia on behalf of the Mirarr people under the newly passed act.
The determination is an important next step for the community to have a voice as the Ranger Uranium Mine winds up its operations.
The native title claim covers about 13 square kilometres of the Jabiru township.
A time of transition in Jabiru
Jabiru township was established in 1982 as a hub to service works for the mine, then owned by Pan Continental.
A third of the town’s 1,000 residents are Aboriginal, but the population has been declining as the town prepares for the mine’s closure in 2021.
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation receives and manages royalties from the uranium mine on behalf of the Mirarr.
Some of Kakadu’s traditional owners, the Mirarr people, have unveiled plans for Jabiru’s future. (Supplied: NT Government)
There were plans to bulldoze Jabiru town once the mining lease expires, but the Northern Territory Government and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents Mirarr, have major plans for its transformation into a tourism hub and regional centre to service the Bininj community.
The $446 million plan includes a new international airport, five-star eco-tourism lodge, and better access to Kakadu’s natural attractions, and is hoped to bolster visitation to Kakadu and the Northern Territory.
“We support Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation’s plans for the future of Jabiru and the rehabilitation of the uranium mining areas, ensuring traditional owners have control and an economic stake in the future of their traditional lands,” Northern Land Council CEO Joe Morrison said.
“This determination gives native title parties security to ensure that their rights are protected as the town develops.”
A struggle for recognition
The Ranger Uranium Mine, which has been operating eight kilometres from Jabiru town for the past 38 years, was imposed on the Mirarr people.
The group, led by senior traditional owner Toby Gangale, famously fought against the project, but its opposition was overruled by the Commonwealth’s acceptance of findings from the 1977 Ranger Inquiry Report.
The report concluded that land for the proposed town of Jabiru should not be granted as Aboriginal land under the newly formed Aboriginal Land Rights Act.
It meant that the traditional owners’ power to stop the uranium industry operating on their land was diminished.
As the Ranger Uranium Mine prepares to close, the Mirrar people hope to have a greater say about Jabiru. (ABC Rural: ABC Rural)
In 1981, the director of National Parks and Wildlife granted a 40-year lease to the Jabiru Town Development Authority.
Since then, the authority has granted several sub-leases to various entities for the development of the Jabiru township, including the owners of the Ranger Uranium Mine and Energy Resources of Australia.
This time around, as the Ranger Uranium Mine leaves town, the Mirarr are expected to have a greater say in what is next for Jabiru.