• The protesters against the uranium mine in Western Australia's Pilbara. Pic: Tobias Titz (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A seven-day trek into the heart of Martu country came to an end on Sunday, with a strong message for mining company Cameco.
Rachael Hocking

14 Jun 2016 - 12:03 PM  UPDATED 15 Jun 2016 - 11:00 AM

Martu Traditional Owners, joined by artist Anohni, walked 110 kilometres from the Parnngurr community in the Pilbara, to the site of Cameco Australia’s Kintyre mine.

Kintyre is an advanced uranium exploration project that has conditional approval from federal and state governments, but not from some of the country’s custodians.

Martu man and filmmaker Curtis Taylor has been campaigning against uranium for years, but he says this walk was about more than mining.

“Just for me personally, to walk through this country and being a part of something that’s bigger than just Kintyre, and walking in the footprints of my old people,” he said in a recording made along the trek.

The experience resonated strongly with Anohni, formerly known as Antony Hegarty of US music group Antony and the Johnsons, who has been an ally of the Martu people in their fight against uranium since 2013.

Commenting on the Martu people’s connection to their country, Anohni described the proponents of the Kintyre project as ‘desolate souls.’

“It reminded me that the guys who run Cameco, they’re people without country,” she said.

“Because the only way that they could take an action like this is to be so severed from the source of their life – and the source of their ancestral life, and of their future ancestors - that they would feel no qualm in destroying the system that created them.”

Photos: The Karlamilyi Walk
US musician and Oscar-nominated, Anohni joins the Martu Traditional Owners in a walk to protest a proposed uranium mine on their land.

"So in many regards, I think the guys who run Cameco are desolate souls, desolate souls with no home, with no connection to land, with no connection to country," she said.

Arriving at the site of the Kintyre project, in Karlamilyi National Park, Anohni said it should be a ‘national monument.’

“Being here with the Martu, walking their land and being a student of them, and observing their relationship to country… it’s a majestic place,” she said.

This is the artist’s second time on Martu country, following a visit in 2013 to the community of Parnngurr, where she befriended local women painting depictions of their land’s waterways in opposition to the mine’s expansion. 

The artwork is called 'Kalyu', and was purchased by the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2014.

Some Martu elders are concerned the mine would contaminate the country’s waterways, making it undrinkable, and stop people from hunting and travelling across that country.

Speaking to NITV before the walk, Mr Taylor says they are calling on the WA government to reinstate the ban on uranium mining, which was removed in 2008.

But a statement from WA Environment Minister Albert Jacob indicates this will not go ahead under the current state government.

"The WA Liberal-National Government reversed Labor’s flawed ban on uranium mining in 2008," it reads.

"The WA Liberal National Government has worked hard to support a world-leading mining sector built on responsible development and the benefits it brings to all Western Australians."


Cameco planning to go ahead with mine

Despite their fight, the mine has conditional approval from state and federal governments, and a land-use deal signed by some Martu leaders in 2012.

The local land-council responsible for that deal was under investigation for corruption last year.

Mr Taylor says many locals weren't involved in the 2012 agreement, and remain opposed to the mine.

Cameco Australia’s managing director, Brian Reilly, says they have consulted widely with the Martu people about the proposed project.

“Cameco has a positive relationship with the Martu people, developed over many years,” he said.

“We believe that the communities near Kintyre generally support the project and we continue to work with them on heritage matters as well as training and employment opportunities.”

Mr Jacob says state environmental approval for the Kintyre project - granted in March, 2015-'is subject to stringent environmental conditions.'

"Western Australia is fortunate to have one of the most rigorous and well-regarded environmental assessment and approvals process in the world,"

"The Environmental Protection Authority subjected Cameco Australia Pty Ltd’s Kintyre Uranium Project to the State’s highest level of environmental assessment, including a public environmental review, before recommending strict conditional approval in 2014."

"I have not discussed this project with the Martu people."