‘We’ve been here a long time and this land is important to us’

A thousand kilometres south-east of Darwin, the McArthur River brings life to the harsh, vast, stunningly diverse country that has been home to the Mumbarliya, Wurdaliya, Rumburriya and Wuryarliya clans for millennia.

In the wet season the river and its tributaries overflow, putting large sections of the region underwater and connecting it to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The river provides sanctuary for an incredible array of birdlife throughout the dry season, when the red earth is scorched and much of the other wildlife has retreated.

Twenty years ago this country changed. Global mining giant Glencore opened one of the world’s largest underground zinc mines. In 2006, Glencore expanded, digging an open-cut mine that ploughed through the Rainbow Serpent Dreaming Site, which was of deep spiritual significance to local clan groups. 

“The Rainbow Serpent carved this land and the songlines and sacred sites here tell stories of the dreamtime,” says Jack ‘Wongili’ Green, a local elder and outspoken leader of the campaign to close down Glencore’s mine.

“That hole hurt me and my people a lot, the mine’s poisoned our river, killed our fish and polluted our sacred country. We’ve been here a long time and this land is important to us, it’s important to all Australians.”

stories_jack_Sandridge_Outstation_Rumburriya_Country__Southwest_Gulf_of_Carpentaria_NT-scr.jpgSandridge Outstation, Rumburriya Country NT, Photo: Karl Goodsell

Jack Green has travelled around Australia speaking at conferences and telling the story of the local peoples’ struggle to protect their land.

David Morris from Environmental Defenders Office, Northern Territory, was so impressed he nominated Jack for ACF’s Peter Rawlinson Award for outstanding contributions to conservation. Jack was chosen as this year’s Peter Rawlinson Award winner for his commitment to

Jack was chosen as this year’s Peter Rawlinson Award winner for his commitment to country and his dedication and resolve in the face of the immense challenges he and his people have had to overcome.

stories_jack_award2.jpgNominator Sean Kerins, award winner Jack Wongili Green and award founder Marnie Rawlinson, Photo: James Thomas

Glencore’s McArthur River mine continues to be the focus of national media scrutiny with ongoing environmental disasters, including the spontaneous combustion of its waste facility, which sent a plume of toxic iron-sulfide over the surrounding country in 2013.

In May 2016 Indigenous residents from the area protested outside Glencore’s Sydney headquarters, calling on the company to close the mine and rehabilitate the site.

Traditional Owners now fear Glencore will close the mine and “leave us here stranded with all this pollution and damage”.

“We just need a fair answer about the damage they’ve left here,” Asman Rory told Guardian Australia. “It’s about cleaning up in a right and proper way or giving us some proper answers.”

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Jack Wongili Green is presented the 2015 Peter Rawlinson Award for his work protecting Country from the McArthur River Mine, in Southwest Gulf of Carpentaria. A film by Karl Goodsell and Courtney Jackson for the Australian Conservation Foundation 


Josh Meadows

Media Adviser at the Australian Conservation Foundation