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Call for Traditional Owners to play key role in major Wittenoom clean-up

Giovanni Torre -

Traditional Owners say contracts for the long overdue clean up of the Wittenoom site should be given to Indigenous business with a connection to the Country.

Wittenoom / Nambiggunha in Western Australlia's Pilbara region was the site of asbestos mining which operated from the 1930s until 1966, ultimately creating the largest declared contaminated site in the southern hemisphere, some 50,000 hectares in size.

For decades Banjima Elder Maitland Parker led the campaign to have the site properly remediated, before he sadly passed recently from mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos fibres from the unrehabilitated mine site.

On Wednesday, Business News reported that a WA government report seen by that newspaper – having long been kept under wraps - projected a near $200 million clean-up bill, adjusted for 2023.

Business News also obtained correspondence about the GHD report which revealed the state's Wittenoom Steering Committee decided encapsulation would be the best way to remediate Wittenoom to prevent tailings leaching out into the surrounding landscape.

Banjima man Rex Parker told National Indigenous Times Traditional Owners should have the opportunity to play a leading role in the work.

"We have a community about 20km west of Wittenoom. They set up a community for families… My old man used to work there back in the day through the hills with a pick and wheelbarrow," he said.

"Now that I have developed and built up my own business, we would like the opportunity to get in to do things on our own Country, and in that area that has been left in this condition.

"I used to go to school in Wittenoom many years ago, in the '70s, and walk up to the creek and go swimming. It is a disgrace what has been done there before the closure at Wittenoom."

Mr Parker said Traditional Owner businesses should get the opportunity to undertake contracts on their own Country.

"At the moment these days you get mining in our Country; we are getting different contractors in and some of then we don't even know who they are," he said.

"As locals around the community, living on the homeland communities, we should get an opportunity to do that work."

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