Mine Company fined for desecrating First Nations sacred site

Now the mining company will appeal, waste some more resources in an effort to force the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority to stop doing its job"
- Bobo Bolinski

Mining firm OM Manganese was found guilty on Friday 1st August 2013 - the first time a company has been successfully prosecuted in Australia for desecration of a sacred site, albeit a pathetically small fine for the outrageous contempt and disrespect.

The site was particularly special for custodians of Tennant Creek but also of cultural significance to all Australians.

Bootu Creek, north of Tennant Creek sacred site is/was known as 'Two Women Sitting Down' by the Kunapa people, the site signifying a dreaming story of two spirits - Bilgara and Kaladaku - in the area, whose dreamtime bloody fights are said to have caused the reddish appearance of manganese on the rocks' surface.

The Bootu Creek Manganese mine was constructed five metres from the sacred site with some blasing undertaken only 25 metres away, and when the mine's wall collapsed, half of the rocky outcrop slid into the pit, in what the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has called a "callous disregard" for the sacred site.

The mining company was warned to take caution after cracks appeared and some damage was caused in the initial months of the mining project in 2011, but the company continued to work close to the site's edge.

The company, who was issued a clearance highlighting all sacred sites in the area in 2004, called the damage "minor" in 2011 and after being dragged kicking and screaming into court, the CEO has now stated "We sincerely regret the damage and the hurt caused and I unreservedly apologise to the site's custodians and traditional owners."

These will be completely empty words if they even consider appealing the decision ... with the company now complaining that they have already spent a million dollars fighting the case.

A maximum penalty of $270,000 was possible for damaging a sacred site and $130,000 for breaching restrictions of protected sacred sites, however OM Manganese was only fined $150,000.

The court case
OM Manganese was accused of causing the collapse of part of the site, including a distinctive rocky outcrop known as the Horse's Head, in July 2011.

Prosecutors told the Darwin Magistrates Court that the company performed explosive blasting close to the site to break up ground, ABC reported.

The company was permitted to mine in the area, but was advised to steer clear of sacred sites, and was warned in early 2011 that cracks were appearing in rocks at the Bootu Creek site.

Dr Ben Scambary, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, said that the site was of great significance to Australia's indigenous people.

"This site... relates to a dreaming story about a marsupial rat and a bandicoot who had a fight over bush tucker [native Australian bush food]," he said.

"As the creation ancestors fought, their blood spilled out, turning the rock a dark-red colour that is now associated with manganese."

Kunapa community representative Gina Smith said: "It will always remain a sacred site to us, but it has been ruined and we don't know what to do because this has never happened to the old people.

"It has been there for thousands of years as part of our culture and our story."

Magistrate Sue Oliver found that a subsidiary of Singapore-based OM Holdings Ltd, 'OM (Manganese) Ltd' damaged and desecrated a sacred site about 170km north of Tennant Creek and were fined $150,000, substantially less than the $400,000 maximum penalty.

"The defendant did not consider damage to the site as a vague and remote possibility," Ms Oliver said, and claims that it had not foreseen its work would interfere with the sacred site amounted to "wilful blindness".

OM CEO Peter Toth said the company deeply regretted the damage caused.

"The company never intended to harm, damage or disrespect the sacred site," he said in a statement.

"We sincerely regret the damage and the hurt caused and I unreservedly apologise to the site's custodians and traditional owners."