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Traditional Owners open path for Goldfields lithium, nickel project

David Prestipino -

Native title holders in Western Australia's south-east have cleared the path for further exploration at highly-prospective properties in the Lake Johnstone and Fraser Range area in WA's south-east.

A Heritage Protection Agreement between Boadicea and the Ngadju Native Title Aboriginal Corporation opens the lithium and nickel explorer to undertake activities on Native Title land.

The Federal Court of Australia granted Native Title to the Ngadju people in 2014 and 2017 which covers more than 120,000sqm across the Goldfields and Esperance regions, with NNTAC since leveraging the wealth of resources in the regions, which generate billions of dollars for the state.

This milestone Heritage Protection Agreement covers Boadicea's 100 per cent interest in the highly-prospective lithium and nickel locations, with drill locations and exploration to begin once heritage surveys are finalised.

"Boadicea has assumed operating ownership of the Southern Hills tenement since the Heritage Protection Agreement negotiations were finalised, and will apply to the Ngadju to include this in the agreement," the company said.

NNTAC in September 2022 signed a heritage agreement with Fortescue Future Industries in relation to the company's green hydrogen hub in the region, which chief executive Kim Harmer said would bring "positive community and heritage outcomes for Ngadju people".

A $456 million nickel mine project on the edge of the Nullabor is also expected to deliver millions in royalties to NNTAC over the next decade.

Located 360km south-east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder in the Wheatbelt, the Nova mine was the first mining project in the emerging Fraser Range province within Ngadju's Native Title, which Ngadju elder Ricky Dimer said would fund education and training scholarships over the life of the mine.

"All the years we spent fighting for native title and for us to have this here, it means a lot for us," Mr Dimer said.

"Education and employment [are the big opportunities] and lifting us out of poverty."

Boadicea managing director, Cath Norman, said the company was thrilled to start 2024 with a new agreement with Ngadju Corporation that allowed them to begin drilling.

"We thank the Ngadju Corporation for their consent and look forward to working together to complete the heritage surveys before progressing exploration drilling," he said.

The latest deal with Boadicea, owned by IGO, comes after NNTAC endured "governance issues" late last year that it said were "discussed and resolved" at a November AGM, but appear to linger.

A general meeting on January 29 in Norseman has proposed the removal of director Pearl Scott, along with four other members "on the basis the members behaved in a manner that significantly interfered with its operations, including threatening or abusive manner to staff, disclosing confidential information and presenting themselves as the representative of NNTAC to third parties without authorisation.

NNTAC chair, Harold Graham, said in December he had to make a "difficult decision when I became concerned about some of the decisions being made by the other directors".

"Next year is going to be an even bigger year for NNTAC and the Ngadju people, with the historic determination of the Native Title claim over the Norseman township, finalisation of major negotiations with mining companies, consultations about a new rule book and the appointment of a new CEO," he said.

While nickel and lithium are not among WA's major commodities, the value of nickel sales in 2021-22 was the highest in 15 years, despite the volume produced at a 20-year low.

WA was also the world's biggest lithium producer during this period, producing 52 per cent of the world's production, as global lithium prices rose drastically.

Former Rio Tinto aluminium chief Ivan Vella began his new role as chief executive of IGO, which owns the Nova mine, on Monday after he was sacked from the iron ore titan a month prior to his scheduled departure.


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