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, became 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.
In November 2020 mining ceased at Argyle, after 37 years of operations and producing more than 865 million carats of rough diamonds.
We are committed to respectfully closing and rehabilitating the mine, and returning the land to its traditional custodians.
Innovation at Argyle
Throughout Argyle’s nearly four decades of operations and our ongoing closure activities, we remain 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 was one of the safest and most economical ways to reach deep into Argyle’s ore body.
Preparing for closure
The last day of mining at Argyle – on the traditional country of the Miriuwong, Gidja, Malgnin and Wularr people – was 3 November 2020. This marked the beginning of the transition to the lengthy and detailed closure process.
Argyle has a mine closure plan, that 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.
We expect it will take three to five years to dismantle the operational infrastructure, reshape the land and undertake revegetation activities to enable the re-establishment of a natural ecosystem.
We will engage a number of contractors to undertake the work required to rehabilitate the site with a strong focus on local employment and contracting.
After closure, the land will be returned to the Traditional Owners as the custodians of Country, for activities such as cattle grazing, tourism, cultural use and possibly small scale agriculture and native food production.
We have worked closely with local communities, businesses and government to understand the impacts of closure and prepare communities for the transition after almost four decades of mining.
Feedback from Traditional Owners and regulators on the development of Argyle’s 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 the 2004 Participation Agreement and subsequent Indigenous Land Use Agreement. Extensive consultation with Traditional Owners will continue throughout the closure process.
Life after Argyle
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 ran programmes to help our Argyle employees find new jobs after our mine ceased production. For example, we helped our Argyle employees develop and progress a career plan, so that by the time the mine closed they were equipped for their next step. While many will stay with Rio Tinto and join our other operations, others are entering 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, have completed the Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management, while working within Argyle operations towards a qualification in land management and environmental monitoring. This has enabled them to become future leaders in environmental management for the rehabilitated site.
Located in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, Argyle was 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 has been conducted in partnership with Traditional Owners, ethnographers, archaeologists and other subject matter experts.
In addition, every year, a Traditional Owner annual tour 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, recognised our right to mine at Argyle. A Traditional Owner relationship committee meets regularly to oversee its implementation.