Garma Festival 2017
The annual Garma Festival (Garma) in
North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory is the largest celebration
of the culture of the Gumatj and other Yolngu people. Held in August, the
annual gathering brings together business leaders, international political
leaders, intellectuals, academics and journalists to discuss the most
pressing issues facing Australia.
Garma also focuses on what needs to be done to ensure there are sustainable
economic opportunities for local Indigenous communities.
At Garma 2017, Gumatj Corporation advanced a series of agreements and
commercial initiatives that provide the Gumatj clan with more control over
its economic and social destinies. These include the first Indigenous-owned
and operated mining venture on traditional owner land; a regional training
centre; a first-of-its-kind township lease agreement; and the potential
hosting of a rocket launch site.
Gumatj Corporation, which represents the interests of the Gumatj people,
runs a range of businesses in Gunyangara and the Gove Peninsula area to
support local employment. These include a saw mill and timber works,
concrete batching plant and concrete works, a construction joint venture, a
cattle farm and butcher shop.
Gulkula Mine project
In June 2013, Rio Tinto Alcan and Gumatj Corporation signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MoU) for the Gulkula Mine project. Under the MoU, Rio Tinto
Alcan ceded its mining rights to the Dhupuma Plateau bauxite mine near
Gulkula in North East Arnhem Land to Gumatj Corporation, and offered to
share its mining experience and expertise. The Northern Land Council
assisted Gumatj Corporation in the negotiation.
At Garma 2017, Gumatj Corporation confirmed it would be the first
Indigenous-owned company to establish a mining operation on the land of the
traditional owners it represents.
The Dhupuma Plateau bauxite mine is small-scale bauxite mining project.
Gumatj Corporation expects it will commence production by the end of 2017
as soon as regulatory approvals are completed.
Mine production is projected to ramp up from 100,000 tonnes per annum (tpa)
to 500,000 tpa over the first four years and maintain production of 500,000
tpa for the estimated 15-year life of the mine.
At Garma 2017, Gumatj Corporation and Rio Tinto Alcan signed a term sheet
on bauxite sales for the Gulkula Mine project. The bauxite will be sold to
Rio Tinto Alcan’s Gove operations where it will be crushed, loaded and
‘The bauxite sales agreement we signed with Rio signifies its commitment to
ensuring the success of our new mine,’ says Klaus Helms, CEO, Gumatj
Corporation. ‘We are very excited to begin production later this year and
start generating economic benefits for our local region.’
Rio Tinto Alcan Gove Traditional Owners Agreement
The Gumatj people receive mining royalties from Rio Tinto Alcan’s bauxite
mine. The Rio Tinto Alcan Gove Traditional Owners Agreement was signed in
June 2011 by Rio Tinto Alcan, Yolngu traditional owners of North East
Arnhem Land (comprising the Gumatj, Rirratjingu and Galpu clans) and the
Northern Land Council.
The agreement provides for a range of financial, environmental management,
cultural awareness, business development and employment and training
benefits for the traditional owners of the area.
Regional Training Centre
Gumatj Corporation has also established the Gulkula Regional Training
Centre (GRTC) at the site hosting Garma.
The GRTC, which is also supported by Rio and the Australian and Northern
Territory governments, was originally conceived as a training centre that
would assist Yolngu people into mining jobs.
Helms explains the concept later evolved. ‘It has been expanded to
incorporate roles across a range of disciplines within and outside of
mining – all with the focus of driving higher levels of employment for
Yolngu people across various organisations in North East Arnhem Land,’ he
The GRTC, which was formally opened at Garma 2017, seeks to be a leading
provider of work-readiness programs to Indigenous Australians.
‘The commencement of a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned training centre and
mining operation is a testament to what Indigenous people can achieve
working in partnership with business and government,’ says Helms. ‘This a
major step forward in building a sustainable future for our local people.
‘With Rio Tinto’s support, Yolngu people receive on-the-job training
through Gumatj mining operations. The skills they develop will open up
opportunities for them to build careers in the mining industry in the
Northern Territory and beyond.’
Gumatj Corporation’s initiatives are being pursued in the context of Rio’s
decision to close its Gove alumina refinery in 2014 and the knowledge that
sometime in the future, Rio’s bauxite mining operations – as well as its
mining venture – will also end.
When mining does cease, rehabilitated areas will be returned to the
traditional owners. This will require ongoing management.
‘Rio Tinto and Gumatj Corporation, working closely with government, will
provide training to Gumatj people to develop their mine rehabilitation
management skills,’ says Helms. ‘This will help build broader opportunities
for Gumatj people to derive benefits from mine rehabilitation areas.’
Mine rehabilitation will include forestry plantations.
‘Forestry can generate wider community benefits, generating regional
economic development and diversification,’ he adds. ‘This all about moving
from welfare and royalty dependency to new, sustainable Indigenous
businesses and employment after mining.’
Assessing the viability of a rocket-launch facility
Gulkula is also the site of a former rocket tracking station installed by
the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) in the 1950s. The
ELDO operation was disbanded in the 1970s.
A private-sector group, Equatorial Launch Australia, has approached the
Northern Territory Government seeking support to establish a launching pad
for sub-orbital rockets. A site being considered is the former ELDO site on
Equatorial Launch Australia has progressed its negotiations and consulted
with traditional owners, the Northern Land Council and others regarding the
proposal for redeveloping the former ELDO site on Gumatj land.
The Top End of the Northern Territory – and other parts of remote northern
Australia – are potentially attractive launch pad locations as their
proximity to the Equator means rockets can be launched more efficiently -
and therefore more affordably.
Proposals such as Equatorial Launch Australia’s rocket launch pad
development could be consistent with Gumatj’s vision of creating new
industries and opportunities to ensure a post-mining future for the Gumatj
people. Gumatj Corporation has an interest in pursuing partnerships and
joint ventures to achieve its vision.
'We are very excited to begin production later this year and start generating economic benefits for our local region.'
Klaus Helms, CEO, Gumatj Corporation
Gunyangara township lease
Gumatj traditional owners consented to a 99-year township lease to be
granted to the Ngarrariayl Aboriginal Corporation, following a number of
years of consultation between Gumatj Corporation, the Northern Land Council
and the Australian Government.
The lease is currently subject to court proceedings under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. Pending the
court’s decision, and once the lease is executed, it will be the first
township lease in Australia held by an Aboriginal corporation from the
outset, and will give the Gumatj people direct control over the development
of Gunyangara and surrounding areas.
Gunyangara (also known as Ski Beach) is located on Melville Bay on the Gove
Peninsula. Gunyangara is on Gumatj land belonging to the Yunupingu,
Burarrwanga and Munungirritj clan groups.
The Gumatj people sought the lease agreement as they have strong local
organisations with business and development experience and want to
strengthen local decision-making in their community.
‘When the lease is formally signed it will act as a springboard for further
economic development and a foundation to build wealth for our people,’ says
Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Chairman, Gumatj Corporation.
Image 1: (L-R) Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Ken Vowles MLA, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Prime Minister of Australia the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Rio Tinto managing director Aluminium Pacific Operations Bruce Cox, Gumatj Foundation CEO Klaus Helms and Senior Gumatj Traditional Owners and Gumatj Corporation Board Members Balupalu Yunupingu and Djawa Yunupingu at Garma 2017. Copyright © 2017 Rio Tinto.
Image 2: Aerial view of the Gulkula Regional Training Centre accommodation facility. Source: Rio Tinto.