Jabiluka action camp documentary

October 1, 1997

By Marina Cameron

On July 19, 72 university student activists began a trip to the site of the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. They had been attending the Students and Sustainability Conference in Townsville.

A recently released audio documentary made by Juliet Fox at community radio 3CR in Melbourne traced their long bus ride and tour of the area at the invitation of the traditional owners, the Mirrar people.

The students came from every university in Australia to learn first-hand about the environmental and health effects of the mine, the views and culture of the Mirrar people and what they could do to help the campaign to stop the mine. This was the first time a large group had undertaken such an act of solidarity with the Mirrar.

The documentary explains that the Jabiluka mine is an important test case in the Coalition government's moves to expand Australia's uranium exports since it abandoned the former Labor Party government's "three mine policy". There has been constant flouting of the wishes of the traditional owners by territory and federal governments, the mining company Energy Resources Australia and the Northern Lands Council.

John Chistopherson, former field officer with the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation run by the Mirrar, says, "The worst thing about it all is that within the community of Kakadu, Aboriginal opinion is divided, primarily because of the dollar and not the due respect and processes of Aboriginal law as it should be applied. The Northern Lands Council is in a conflict-of-interests situation. How can they reflect the interests of the Mirrar when they are funded from the royalties from the mine?"

The students met and talked to the Mirrar people and toured the nearby Ranger mine, which opened in 1980. Students grilled the operations, mining and environment managers of Ranger about traditional owners' opposition to the mine, the lack of monitoring of the health effects on Aboriginal communities, and the long-term containment of radioactive waste (which is already seeping out of pits) and contaminated water release from the mine.

The trip had a large impact on the Mirrar people; the students, who came face to face with the government's environmental vandalism and the nuclear industry; and even the bus driver (who didn't know what he was in for when he picked up the students in Townsville, but came away convinced of the need to stop the mine).

Jabiluka brings together many different campaigns. As one participant put it, "I see it as an important step in environmentalists and indigenous people working together, because it's the same system that is ruining both of ... our lives".

The students pledged to continue the campaign at their universities. As one participant said, "We do have a responsibility as students, as young people, as people of this country, to say that we don't want this to happen, and to let other people know that it is downright wrong. We've come here to support the Mirrar people, to say that we don't want uranium mining. We don't want it in Jabiluka. We don't want it anywhere."

[For copies of the Jabiluka action camp documentary, telephone Juliet Fox at 3CR in Melbourne on (03) 9419 8377.]

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