• Lake Torrens in Central South Australia, is connected by four different Aboriginal nations, who all oppose drilling exploration. (Parks SA)Source: Parks SA
The drilling operation on Lake Torrens, a sacred site to four separate First Nations clans in South Australia's mid-north, is expected to run for 'several years', and will drill up to 1,230 holes.
Douglas Smith

16 Mar 2021 - 10:01 AM  UPDATED 16 Mar 2021 - 12:01 PM

A mining company who lodged a ‘damage, disturb or interfere’ request under Section 23 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act will this week begin drilling on a sacred site which is connected to four First Nations clans. 

Against the wishes of Traditional Owners, drilling is expected to begin at Lake Torrens in South Australia’s mid-north, a culturally significant area of the Barngarla, Kokatha, Adnyamathanha and Kuyani peoples.  

The project itself is known as the Murdie Project, covering 1015 square kilometres and comprising two exploration licences, adjacent to the company's Torrens project.

Traditional Owner and Kuyani woman Regina McKenzie told NITV News that all of her people opposed the project, and that it would cause irreversible damage to their sacred culture. 

“The drilling on Lake Torrens, especially for the Kuyani, is cultural genocide,” said Ms McKenzie. 

“We’ve actually got 24 storylines that criss-cross through that lake.

“How can the minister actually approve damaging the lake, when he doesn’t understand how it’s going to impact the Kuyani people?”

Under section 23 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act, it is an offence to damage, disturb or interfere with Aboriginal sites, objects or ancestral remains without the authorisation of the Indigenous or Aboriginal Affairs minister, which is Premier Steven Marshall in South Australia. 

In a report obtained by NITV News on Monday, SA's Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation told Mr Marshall that mining company Kelaray intended to drill an extensive number of holes over a long period, which would cause a detrimental effect to the cultural site.  

“The program is planned to run for several years, and contemplates drilling up to 1,230 holes into the earth to target and define the anticipated resources,” read the report. 

Legal action to be launched over Lake Torrens drilling decision
The Barngarla Traditional Owners say they were ignored by the South Australian government during the decision making process, and want to put a stop to any plans to drill at the sacred site.

The report and SA's State Aboriginal Heritage Committee both recommended that Premier Marshall not approve the drilling of Lake Torrens, however Mr Marshall decided against their advice, saying there would be no damage to significant sites. 

“The exploration program will not permanently impact the anthropological and cultural heritage of Lake Torrens,” said a spokesperson from the Premier's office. 

To the Kuyani people, Lake Torrens is known as ‘Ngarndamukia’, meaning "shower of rain", and it is a place which holds many Indigenous artefacts and ancestral remains. 

In a filing from Argonaut Resources to the Australian Stock Exchange, the company said drilling for copper would start this week. 

“Argonaut anticipates that drilling will be underway early in the week commencing 15 March 2021,” read the statement. 

“Drilling [will] be conducted 24/7 in two daily shifts.”

Last week, 20 semi-trailer trucks delivered accommodation units, ground protection matting, vehicles and specialist drills Murdie Island which sits next to the drilling area.

SA Native Title body 'disappointed' drilling approved on sacred site
The South Australian Government has approved drilling at Lake Torrens, a place significant to the Kokatha, Barngarla, Adnyamathanha and Kuyani people.