The small town of Mintabie lays some 1000 kilometres North-West of Adelaide and is best known for its opal mining exploits, however it is the exploitation of local Indigenous residents for which it is fast growing a reputation.
The state government sanctioned a report which was carried out late last year and found that there were high levels of lawlessness in the town, which included, but not limited to, residents living in the township without a valid residential permit and the consumption of alcohol and drugs.
"Mintabie is on the APY Lands, what we are doing is returning that township to the APY.”
Mintabie’s population swings between a few dozen in summer to a few hundred in the colder months. The town has long been regarded as an oddity due to the fact that it is largely occupied by white opal miners in an area that is owned and populated predominantly by Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara People.
Just 35 kilometres from the Stuart Highway, which links the cities of Darwin in the North and Adelaide to the South, Mintabie serves as a final stop and gateway for those entering and leaving the vast APY Lands.
The remote location has proven to be a haven for unscrupulous retail practices and has provided a hub for the illegal bootlegging of alcohol and drug running into nearby Aboriginal Communities according to the SA Government's report.
Closing up shop
Last year the town’s local shop, Nobby's Mintabie General Store, was fined and forced to shut its doors, after an investigation found that it had been running an illegal credit line. Details emerged about withholding customers credit cards and that the shop owner had subsequently withdrawn more than one million dollars from their accounts.
South Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister, Kyam Maher, whose department reviewed the report’s findings, said that 'there were significant problems'.
"Last year the Prime Minister wrote to the premier and asked us to look at closing down the township of Mintabie and handing it back to the APY," he said.
"The practice of book up and taking Anangu's credit cards and taking money from those without their permission was found to be occurring in Mintabie”.
The fifty four page review and subsequent government response highlighted concerns from residents such the aforementioned drug and alcohol running, uncontrolled book up and also the often overpriced and unsafe sale of vehicles to Anangu.
Other crimes such as violence, arson, theft and drug use were also noted as issues of concern, as was the general untidiness of the village, which included derelict buildings, numerous car wrecks, disused mining equipment and general rubbish.
In an interview with SBS, Minister Maher said something needed to be done.
“Many service providers, NPY Women's council told stories about some of the clients that they see and see the effects that some of the drugs or alcohol or book ups that has come through Mintabie that has hurt them."
The number one recommendation from the report was for the town to be closed as soon as practicable with the management of the lease area to be returned to the traditional owner representative body.
"Mintabie is on the APY Lands, what we are doing is returning that township to the APY,” Minster Maher said.