The Amrun bauxite project extends mining activities on part of Rio Tinto's existing lease between Weipa and Aurukun that encompasses the land of the Wik-Waya people

Amrun will provide jobs, support business development, and contribute to socioeconomic growth for half a century

The ethos of the Amrun Project and the future operation is to employ local, buy local and grow local businesses

In far north Queensland, Australia, a wedge of land extends into the Torres Strait and on its western lip there is a sandy point at Boyd Bay. It’s a significant area for Wik-Waya Traditional Owners and, in traditional language, it’s called Amrun.

Amrun is also the name given by the Wik-Waya Traditional Owners to the new A$2.6 billion world-class bauxite mine, currently under construction, south of Rio Tinto’s East Weipa and Andoom mines on the Cape York Peninsula.

Production and shipping is expected in the first half of 2019 with planned initial output being 22.8 Mt/a and options to expand up to 50 Mt/a in the future.

The Amrun Project includes a mine, processing facilities, power station and a port.

“Amrun is an opportunity to build a mine of the future, using some of the latest techniques in fabrication and construction of the wharf and the processing plant,” said Stephen McIntosh, Group executive, Growth & Innovation.

Australia is the world’s largest bauxite producer, accounting for about one-third of global output with some of the world’s highest grade deposits found in north Queensland. There is growing demand globally for bauxite, the main raw material used in the production of alumina and aluminium metal, and Rio Tinto is establishing Cape York bauxite as the product of choice.

The dynamic of the project has more layers than the reddish brown bauxite pebbles that will be mined from the surface. There is rich cultural heritage, biodiversity and unique geophysical conditions. There are shared aspirations, new ways to enable local participation and innovative construction.

Amrun will provide jobs, support business development and contribute to socio-economic growth in the region for the next 50 years. So far, A$1.92 billion has been spent on Australian suppliers and, at peak in December 2017, the on-site construction workforce was 1,250.

Like all mines though, it will not be there forever. Half a century is a long time to plan ahead, but Rio Tinto is doing just that – planning for the end in the beginning.

“As part of planning for closure, we work with stakeholders to understand the community’s priorities, set closure objectives, manage risks and identify sustainable, beneficial future land uses,” says Marcia Hanrahan, project director of the Amrun Project.

“The work we’ve done together with the Wik-Waya people through the life of construction has laid the foundations for the positive legacy this project will leave.”


coverage of Weipa mining lease

Connection to country and culture

The project extends mining activities on part of Rio Tinto’s existing lease between Weipa and Aurukun that encompasses the land of the Wik-Waya people. The Rio Tinto Weipa mining lease covers an area of 380,000 hectares – almost five and a half times the size of Singapore.

Rio Tinto has a long history of partnering with Traditional Owners on Cape York through three Aboriginal Agreements, and has developed strong relationships with host communities. Together, Rio Tinto and Wik-Waya Traditional Owners developed the Communities, Heritage and Environment Management Plan (CHEMP).

This plan captured shared aspirations for land, sea and cultural heritage management for the Amrun area. It identified opportunities for a greater degree of Traditional Owner participation and decision-making in land management and, in particular, management of land with cultural significance.

Many of the flora and fauna species have cultural value, and strategies have been developed with Traditional Owners to ensure sites are managed in a culturally appropriate way.

To implement the CHEMP, a Land and Sea Management Programme was established whereby Wik-Waya people are employed to undertake land management activities in line with meeting CHEMP commitments. These include managing cultural heritage, flora and fauna and the marine environment.

Keeping it local

The ethos of the Amrun Project and the future operation is to employ local, buy local and grow local businesses. This has been done in new and innovative ways to deliver benefits directly into the heart of the region. This supports the focus on sustainable development with a long-term future in mind.

Almost 80 per cent of the on-site construction employees are Queenslanders, including more than 200 Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Rio Tinto focused on increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employee representation on the project by visiting local communities and hosting a series of recruitment roadshows. More than 260 people attended these roadshows, resulting in more than 150 expressions of interest.

Some of the work that would normally be contracted out was self-performed by Amrun so that a greater level of Indigenous employment could be achieved. The Amrun Project partnered with community organisations that work with unemployed people to help them into full-time employment.

Businesses engaged

Australian: 878

Queensland: 704

Western Cape York: 71

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander: 16

It's not business as usual

Usually, with projects the size of Amrun, there is a general services contract awarded to a major company and the work is typically a bulky list of diverse services.

But, it is not business as usual on this project. Rio Tinto found a new way to make space for smaller businesses and structured the work into boutique services. The general services work, with its mix of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled positions, was the area with the most potential to maximise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business and employment opportunities.

This work was structured into contracts that included local services, road maintenance, temporary facilities, and building maintenance. This enabled local businesses to benefit from the work opportunities, and, through skills transfer to local Aboriginal people, it will position these businesses well for future regional opportunities.

Cape Dingo Embroidery supply the embroidery on Rio Tinto shirts in Weipa

There is a mixture of mature and newer businesses delivering services and, together, they provide a capability that maximises local involvement and sustains safe, efficient and effective service delivery.

"Being part of the team delivering this unique and grass-roots approach to construction general services has been rewarding," says Michael Rees, area manager, Growth & Innovation.

"While we experienced challenges with the size of the labour pool, the talent and capability in the region continues to impress us, and through training and mentorship, we are proud to see this programme adding value and making a sustainable difference."

Northern Haulage and
Diesel Services

Northern Haulage and
Diesel Services

A 100 per cent Indigenous-owned business recently created 25 jobs for local Aboriginal people through a contract awarded at the Amrun Project.

A 100 per cent Indigenous-owned business recently created 25 jobs for local Aboriginal people through a contract awarded at the Amrun Project.

Northern Haulage and Diesel Services (NHDS) from Weipa was awarded a contract to perform general services including administrative, labour and construction support at the site. NHDS is owned by the Savo family with deep connections to the Cape York area.

NHDS co-owner, Darrin Savo, said “While completing work for the existing Rio Tinto mines on Western Cape York we were approached to extend our services to Amrun.

“This is an exciting opportunity because it is a chance to grow our business and because of the focus on employment opportunities for local Aboriginal people.

“It would have been easy for Rio Tinto to wrap up the work we are doing on the project into the scope of a bigger contractor. By working as a partnership we’ve been able to develop a scope that works for us, the project and the local community. This really demonstrates Rio Tinto’s support of local Aboriginal business and employment.”

The Savo family history is intertwined with the region and with mining.

Ken Savo started as a 17-year-old steel fixer on the Humbug Wharf in the 1970s, a facility that served Weipa. He went on to work for the mine until his retirement. Ken encouraged his children Darrin, Craig and Katrina to always do their best.

“We continue to aspire to our father’s vision for us to be working together in a business that is successful,” says Katrina, project supervisor at NHDS working on the Amrun Project.

“Our extended family is also involved. We want to show our people that they can do the same as we have done.”

The Savos have also been a family of groundbreakers. Ken Savo led teams during his working career, something that was not common in those times.

Katrina was one of the first Aboriginal females to complete the year-long training programme with Rio Tinto in the 1980s, and Darrin and Craig founded NHDS, a 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned business.

Ken, his children, and grandchildren have all worked at Rio Tinto over the years and said that their employment and business ownership enabled them to build their future.

Image: Katrina Savo, project supervisor at Northern Haulage and Diesel Services.

Looking after the land

Rehabilitation of mined land back to productive native ecosystems forms a critical part of biodiversity management at Rio Tinto and the intent is to restore the land at Amrun as close as possible to its natural state.

Improvements in the quality of land rehabilitation produced at Weipa have evolved throughout the history of mining in the region, which dates back to the 1960s. By progressively establishing successful rehabilitation the site is restoring environmental values and in the process is reducing its closure liability.

“We set up a Rehabilitation Advisory Panel in 2013 to manage environmental risks associated with rehabilitation through planning and technical advice,” says Brad Warner, specialist land and rehabilitation, Weipa Operations.

“We’ve seen a marked improvement and in 2017 the success rate of first year rehabilitation reached 95 per cent. The low failure rate dramatically reduces rework costs.”

“These learnings will be applied to our Amrun mine once it’s operational and mined land is available for rehabilitation.”

And, with the long history here, there is a plethora of learnings, for example what the right mix of native seed is and which can be applied to the rehabilitation in the southern areas of the lease, including the Amrun mine.

Land no longer required for mining is rehabilitated on a continuous basis with rehabilitation activities and efforts monitored annually to determine the quality and success rates.

Brad Warner and Simon McVeigh assessing seedling condition in the Rio Tinto Weipa nursery Brad Warner and Simon McVeigh assessing seedling condition in the Rio Tinto Weipa nursery
Brad Warner and Simon McVeigh assessing seedling condition in the Rio Tinto Weipa nursery

Ethnobotanical work

The ethnobotanical study, “Deriving cultural value”, undertaken by Rio Tinto in the region provided a source of knowledge that influences land rehabilitation programmes.

The study identified plant species that had cultural value for the Traditional Owner groups. By engaging with Traditional Owners, Rio Tinto was able to prioritise plants to be collected and sown into rehabilitation areas to maintain culturally important plant species.

As operations expand into Amrun, this work will also expand. The programme has driven improvements in species selection for rehabilitation and subsequently the seed collection programme.

Innovative construction

Innovative construction

Due to its sheer size and scale, marine infrastructure is traditionally constructed on site or near to the project.

Due to its sheer size and scale, marine infrastructure is traditionally constructed on site or near to the project.

But spotting the benefits of an alternative approach, in 2016 the Amrun Project engaged a China-based group to construct components of its export facility separately and ship them to Weipa for assembly at site. These components included an innovative, modular approach to wharf jacket construction.

This new approach to fabricating major port infrastructure at Rio Tinto’s Amrun Project in Weipa improved on-site workplace safety removing 300,000 hours of high-risk work over water.

The Amrun export facility, approximately 1km long, comprises a 650m access jetty and a 350m ship loading and wharf area. Rio Tinto’s commitment to safety did not stop at the project site as the team worked with the suppliers in China to share knowledge about safe workplace practices. This included a social media group to share real-time safety-related information.

The export facility is known as Chith, the Wik-Waya language name for the red and white eagle (Brahminy kite) that visits and inhabits the area surrounding the facility.

Image: Amrun employees on the Amrun Chith export facility, Queensland, Australia

Community seed collection

Rio Tinto Weipa’s community seed collection programme enables Traditional Owners to have a leading role in the land rehabilitation process. Since 2010, Rio Tinto has engaged a local Indigenous business to facilitate the community programme. This sees Traditional Owners register as pickers to collect native seed required for land revegetation.

Seed collected through the programme is sourced ethically and safely. The quality of land rehabilitation has been improved through the diversity and quality of native seed collected each year by the communities.

This stable supply of seed has also enabled the business to reinvigorate its rehabilitation nursery. Here seedlings are propagated by local Aboriginal trainees and later planted by hand, also contributing to higher quality land rehabilitation.

The seed collection programme continues to grow year-on-year, with 51 active pickers in 2010 to 154 pickers in 2017, all making an income, across the three communities of Napranum, Mapoon and Aurukun.

Regional employment

Through the Weipa operations and the Amrun Project, Rio Tinto generates employment for more than 550 Indigenous people from Cape York.

At Weipa the permanent Indigenous workforce is more than 350 strong of which 174 are local Aboriginal people from the surrounding signatory communities.