The Warlpiri People and Newmont Mining

A history of agreements and relationship-building

One of Australia’s most productive gold mining areas is in the remote Tanami Desert, some 500 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

The Granites and Dead Bullock Soak mines have been owned by one of the world’s leading gold producers, Newmont Mining Corporation, since 2002. The mines have produced around 8 million ounces of gold over the past 20 years and have reserves to sustain production for roughly another ten years.

The Dead Bullock Soak mine and associated Granites milling plant are located on Aboriginal freehold land owned by the Warlpiri people (Yapa).

The Commonwealth Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 requires the Tanami operation to have a mining agreement with the traditional owners. The agreement that is in place is monitored by the Central Land Council (CLC) on behalf of traditional owners.

Ten-year plan for education and employment

In August 2017, the US-based Newmont Mining Corporation stated it had reached commercial production at its US$120 million Tanami Expansion Project. The company also stated it is studying a further expansion project at Tanami.

To reflect the mining company’s expansion plans – and to maximise the mutual benefits that flow from its existing consolidated mining agreement with the traditional owners – in late July 2017, Newmont, CLC and Yapa finalised what is known as the Granites-Kurra Ten Year Plan.

The plan, which was endorsed at a meeting at the mine, supports Yapa by boosting education and employment opportunities and strengthening governance structures. Endorsement followed consultations led by CLC with communities affected by the mine and other interested parties throughout 2016.

The plan details how Newmont, CLC, traditional owners and the Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Nyirrpi and Willowra communities will interact and work together to achieve the plan’s objectives.

Through the work of the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust (WETT) and the Granites Mine Affected Area Aboriginal Corporation (GMAAAC), Yapa can invest in its own communities and the future of its children.

CLC Director David Ross says the community benefits flowing from the agreement between traditional owners and Newmont are unique in Australia.

‘While we have struggled to increase direct Yapa employment at the mine we have now agreed on a new plan to try and address these issues,’ says Ross. ‘This is a strong partnership, which I expect will deliver even more outcomes in the next ten years.’

Ten-year plan objectives

  • Support Yapa governance, leadership capacity and succession planning.
  • Increase employment outcomes at the mine and in the Tanami region
  • Support the development of sustainable Yapa businesses and social enterprises
  • Strengthen education and work experience opportunities that build the capacity and capability of Yapa to take on employment and other roles
  • Support engagement of children and youth in educational activities that respect and celebrate culture

Priority actions to achieve the plan will be agreed each year and set out in an Annual Action Plan. This year, CLC, Newmont and Yapa plan to trial a pre-vocational training program in Lajamanu, conduct a cultural immersion experience for the Newmont Tanami site leadership and address safety issues on the Tanami Road. Yapa also wants to contribute paintings and Warlpiri signage for the mine site, its visitor centre and airport.

‘Working together to develop the plan has forged stronger relationships between us all,’ says Ken Ramsey, Newmont Group Executive for Sustainability and External Relations. ‘Having a long mine life allows everyone to think long term so we can create value, improve lives and generate sustainable benefits for years to come.’

Consolidating exploration and mining agreements

Over the years CLC negotiated various exploration and mining agreements between Yapa and Newmont (and the former owners of the mine) and these were consolidated in 2003.

The consolidated agreement with Newmont was for the life of the mines, with provision for further periodic renegotiations. As part of the agreement Newmont endeavours to provide employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people, especially those who live in the local region.

A committee comprising representatives from CLC, Newmont and the traditional owners monitors the implementation of the agreement and meets once or twice a year, with the cost of meetings funded by Newmont.

Warlpiri Education and Training Trust (WETT)

As a result of the 2003 negotiations Newmont and CLC agreed to establish WETT. Newmont agreed to a significant increase in direct royalty payments, provided those payments were directed to WETT.

Since 2005, WETT has directed more than A$22 million in royalties to supporting education and training initiatives in the Tanami region, primarily supporting the communities of Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Willowra and Nyirrpi. WETT has programs focused on early childhood care and development, secondary school support and language and culture support.

Ross says the 2003 renegotiation illustrated how good social outcomes can flow from a negotiation process.

‘The potential to use negotiated royalty payments by Newmont in a constructive, sustainable way through WETT was an important factor in CLC’s negotiations to increase the level of these payments,’ says Ross.

WETT is governed by the Kurra Aboriginal Corporation whose directors are traditional owners. A Kurra WETT committee comprising Kurra directors decides how to apply WETT funds based on recommendations from a WETT advisory committee made up of representatives from the four communities, CLC, Newmont and an independent education expert.


WETT recently commissioned Ninti One to conduct an independent review of the WETT program. The review was partly prompted by Newmont’s decision to extend the mine’s life until 2026. As a result, WETT had to decide how to allocate funds for another decade, and develop strategic plans informed by community aspirations.

Ninti One’s review noted WETT programs have increased skills and knowledge levels for individuals, families and communities; achieved greater parental efficacy through early childhood infrastructure; broadened youth aspirations and leadership; increased school participation levels; and helped maintained Warlpiri language and culture.

Advisory Committee Chair, Maisie Kitson, says the review made her members more aware of WETT’s potential. ‘It has given us lots of good ideas to make WETT stronger,’ she says.

The Ninti One review notes Newmont’s support for WETT – Newmont provides WETT’s income and keeps communication channels open. Through its representation on the Advisory Committee, Newmont shares accessible and up-to-date information about the mine and its revenue to WETT.

The review notes that to-date, Newmont’s commitment to local employment has not yet yielded results. Ongoing collaborations with CLC and Newmont’s own evaluation seek to address this issue.

Granites Mine Affected Area Aboriginal Corporation (GMAAAC)

WETT advisory committee members Maisie Kitson, Fiona Gibson, Valerie Patterson and Barbara Martin are guiding plans for the next 10 years of the Warlpriri Education and Training Trust.

Another initiative funded by Newmont compensation payments is the GMAAAC Project. Established in 1991, half of GMAAAC’s funds are invested and the other half are applied to community development projects.

CLC supports GMAAAC committees, which are elected by the nine GMAAAC communities for three-year terms. CLC assists the committees to prioritise, plan and implement initiatives in housing, health, education, essential services, employment and training, supporting cultural activities and promoting Aboriginal self-management.

Improved mine profitability has seen more funds flow into GMAAAC in recent years. Last financial year they allocated a record A$7.17 million between them on community benefit projects.

Digital storybook for Indigenous-owned land management plan

An Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is an area of Indigenous-owned land or sea where traditional owners have entered into an agreement with the Australian Government to promote biodiversity and cultural resource conservation.

At 10.16 million hectares, the Southern Tanami IPA (STIPA) is Australia’s largest IPA and the largest protected area on Australian land (located near the Northern Territory’s southern border with Western Australia). Newmont has supported a CLC-run project that converted the STIPA management plan into a digital storybook created by Yapa.

Frustrated with the wordy and complex IPA management plan, Yapa replaced it with an innovative and engaging digital storybook. The interactive web application at walyaku.org.au replaces the plain text with short videos, audio and animation in Warlpiri language. Viewers can move through the management plan by following voice navigation prompts and icons.

‘We searched the globe for something traditional owners could understand and own but we could not find anything remotely like it, so they came up with their own digital plan that’s exciting, entertaining and a world first,’ says Ross.

‘Working together to develop the plan has forged stronger relationships between us all.’

Ken Ramsey, Newmont Group Executive for Sustainability and External Relations

Image 1: Source: Central Land Council.
Image 2: WETT advisory committee members Maisie Kitson, Fiona Gibson, Valerie Patterson and Barbara Martin are guiding plans for the next 10 years of the Warlpriri Education and Training Trust. Source: Chloe Erlich.