Aboriginal traditional owners have heckled government and mining industry representatives at a Minerals Council summit, calling for an end to mining on their lands.
About 30 traditional owners and family members drove to Darwin from Maningrida, with some driving all night to make the 1400km from Borroloola by morning.
Conrad Rory, a Yanyula and Garrawa man from Borroloola, said the MacArthur River Mine near his community was having a detrimental impact on the tidal river.
The mine’s independent monitor reported in 2013 that 90 per cent of fish caught downstream of the mine exceeded maximum permitted concentrations of metals and isotopes as outlined by the national food standards guidelines.
“What we’re really hoping to accomplish is shutting down the mine,” Mr Rory said.
“Since they diverted the river it’s been flowing really slow, the colour’s changed, we’ve found dead fish and crabs.”
Jackie Green, an elder from Borroloola, was critical of mine operators he saw as plundering Aboriginal land and then moving on.
“While you stuff it up, we the poor blackfellas are going to be left behind,” he said.
“That’s our land. We live in that country, that’s our home.”
Eddie Mason, a traditional owner from Maningrida, called mining “this industrial disease” sweeping Aboriginal land.
“Nobody knew about our place until the eye in the sky marked my area,” he said.
“That country’s got a name, there’s a lot of dreaming in that country.”
Mr Green accused the government of separating families to obtain consent for mining on Aboriginal land.
“They grab one Aboriginal person and take him aside and chuck a chocolate across his table and he eats that and other Aboriginal people don’t know what’s going on.”
Five police cars were sent to monitor the small protest, and the doors to Darwin’s convention centre were locked.
Media were barred from attending sessions with industry leaders such as Andrea Sutton, chief executive of Energy Resources of Australia, and Sam Strohmayr, general manager of Glencore.
But Chief Minister Adam Giles made the government’s position clear: “Mining is a critical part of the NT economy. Mining is here for the long term”.
He said he is “a big believer in standing up for indigenous rights”.
“But it’s not enough to stand up for social rights, you have to stand up for economic rights, and that means creating jobs,” he said.
There is a “huge degree of consultation” with traditional owners over mining on Aboriginal land, he said, with the ultimate goal of creating jobs on a local level.
“Fundamentally it’s about Territorians, not about big companies.”