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Australian Firm Fined in Aboriginal Site Desecration

An indigenous soldier is seen in Australia's Northern Territory July 18, 2013. A mining company was fined for damaging a nearby Aboriginal site.
An indigenous soldier is seen in Australia's Northern Territory July 18, 2013. A mining company was fined for damaging a nearby Aboriginal site.
Phil Mercer
An Australian mining company has been found guilty of desecrating a sacred Aboriginal site. OM Manganese was fined $130,000 for damaging an area in a remote corner of the outback.

It is the first successful desecration case brought against a mining company under Australian law. OM Manganese was been found guilty of two charges of damaging a sacred site known as Two Women Sitting Down. Magistrates heard evidence that, despite warnings, the company used explosives about 25 meters from the spiritually significant area. 

“We deeply regret any damage that has been caused to the sacred site," said Peter Toth, the company's chief executive. "We never had any intention to cause damage or hurt or disrespect during this process, and I also personally, unreservedly and sincerely apologize to the traditional owners for the hurt that we have caused throughout this process.”

The company had permission to work at Bootu Creek, about 170 kilometers north of the outback town of Tennant Creek, but was advised of sacred sites that had to be protected. 

Aboriginal beliefs

To the local Kunapa Aboriginal people, the area tells the ancient story of a marsupial rat and a bandicoot, a small native animal, that fought over food. Their blood dripped onto rocks, turning them the rich red color now associated with manganese, which is used to manufacture stainless steel.

Tribal elder Gina Smith says the area has been ruined for future generations.

“We've lost some very significant rock formation," Smith said. "It will never be the same so I could not go and take our children or our nephews who are responsible to ensure that we teach them the law.”

Land lies at the heart of indigenous culture in Australia. Aborigines believe the Earth is the mother of creation, and is full of mystery and knowledge. Indigenous groups have stressed that, while there is broad support for mining on tribal lands, sacred sites, which are believed to hold ancient stories, must be protected.

Australia’s Aborigines make up about two per cent of the population, and remain, by far, the country’s most disadvantaged people, suffering disproportionately high rates of poverty, ill health and unemployment.

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