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explainer | michael woodley


The finer details of our stories explained.

explainer | michael woodley

Three Gates Media

We have no choice really but to say we’ll do a deal based on Yindjibarndi succeeding as well… and sometimes that challenges the miners.
Michael Woodley, CEO, Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation


What is Native Title?  In 1992 a landmark case in the High Court - Mabo and others v Queensland  - acknowledged Aboriginal ownership of land for the first time, requiring those who wish to use the land, to negotiate an Indigenous Land Use Agreement in good faith.


The story of this particular native title negotiation is detailed on the YAC’s website.

A slight correction on Michael’s dates in the interview - native title negotiations broke down with FMG in 2008 after the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation rejected an offer of $4 million capped.  FMG was able to obtain its mining lease because the National Native Title Tribunal was satisfied that it had negotiated “in good faith” for 6 months.
The company was reported to have estimated the total mineral resource of the Solomon Hub (Firetail and Kings Mines) to over 4.5 billion tonnes.

The breakaway group - the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation -  also has a website detailing their objectives and activities.  They are not and never have been the prescribed body corporate for Native Title purposes.

Over the years, some quality dedicated reporting has been conducted on this story.  These are links to examples of recent stories from the ABC’s Four Corners. and  The Australian, In the last five minutes of this interview on the BBC’s Hardtalk program from September 2015, Andrew Forrest is asked about his attitude to FMG’s dealings with the Yindjibarndi.  

FMG’s own website offers little information about the sites being mined on Yindjibarndi country, focusing on the high quality ore being mined in the area.

However this video says FMG recognizes the need to conduct business in a culturally sensitive way. Quoting from the video – “Fortescue has agreements with 15 native title groups – which are critical to the operation of our business.  Our heritage team ( and others) works … to minimize the impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage.”


On March 16, 2011. a native title meeting was held in the Fifty Cent Hall in Roebourne.  It’s main aim was to get the Yindjibarndi  people to vote off all named applicants on the Yindjibarndi claim who dissented with FMG’s offer of compensation, leaving only the ones who agreed with the deal FMG had put on the table.  This would leave FMG a clear path to tick the native title negotiations box and organise an Indigenous Land Use agreement ( ILUA). The meeting was videoed and put on the internet in two parts

Andrew Forrest himself, arm in sling, was there, taking the microphone to tell the voters “the more you know Aboriginal people, the more you love them” after saying Michael Woodley’s concerns were “complete and utter bulldust”.  Forrest later described the meeting as tough but superb.

The subsequent years have been populated by numerous court cases mainly instigated by FMG attempting to find ways around having to deal with YAC but still get an indigenous land use agreement  ( ILUA) with the Yindjibarndi.


So if FMG is already mining on Yindjibarndi land – why the continued court cases, community division and disruption in a bid to get a Native Title agreement with the Yindjibarndi.  We understand the answer is compensation. Initially the YAC was granted non–exclusive rights to the disputed land, meaning they had no right to control access to and use of the area.  They would simply be able to live, fish, gather food and teach law on country. 

What the YAC is currently applying for through the Federal Court of Australia is for rights of exclusive possession.  This would mean they are granted to right to possess and occupy an area to the exclusion of all others.  If they succeed in this, then the court action is likely to continue over compensation to the YAC. Here's the link to the Federal Court judgement from Justice Rares from July 2015.  In his conclusion, Justice Rares points to due process not being followed in another more recent attempt to remove named applicants from the native title claim over the land on which the Solomon Mine is situated.  He also points to “the significant role that FMG played in the promotion and conduct of the meeting.”  A hearing was held on country in early September and another is scheduled for the Federal Court in Perth in early March 2016. 

Listen to Part 1 of Michael Woodley on Rare Air
Listen to Part 2 of Michael Woodley on Rare Air
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