On June 27, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee voted to modify the boundaries of the Australian Kakadu National Park World Heritage Area to include the previously excluded Koongarra area. Koongarra includes a major uranium deposit that was discovered in 1970, but which has never been mined. There are some legal steps the Australian Government will need to finalise before Koongarra is officially included as part of Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu Traditional Owners witnessed and welcomed the decision by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to include Koongarra within the Kakadu World Heritage Area. Representatives of the Mirarr attended the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee in Paris, France, to support moves by the Senior Traditional Owner of the neighbouring Djok clan, Jeffrey Lee, to permanently protect the Koongarra region from the threat of uranium mining.
On June 20, the Australian Federal Government said the French nuclear energy company Areva, tried to block the push for the world heritage listing of Koongarra area: Areva formally requested the nomination of Koongarra be removed from the agenda of the meeting.
When Kakadu was declared a national park in 1979, a small section of land was left off the map. This 1200 hectare region, known as Koongarra, is entirely within the Djok Traditional estate. It includes a major uranium deposit that was discovered in 1970, and for which Areva holds exploration licences, but which has never been mined.
High level Australian and international assessment teams have opposed any mining plans and recommended increased protection for the unique region.
Senior Traditional Owner of the Djok clan, Jeffrey Lee, has consistently opposed uranium mining on his country and has travelled to Paris to personally support and witness the boundary change as a step towards the inclusion of his land into Kakadu.
In 2010 both major Australian political parties committed to making Koongarra part of the surrounding national park.
The decision to add the environmentally and culturally significant Koongarra region in Kakadu to the World Heritage register is a powerful and positive step towards the permanent protection of one of Australia’s most special places. The Koongarra area in Kakadu includes the much-visited Nourlangie Rock (Burrunggui/Anbangbang) and is important in the Rainbow Serpent and Lightning Man storylines.
Sources: ABC Darwin, 20 June 2011; Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation Media statement, 27 June 2011; ACF press statement