Australia’s remote western Cape York Peninsula is home to Rio Tinto’s Weipa bauxite mine, which produces more than 27 million tonnes of bauxite annually.

When geologist Harry Evans discovered the bauxite reserves in 1955, he was helped by local Indigenous people George Wilson (Piiramu), Old Matthew (Wakmatha), and Lea Wassell. However in the years that followed the discovery, the nearby Mapoon mission closed and Aboriginal people were forcibly removed in 1963. Although not instigated by then owner Comalco, it was a sad chapter in the history of the region.

Sixty years on, Rio Tinto is working in partnership with local Indigenous people to create positive economic, cultural, social and environmental outcomes for future generations.

Empowering decision-making

Three Aboriginal Agreements underpin all activities at our Weipa operations - the Western Cape Communities Co-existence Agreement (WCCCA), the Ely Bauxite Mining Project Agreement, and the Weipa Township Agreement.

These agreements outline how the business and Traditional Owners work together towards mutual value. They provide the land access that’s critical for Rio Tinto’s operations, and ensure the social and economic benefits are shared with the local Weipa community.

A fundamental aspect of these agreements is ensuring Aboriginal stakeholders are involved in deciding how benefits should be used within their communities. Both the WCCCA and Ely agreement are linked to trusts which are used to fund sustainable community initiatives such as educational bursaries, outstations for Traditional Owners and other on-Country activities. The WCCCA trust’s strategy is to accumulate more than A$150 million for Traditional Owners and Western Cape communities by 2022, and is currently tracking ahead of target.

24%

of workforce are Indigenous

13%

of workforce are local Aboriginal people

30%

reduction in Indigenous turnover

Building local talent

According to the Minerals Council of Australia, more than 60 per cent of Australia’s mining operations neighbour Indigenous communities, however Indigenous employees make up on average only six per cent of the country’s mining workforce. Twenty four per cent of Weipa’s employees are Indigenous, and 13 per cent are local Aboriginal people.

Weipa’s Indigenous Employment and Training strategy was developed in collaboration with members of the agreements including the WCCCA, and defines our long-term commitment to increasing the participation, retention and advancement of local Aboriginal people in our operations. It includes a number of initiatives designed to improve Indigenous employment participation rates, while also ensuring the business has the skills needed to support its operations.

One such initiative is Weipa’s Kinection programme – an innovative preemployment training course designed to equip local Aboriginal people with the skills needed to work in the mining sector. Kinection provides training in a range of personal development and practical work readiness skills, such as social and emotional wellbeing activities, and entry-level knowledge across areas such as road and building construction, machinery repairs and maintenance, and conservation and land management. In 2015, 12 people completed the programme with four transitioning into stage two (entry level roles within the business).

Weipa also runs a traineeship programme which helps local Indigenous people gain practical industry experience. Some trainees have gone on to work at Weipa and others have pursued apprenticeships or secured roles with other companies.

Our decade-long partnership with the Western Cape College in Weipa focuses on developing school-to-work pathways and providing quality local education options for the region. Since the partnership began, there has been a 186 per cent increase in the number of senior certificates awarded to Indigenous students. The partnership was awarded the 2015 Excellence in Industry Partnerships at the Queensland Government Showcase Awards for Excellence in Schools.

In 2014 we also introduced a school holiday programme, which allows local Aboriginal boarding school students to spend time at our Weipa operations and learn about the different parts of the business and possible career pathways.

Passing on knowledge

Passing on knowledge

In November 2015 Rio Tinto announced the approval of the US$1.9 billion Amrun (formerly South of Embley) bauxite project, located between Weipa and Aurukun an area that encompasses the land of the Wik-Waya people.

In November 2015 Rio Tinto announced the approval of the US$1.9 billion Amrun (formerly South of Embley) bauxite project, located between Weipa and Aurukun an area that encompasses the land of the Wik-Waya people.

Rio Tinto worked closely with the Wik-Waya Traditional Owners to develop the South of Embley (Amrun) Communities, Heritage and Environment Management Plan (CHEMP). A key principle of the CHEMP is ensuring future cultural heritage work is jointly planned, and primarily focused on places and topics that are important to Traditional Owners.

As one example of this, Rio Tinto is now taking a different approach to the management of cultural heritage sites by placing a much stronger focus on important story places that are not located on the bauxite plateau. These story places have significant meaning and cultural importance to the Wik-Waya people. Rather than focussing on the identification and management of individual artefacts in isolation, the Weipa team is working with the Wik-Waya Elders to map and record these sites and their stories. The information will then be used to create educational resources for young Wik-Waya people, helping to ensure the culture, connection and history of the area remains strong among future generations.

Facilitating connection to Country and culture in this way is also seen as an opportunity to improve wellbeing, and provides opportunities for Traditional Owners who are involved in the work to take steps towards full employment.

 

“Our country is who we are. It is our culture and our past and future. We understand that the mine will change our country. These changes mean that some cultural heritage places need to be moved and disturbed to allow the mine to be built. We accept that this is necessary but at the same time we want to make sure that the places that are left behind are properly looked after for future generations.”
Loyla Chevathen, Wik-Waya Elder

Building the region’s economic sustainability

One of the key issues affecting employment levels among Indigenous Australians is a lower level of education and training.

Through the Western Cape Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA), Rio Tinto is working with Western Cape Indigenous stakeholders and Australia’s state and federal governments to overcome barriers to Indigenous employment, grow the region’s economy, and increase Indigenous participation in a broad range of industries beyond the mining sector.

The RPA’s initiatives include workshops that help adults improve their skills in areas such as driving, literacy and numeracy - areas which are known barriers to Indigenous people gaining employment - as well as forums to support the development of local Indigenous businesses.

We are also looking for ways to help broaden the regional economy and encourage growth of local businesses through our Weipa supplier development and procurement strategy. This includes building relationships with Indigenous businesses in the region, and educating locals on our procurement process and criteria.

Developing the business’s
future Indigenous leaders

Developing the business’s
future Indigenous leaders

A key focus of Weipa’s Indigenous Employment and Training strategy is to identify and develop leaders among the mine’s Aboriginal employees, and help them progress by preparing plans to build leadership capacity and skills.

A key focus of Weipa’s Indigenous Employment and Training strategy is to identify and develop leaders among the mine’s Aboriginal employees, and help them progress by preparing plans to build leadership capacity and skills.

Ray Ahmat, Yupungathi Traditional Owner and Weipa-based mining superintendent, started his career with Rio Tinto more than 15 years ago, and now leads a team of around 170 people.

"The broad range of careers available with a world-class operation right on our doorstep provides a unique opportunity to develop local talent in remote Australian communities. I look forward to ensuring we continue to operate in a mutually respectful way, now and for generations to come,” Ray said.

Hear from Ray Ahmat about his role at Weipa

Connecting with the Country

Weipa’s mining operations start and finish with Traditional Owners working with Rio Tinto to understand and protect the areas of cultural and environmental significance through our clearing and rehabilitation process.

The progressive rehabilitation of land is a substantial undertaking at Weipa given the scale of the operations. To ensure the long-term sustainability of our rehabilitation efforts, Weipa has involved local Aboriginal people in the land rehabilitation process. Rio Tinto’s general manager, Weipa Operations, Gareth Manderson says it not only benefits the local Indigenous community, but also makes good business sense.

“We recognise that we mine on Aboriginal land and can benefit from Traditional Owners’ unique connection to the land, in their understanding of the geography and climate, while we both work to sustain the long-term viability of the community,” Gareth said.

“We are proud our traineeship programme and land rehabilitation model offers opportunities and land management experience to local Aboriginal people, as part of the three Aboriginal Agreements which underpin our operations.”

Rio Tinto Weipa is partnering with local Aboriginal business Northern Haulage and Diesel Services to coordinate a community seed collection programme. In 2015, more than 120 local Aboriginal people from Weipa and the surrounding communities of Aurukun, Napranum and Mapoon collected approximately 1,150kg of seed from 43 different local plant species that will be used to help revegetate the land.

Local Aboriginal trainees have also joined Weipa’s land management team to help with daily land rehabilitation activities. The activities range from weed spraying to monitoring the growth of the regeneration nursery, and prepping and spreading seed in areas ready for rehabilitation.