Martu Rangers Help Bring Australia’s Desert to Life for Newmont – by Joe Kirschke (Engineering and Mining Journal – February 20, 2014)

In the immense expanse of the Australian Central Western Desert that engulfs Newmont Mining Corp.’s Jundee complex in the Yandal goldfield 1,100 km northeast of Perth, water, food and people are often equally scarce.

In a good year, the dry, unicolor land will absorb 200 milliliters of rainfall. The native Martu people, however, have long since adapted: with one of the world’s oldest living cultures—dating back 40,000 years—the aboriginals are exceptional at spotting, tracking and catching elusive goanna lizards and bush turkeys—both on foot and by setting fires.

Such skills have not gone unnoticed. Through Australia’s Central Desert Native Title Services (CDNTS), Newmont is now tapping it for a landmark Martu Ranger land management program. It’s an endeavor exemplifying mining-sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at its best: While generating indigenous employment, the initiative provides for the environment alongside a cultural awareness eagerly promoted by a government.

In wake of a 2011 pilot program, a fee-for-service compliance contract has since evolved into a large-scale biodiversity restoration project that is drawing new partner interest, while increasing Martu employment levels three-fold.

The story began three years earlier, when national and regional governments, agencies including the CDNTS and the Martu and mining companies, including Newmont, formed a Wiluna Regional Partnership Agreement for socio-economic development. But engagement, geared toward bringing indigenous people into traditional employment at Jundee faltered, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the start.

Guy Singleton, senior community relations advisor at Newmont, noted that while “a small percentage of Martu were happy fulfilling mainstream mining roles, for the majority of others, it did not deliver what they were seeking from an employment arrangement.”

The reasons were simple. CDNTS Land and Community Operations Manager Lindsey Langford said long-held Martu traditions are deeply at odds with normal work schedules at any conventional mine project. “You can’t argue with this,” he said. “It’s part of their life.”

Langford points to tradition-heavy Martu funerals as a prime example. On a set date, up to 500 people, all connected through kinship, can gather from across hundreds of miles for a burial ceremony in tandem with strict customs. “You can imagine the logistical effort,” he said.

Years of separation, on the other hand, can punctuate warm reunions or grudge-driven violence—or both. In any case, “a funeral can last one day—and it can last days,” Langford added. “Reburials” follow three months on which—as with all Martu tenets—are shrouded in a balanced, dream-like continuum.

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