A multi-generational delegation from the Borroloola Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory's Gulf Country were front and centre at a protest outside global mining giant Glencore's Sydney headquarters on May 19.
The protesters demanded that Glencore close its McArthur River mine and rehabilitate the site as well as the river and the surrounding land, on which they have traditionally relied for food.
The protest was organised by green groups including the Mineral Policy Institute and ActionAid Australia. There were coordinated protests in other countries with Glencore mines, including Bangladesh, Zambia, South Africa and Peru, on the day Glencore held its corporate annual general meeting in Switzerland.
Concerns about the world's largest zinc and lead mine were heightened after reactive rock in its waste dump began spontaneously combusting in 2013. The company extinguished the fire last year but residents are still worried that the reactive waste rock is polluting the McArthur River system.
Revelations that fish in tributaries of the McArthur River have been contaminated with lead for several years has alarmed Traditional Owners.
One of the delegation from Borroloola, Nancy Yukuwal McDinny, told protesters: “I grew up in that river and now I cannot see any food in the river that we used to eat. They are all gone, dying from the McArthur River mine.
“Instead of keeping the pollution in the mine area they are putting it down to the river, where we used to get our bush tucker, and it is going out to the sea.
“A long time ago, when I was still going to school, our old people fought this mine. I heard them fighting so hard. Now it is our children who we are fighting for. We need that McArthur River mine to be closed.”
To dramatise the pollution of the river by the mine, protesters dressed in white hazard jumpsuits unloaded dead fish outside Glencore's Sydney headquarters.
Another member of the Borroloola delegation, Gadrian Hoosan, explained to Green Left Weekly: “What you see there is happening for real on our land. It is happening right in front of our eyes. We know the river and we can see the fish are dying, the river changing.
“The independent monitor is testing the fish and testing the cattle to see if they have been affected by the mine pollution, but the one thing they didn't do is test the people in our community. That is really bad.”
Hoosan said his community was united in wanting the mine closed down and land and river cleaned up of all pollution. If that were done, he added, maybe in about ten years their land might be back to what it once was.
So far Glencore has refused to acknowledge the mounting evidence of the mine's pollution of the McArthur River and surrounding land. However, it has agreed to a meeting with the Borroloola community, where the community will present its management strategy, and proposal for the closure and rehabilitation of the mine site.