Rio Tinto and Alcoa are handing their mining leases on the Mitchell Plateau back to the WA Government. This is paving the way for the creation of Australia’s largest national park, it is time to celebrate.
- Written by Peter Robertson, WA campaigner for the Wilderness Society and former State Campaign Manager.
To finally reach this goal has taken a lot of sweat and tears from volunteers, campaigners and Traditional Owners over more than three decades.
It all began back in the 1970s when a scientific study of nature in WA identified the region as being of importance .
Over the next decade, many Aboriginal people sought to return to their ancestral lands in the north Kimberley. This saw the rise of new communities such as Kandiwal established on the Plateau, providing a home and a connection to country for Traditional Owners.
It was around this time, in 1988 to be specific, that the Wilderness Society appointed the first ever Kimberley campaigner! This turned the spotlight on the Kimberley, and from the get-go it became apparent that protecting the Mitchell Plateau/north Kimberley region was a priority. This incredible region is home to some of Australia’s most iconic landscapes – spectacular escarpments, cascading waterfalls, ancient rock art and a rich diversity of plants and animals – many of which are endemic.
In the late 1980’s, I remember having meetings with the mining companies (including Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia – a forerunner to modern Rio – and Alcoa) asking them to relinquish their mining rights. Finding no luck there, we also met with a succession of Ministers and reminded them that since the companies had been repeatedly in breach of their obligations under a State Agreement Act, they should be stripped of their mining rights. Again, no joy.
In 1992, we published our proposal for the creation of the North Kimberley Marine Park and National Park, which would have protected the Mitchell Plateau and the majestic reefs, islands and seas in this part of the Kimberley.
It wasn’t until 2006 that our focus again returned to the Mitchell Plateau and the Kimberley.
This time, we managed to frighten off a Norwegian company (Norsk Hydro) that was exploring the area for bauxite. Then Wilderness Society Kimberley campaigner Josh Coates and I met with the head of their fledgling WA operations and said it was a no go area. Not long after, they pulled out of WA.
And then of course, the James Price Point campaign kicked off and turned into a massive campaign for the Wilderness Society and captured the attention of the country. Huge concerts and rallies were held, hundreds of volunteers took part and the local community stood firm against this development. In the fallout of his James Price Point failure, WA Premier Colin Barnett recognised the power of everyday Australians to stop developments like that, and the importance of protecting parts of the Kimberley.
Since then, Barnett and his staff have worked very hard to secure all the agreements needed to create the new marine parks and national parks we are now seeing rolled out across the north Kimberley.
The fact that this new park will be, for the first time in WA's history, jointly owned by the area's Traditional Owners is testament to the groundbreaking work his Government has done. It will also form part of the massive north Kimberley Indigenous Protected Area that is being put in place now.
After decades of hard work this amazing part of the Kimberley and Australia looks secure. I am so proud to have been part of the movement and the team to help create this safe future for the Mitchell Plateau, and look forward to seeing it protected from now on into the future.
Thank you to everyone who has helped, in whatever way, to make this a reality.
This map shows the full extent of the new North Kimberley National Park – 2 million hectares in total. Together with the new Greater Kimberley Marine Park which is also being created at the same time the total new Kimberley protected area amounts to 5 million hectares!