The Traditional Owners of Yakka Munga station, 120 kilometres east of Broome, have welcomed the Western Australian government's announcement to rehabilitate 120-hectares of land after an international super-company cleared trees and excavated drainage ditches and a dam in breach of a land use agreement.
Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owners and the Kimberley Land Council had previously demanded Zenith Australia Investment Holding rehabilitate the land and said the recent decision by the WA government was "an important step forward".
“The Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owners have shown that anyone can stand up to big business, fight for what is right and win,” Kimberley Land Council Deputy CEO Tyronne Garstone said in a written statement on Saturday.
“We are still at a loss as to how such destruction could have occurred when there is an Aboriginal Heritage Act that is meant to protect the cultural values of Traditional Owners.”
On Saturday, the Pastoral Lands Board announced they had issued a Default Notice, effective immediately, to Zenith Australia requiring remediation of the site to be completed by the end of November.
The State Government said its immediate priorities were to ensure the site's safety, minimise the risk of soil erosion and see that appropriate remediation takes place before the start of the wet season.
Zenith Australia is the Australian branch of Shanghai CRED, a Chinese real estate giant, and the majority shareholder in a joint venture with mining magnate Gina Rinehart which bought out the Kidman cattle empire in 2016, making the international company a major landholder in Australia.
In June, the native title group Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation lodged a complaint to the state government claiming Zenith had cleared land without permission.
A stop-work order was issued by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation after the Department had determined the clearing was unauthorised and gave Zenith a Vegetation Conservation Notice (VCN CPS 8557/1) requiring that no further unlawful clearing occur. The company immediately appealed the decision.
Last month, the Appeals Convenor dismissed their appeal and an investigation into the unlawful clearing remains on-going.
Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owner Rosita Shaw said it is critical that before any rehabilitation work occurs, a full environmental, cultural and heritage survey must be undertaken at the site.
“Any rehabilitation of Yakka Munga Station must occur with the consent of the Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owners and with us involved from the beginning to the end,” she said.
“The wilful destruction of our land highlights why we need a strengthened Aboriginal Heritage Act for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley and all over Western Australia.”
Zenith Australia will also be required to submit a Development Plan regarding the future management of Yakka Munga Station, for approval by the Pastoral Lands Board by 30 November 2019.