Rio Tinto’s first Indigenous general manager of operations Brad Welsh has been recognised for his exceptional achievements in the mining sector.

Welsh recently received the Exceptional Indigenous Person award at the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) Indigenous Awards.

Starting his career with Rio Tinto in 2011, Welsh has held several senior leadership roles in the coastal mining town of Weipa, Queensland.

In 2017, he transitioned into an operational leadership role, then became acting general manager, before temporarily relocating to Western Australia to take on the role of chief adviser to the CEO, Indigenous Affairs.

“Inspired by a number of community leaders, I knew that wherever my career took me, I wanted to advocate for Indigenous recognition, lead by example and mentor others,” Welsh told NIT.

He moved into the role after the Juukan Gorge blasts, which saw Rio Tinto destroy 46,000-year-old culturally significant rock shelters on the lands of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

“I’m now working closely with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and leading the work to rebuild trust, repair our relationship and chart a different future for our company,” said Welsh.

Senior Wathayn Traditional Owner Beatrice Gordon welcoming Brad to her Country. Photo supplied.

While Welsh said he is “very proud to be the first Indigenous general manager,” he noted that more needs to be done to boost Indigenous employees into higher positions at Rio Tinto.

“I’ll be even prouder when I’m one of many. We don’t have enough Indigenous people in leadership roles,” he said.

“Currently, the majority of our Indigenous employees are in operational and community facing roles. We want to create more role models to show that they can be anything, do any role in Rio.

“But that’s changing. We are investing USD $50 million to grow that number and to advance Indigenous leadership across our business in Australia.”

Welsh said in his role as chief adviser to the CEO, Indigenous Affairs he is committed to “bringing Indigeneity” into the mining company’s culture.

“I fundamentally believe that mining is essential to human progress and is an important economic driver for our host communities. We’ve got billions of dollars of investment deployed in Aboriginal communities, but we haven’t yet harnessed it for as much benefit as there could be for them,” he told NIT.

“We need to harness that catalytic investment while preserving the culture, the identity and the language of the community.”

“I think by working more respectfully and thinking more laterally, we can become change agents for some of the most disadvantaged people in the world.”

Welsh also said it’s been a “difficult time within Rio” after the Juukan Gorge devastation, however he noted this brings an opportunity to “do things better.”

“We’re going on a journey of discovery about our culture, this needs to be done as part of our truth-telling and is an important part of the courage required to rechart our company,” he said.

“But it’s also an exciting time to change and to do things better. I’m excited about being able to make that change and to do that with thousands of people in the company who want to do that too.

“I am still proud to wear the Rio Tinto shirt, and even prouder to be part of making a meaningful change in our company, and for the broader industry.”

By Grace Crivellaro