The proposed Yeelirrie mine, located in Western Australia’s Mid-West region, is set to exploit the state’s biggest uranium deposit, which lies below the Tjiwarl people's land under native title rights.
For the last 40 years, Tjiwarl Traditional Owners have been opposing any uranium mining on their land as they say it would threaten important cultural sites, part of the Seven Sisters Dreaming Songline.
Tjiwarl woman Vicky Abdullah says she has campaigned against the mine, as she can feel her Ancestors when she’s on country.
“This is a very disappointing and sad day for our people, our land, and our future. We have fought long and hard to protect Yeelirrie and stop the uranium project,” she said.
However, Ms Abdullah said this setback won't deter them from giving up on their land.
“The fight is not over - this is only one part of our campaign, and we will not allow this decision to stop us now. It’s a bad decision, but it’s not the end decision.”
The Yeelirrie mine was approved by Colin Barnett’s Liberal government in January 2017.
Canadian mining company, Cameco has plans to operate an open pit mine of 9 kilometres in length, up to 1.5 kilometres in width and about 10 metres in depth.
Before operations can begin, 2421 hectares of native vegetation will be cleared. It is estimated the mine site will generate 36 million tonnes of waste.
The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) teamed with members of the Tjiwarl Native Titles group to appeal the mine.
CCWA Director Piers Verstegen echoed the disappointment shared by Traditional Owners but said they will find every option available to continue the fight.
“The verdict demonstrates a fundamental deficiency in the state’s environmental laws, which currently allow a Minister to sign-off on the extinction of multiple species with the stroke of a pen," he lamented.
"The way the law has been interpreted by the court shows the Minister can ignore the EPA’s public assessment process, and instead consider secret information in making a decision with has irreversible impacts on the environment.”
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had ruled against the project in 2016 saying the mine would lead to the extinction of several unique species of subterranean fauna.
Parts of Tjiwarl land is home to rare tiny stygofauna and troglofauna in the groundwater.
However, the former Environment Minister Albert Jacob approved the mine with 17 “strict conditions”.
The company’s official proposal document claims one of the project’s objectives is to “strengthen the relationship and communication with traditional claimant groups”.
A spokesperson for Cameco Australia told NITV News they welcome the decision by the Chief Justice and this was a case about “procedure and process, not the environment impacts”.