Paul Cleary

‍In May 2020, the High Court reaffirmed the Federal Court’s 2017 ruling that the Yindjibarndi people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia held exclusive native title to land on which the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) had opened its Solomon Hub iron ore mine. The court thus brought to a close FMG’s thirteen-year campaign to secure unfettered land access. In today’s episode of the ABR Podcast, Perth-based writer and anthropologist Stephen Bennetts reviews Paul Cleary’s Title Fight, which offers a meticulous account of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation’s victory against Australia’s third-largest mining company. Yet, as Bennetts argues in his review, the Yindjibarndi victory is far from decisive given the ‘toothlessness’ of Australia’s heritage legislation. After almost a decade, state and federal governments have yet to ‘deliver the full promise of the 1992 Mabo judgment’.

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On the wall of Yindjibarndi leader Michael Woodley’s modest office in the Pilbara Aboriginal community of Roebourne hangs a large framed portrait of Muhammad Ali and a pair of boxing gloves. It seems a highly appropriate metaphor for the tale of this small Aboriginal group’s thirteen-year resistance to one of Australia’s most powerful companies, now recounted by former Australian journalist Paul Cleary.

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The casual visitor to Oslo, with little or no knowledge of Norway’s recent history, could be forgiven for being unaware that per capita this is one of the wealthiest ...

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When BHP Billiton announced last month that it would indefinitely shelve its proposed Olympic Dam expansion in South Australia, some said it signalled the symbolic end of the mining investment boom. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s reaction was particularly revealing. With his government now staring into a $1 billion black hole, Weatherill declared that he and the community had lost trust in BHP, and that the decision was a ‘major disappointment’. Many of Weatherill’s critics have suggested that his response betrayed his party’s zeal for the mining project, to the detriment of other sectors, with the sole aim of bolstering the state’s beleaguered economy. Putting ‘trust’ and ‘mining companies’ in the same sentence may be nothing more than political aikido. After all, given the tumescent economic growth that has come from the commodities rush, Weatherill’s reaction is predictable. Yet one can’t help but feel that his trust is misplaced.

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