Native title granted at NT salt mine site

Greg Roberts

Native title will be granted to several Central Australian Aboriginal groups in an area where there are plans to build a massive salt mine and waste storage site.

Members of the Imarnte, Titjikala and Idracowra groups will be awarded native title over a 3,244 sq km area by Federal Court Justice Natalie Charlesworth at a special sitting of the Federal Court at the Maryvale cattle station on Wednesday.

The native title holders will have recognition of their right to hunt and gather on the station, protection of sacred sites and cultural activities and ceremonies but they cannot veto private company Tellus' mine plans.

"This determination will also give them the right to negotiate about exploration and mining activities on their land, for example the salt mine and hazardous waste storage facility in the determination area," the Central Land Council's manager of native title Francine McCarthy said.

The closest Aboriginal community Titjikala is about 15km away and there is opposition from some residents worried that toxic waste could poison water sources, including the Finke River.

However the native title holders can negotiate compensation, community development projects and jobs as part of an indigenous land use agreement.

Tellus' plans include shipping the salt to Asian customers and storing a variety of waste in the holes it digs, including equipment, electronic archives and paper and waste from the mining industry.

The salt deposit is 18km wide and the mine could have a life of 500 years, according to the company.

The Maryvale cattle station has a chequered history for local descendants, with anthropologists recording frequent violence between "pastoralists and the indigenous land owners who resented their intrusion and kidnapping of local women", Ms McCarthy said.

In the 1860s, the party of explorer John McDouall Stuart - after whom the central Australian Stuart Highway is named - wrote in a diary that it shot at three armed Aboriginal men who allegedly threatened their expedition in the area.