When Aboriginals regain the property that is now the Argyle Diamond Mine in 2020, they will also receive a village, a huge hole in the ground, a landing strip, etc. When we actually toured the mine, our guide was an Aboriginal gentleman named Ted Hall. He told us that his people weren’t sure what they’d do with this property when it was returned to them. Under discussion were a resort or a training center.
Ted told us that an Argyle Good Neighbor Policy allowed diamond concerns that were initially looking for uranium and accidentally found diamonds instead to start mining operations in 1980. A native tribunal negotiated for the Aboriginals, and in 2005 a new agreement allowed Argyle to go underground.
Ted told us some technical stuff about the operation. There are now 24 miles of underground tunnels of 4 types: 2 carry vehicles, 1 aids ventilation, and the 4th moves the ore out. Two crushers work constantly underground to process all mined material. 11 million tons of ore go through them each year. Crushing is the 1st of 6 stages that eventually liberate diamonds from dirt. The crushers are replaced every 2 to 4 weeks. Diamond chips that can’t be used for jewelry go to China where they’re sewn into gowns. 20% of mine operators are females who have a reputation for looking after their machinery better than males. Indians cut and polish all but the pinks that this mine is known for. Pinks go to Perth.
After the mine closes, Aboriginals anticipate 5 years of land rehabilitation. Some elders want to flood the pit and create a recreational lake. Because industrial seepage into already existing Lake Argyle might become a problem, the Federal Government is heavily involved.
Then Ted lowered his voice and became emotional. He told us that 4 elders signed over their tribal land for less that $400,000 per year and lots of corruption ensued. Family votes were bought as were Toyotas that didn’t last very long in a place with few paved roads. In their society younger tribal members like Ted couldn’t challenge the elders and many left. Two of the elders died by 1998, and the remaining 2 invited him and the others back under a new management plan. All income now goes into a fund and shares are sold. This has led to investments in a dialysis machine, sports equipment to keep kids in school, scholarships, etc. Ted said his hope is that his people and the other clan involved will never return to welfare dependency. He then began explaining the concept of barramundi dreaming and lost me.
He brought my attention back when he said that there were still diamonds in the airstrip. Sorters were watched constantly and searched before toilet breaks. There was no trust in the system, and I couldn’t help but recall Ted’s words the next morning when Ruth & I attended a street fair and one booth was selling raw, unprocessed diamonds.
Our visit ended in the mine’s small, limited access museum with lots of locked doors where the largest diamond ever found in the area is on display along with lots of others.