Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has blasted yet another rock shelter of ancient significance, three years after the infamous Juukan Gorge blast destroyed parts of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site.
The incident occurred last month near the Nammuldi iron ore mine, around 60km north-west of the nearest town, Tom Prince.
A drone assessment on 6 August revealed a tree and a 1m² rock had been dislodged from its original position in the rock shelter, which is registered as a cultural heritage site.
Rio Tinto said its initial assessment, taken by a drone, had not found any structural damage at the Nammuldi site or any impact on the cultural materials. The CEO of Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations, Simon Trott, said the mining activities were paused immediately after the drones recorded movements following the blast.
The area is home to the Muntulgura Guruma people, represented by the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC).
Aaron Rayner, the chief operating officer of WGAC, said: “WGAC is disappointed by the report but is yet to establish the extent of the impact to the rock shelter.
“We are working with Rio Tinto to better understand what has happened and will work to independently establish the facts in the coming weeks.”
For Rio Tinto, the next steps include visiting the shelter from the nearest town, Tom Prince, along with the traditional owners.
Three years after the Juukan Gorge incident
May 2023 marked three years since Rio came under fire for the destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters, which constitute a site of cultural significance for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.
The chairman of Rio Tinto called it a “deep stain” on the company’s history, and the incident resulted in a government enquiry and the resignation of Rio’s CEO, chairman and two senior executives.
Queensland MP Warren Entsch, who led the inquiry into the Juukan Gorge incident, told ABC: “I wonder what they [Rio Tinto] have learnt.
“Flicking a couple of million dollars into a political campaign doesn’t fix the problem, and you are going to continue to be under scrutiny while you are a repeat offender in destroying cultural sites. You have got to do better.
“If they were concerned about it, they wouldn’t have blasted anywhere near it. They can’t just say ’sorry we didn’t know’.”