East Kimberley, Western Australia
Our Argyle diamond mine, which sits on the traditional country of the Miriuwung, Gidja, Malgnin and Wularr people in Western Australia, is one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds and the largest supplier of natural coloured diamonds – including white, champagne, cognac, blue, violet and the rare and the highly-coveted Argyle pink and red diamonds.
Argyle has produced more than 825 million carats of rough diamonds since it began production in 1983 and has sufficient reserves to economically mine through to the end of 2020.
Innovation at Argyle
At Argyle, we are committed to a high level of safety, productivity and efficiency using cutting-edge technology. For example, when Argyle was first established, it became apparent that purpose-designed processing machinery would be needed to recover and sort the high volume of small diamonds produced by the mine. This included the development of sophisticated X-ray sorting technology to help efficiently identify and collect the small diamonds.
The technologically sophisticated underground operation at Argyle was the first block cave mine in Western Australia. Block cave mining involves undercutting the ore body and allowing it to break up or ‘cave’ under its own weight. It is one of the safest and most economical ways to reach deep into Argyle’s ore body.
Preparing for Closure
Argyle diamond mine is preparing for closure in late 2020. We are committed to closing the mine responsibly and protecting the Argyle legacy. Consultation and planning continues.
Given Argyle’s role as an employer and contributor to the economy of the East Kimberley region, we have studied the potential social and economic impacts of the mine ceasing operations.
Argyle’s direct contribution to the East Kimberley represents approximately 6% of the region’s gross regional product – a relatively small, but still important, component of the local economy. We also know that Traditional Owners, Indigenous communities, local businesses and our Argyle employees are most affected by closure. We are working closely with these stakeholders and government to gain input into closure planning and prepare for the transition beyond closure.
Our mine closure plan, which will be submitted to regulators for approval in 2020, outlines our approach to decommission the mine, reshape and rehabilitate the land, preserve ecological and cultural heritage values, support future land uses by Traditional Owners and ensure a smooth transition for the local community.
Feedback from Traditional Owners and regulators on the draft mine closure plan has provided valuable insights into developing our closure approach.
All aspects of closure planning are being undertaken in accordance with regulatory requirements, our own policies and standards and our Indigenous Land Use Agreement.
We are also working in partnership with the Traditional Owner representative body, the Gelganyem Trust. Some of this work includes assessing infrastructure for potential future use such as tourism and a strategy to connect Traditional Owners and Indigenous businesses to work opportunities.
Jobs After Argyle
Once Argyle ceases production, we anticipate it will take three to five years to decommission and dismantle the mine and start rehabilitation followed by environmental monitoring and maintenance prior to relinquishment of the mining lease.
We have programmes in place to help our Argyle employees find new jobs after our mine ceases production. For example, we are helping our Argyle employees develop and progress a career plan, so that by the time the mine closes they will be equipped for their next step. While many want to stay with Rio Tinto and join our other operations, others are preparing a new chapter: as engineers, pilots, emergency responders and even wildlife photographers.
We regularly contribute to local education, training, employment and business development opportunities. We also fund projects and partner with organisations that support sustainable development of our community. For example, six trainees, who were nominated by Traditional Owners, will complete the Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management, while working within Argyle operations towards a qualification in land management and environmental monitoring. This will enable them to become future leaders in environmental management for the rehabilitated site.
Located in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, Argyle is mining Barramundi Gap, a cultural landscape associated with the Ngarranggarni Dreaming – a creation story about how the area’s geography was formed. Barramundi Gap is one of the most culturally significant sites belonging to the Miriuwung and Gidja people.
At Argyle, we recognise the deep spiritual and cultural significance of the land to the Traditional Owners and respect the cultural heritage of the Traditional Owners and local Indigenous people. Traditional Owners welcome mine operators on to site through a Manthe ceremony, conferring safe passage of employees and visitors through traditional lands. This welcome is also a formal component of our Health and Safety induction at Argyle.
The Participation Agreement is the formal mechanism through which we ensure that cultural heritage is protected. For example, every land clearance is conducted in partnership with Traditional Owners, ethnographers, archaeologists and other subject matter experts.
In addition, every year, a Traditional Owner Open Day is held on site, during which Traditional Owners have the opportunity to visit and discuss any part of the mine where cultural heritage issues are present, including caves, underground, rehabilitation sites or water sources.
The Argyle mining lease area is on the traditional country of the Miriuwung, Gidja, Malgnin and Wularr peoples. Following several years of relationship building and negotiation, the Argyle Participation Agreement – encompassing post-mining land use, mining benefits, employment and contracting opportunities, land management and indigenous site protection – was registered in 2005 as an Indigenous Land Use Agreement.
The Agreement, which superseded Argyle's 20-year-old Good Neighbour Agreement, acknowledges Traditional Owners as the custodians of Country and the Traditional Owners, in turn, recognise our right to mine at Argyle. A Traditional Owner relationship committee meets regularly to oversee its implementation.