Mining junior OM Manganese has apologised after a judge handed down a $150,000 penalty in a case of desecrating a sacred Aboriginal site.
The court found the company broke off a “horizontal arm” of rock, and lessened its sacredness and spiritual value, The Australian reported.
OM Holdings’ CEO Peter Toth was apologetic for the damage on the site.
“The company never intended to harm, damage or disrespect the sacred site. We sincerely regret the damage and the hurt caused and I unreservedly apologise to the site’s custodians and traditional owners,” he said.
“While OM encountered unexpected ground conditions in the Masai Pit, it is clear that our pit design and mining activities contributed to the damage at the site. As soon as that damage was identified we executed a comprehensive remediation plan, including ongoing monitoring, which helped to secure the site and prevent further damage.”
Traditional owner Gina Smith said in court: “It will always remain a sacred site to us but it has been ruined and we don’t know what to do because this has never happened to the old people.”
The sacred site was next to Masai Pitt, an open cut mining area, which is part of the miner’s Bootu Creek manganese mine.
The case was lodged against the company by the Northern Territory Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and is the first successful bid by a government body to prosecute a mining company for desecration under Australian law.
The AAPA alleged cracks were detected on site midway through 2011, but despite this OM triggered blasts two weeks later resulting in a split of the rocky outcrop in half.
But OM later denied charges that blasting 40 metres away had resulted in the rock breaking off.
The company, which is owned by OM Holdings, was fined $120,000 for desecration and $30,000 for damage but was not charged for additional desecration.
Magistrate Sue Oliver found OM Manganese guilty of desecrating the site called Two Women Sitting Down, around 170 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.
Oliver found the company had prioritised ‘business and profit’ in its strategy over its duty to preserve the site.
She also found it had knowingly mined at a sharper angle at the site to mine more ore.
OM Manganese said earlier this year it would plead guilty to damaging the sacred site but refuted desecration charges.
In court, Smith likened the sacred sites to railway stations that were linked by song lines, which she said were like railway lines.
The court also heard from indigenous traditional owners, who said they had agreed to the sharper mining angle but had failed to fully comprehend what the company was doing.
“In my view, arranging a meeting with the three gentlemen to essentially obtain approval for the steeper batter angle approach was either a cynical or a naive exercise on the part of the defendant,” Oliver said in her findings.
“The custodians had no individual authority to approve a mining plan that posed a risk to the integrity of the sacred site.”
Oliver also said the delicate horizontal arm had fallen off because of the company’s mining, not due to natural causes, according to the company’s defence.
AAPA CEO Ben Scambary said the case set a precedent that demonstrated damaging Aboriginal sacred sites would be punished by law.
“When a sacred site is desecrated or damaged it tears the social fabric of the affected community as the harmony of those people is inherently linked to that sacred site,” he said.