For more than 50 years, a small but determined community in WA’s Northern Goldfields has fought to protect their home and their heritage from the threat of uranium mining. Now, their story is being immortalised in a new book to be launched in Perth later this month.
‘Yeelirrie 50 years of resistance’ is the incredible true story behind Western Australia’s longest and most bitter battle to prevent the mining of uranium in our state. It is the story of how three multinational mining companies tried – and failed – to dig up one of Australia’s largest uranium deposits, 650 km northeast of Perth.
The book will be made available to the public for the first time at a launch event in Northbridge in March, presented by the Conservation Council of WA.
“Yeelirrie is taken from the word yulara, which means to weep”, said Ngalia Traditional Owner and anthropologist, Kado Muir.
“Today we have a new meaning for Yeelirrie, our struggle has shown how the small and weak can stand up against titans and be victorious. Where once we wept we now celebrate.”
Yeelirrie is a highly significant cultural place for the Traditional Owners who call the surrounding areas their home. It is part of the Seven Sisters Songline, rich with important cultural sites, many of which are kept secret from outsiders.
“Mining uranium at Yeelirrie, we’re going to stop it. That’s the story for the Seven Sisters... the old people told me that story and I don’t want that mine to go ahead” said Shirley Wonyabong, a Tijwal Elder who grew up at Yeelirrie Station.
The area’s cultural significance is matched only by its environmental significance. Below the surface of the proposed mine site, a 17-kilometre-long aquifer and labyrinth of caves is home to approximately 100 species of subterranean animals known as stygofauna. Many of these tiny creatures don’t occur anywhere else on earth.
Above ground, the dry and dusty red landscape is dotted with spinifex and low-lying plant life, home to vulnerable species like the malleefowl, princess parrot and the greater bilby.
In total, the nine-kilometre open pit required for mining uranium at Yeelirrie threatened to lead to the extinction of between 11 and 15 native species, according to WA’s Environmental Protection Authority.
“We identified 55 species of stygofauna - including amphipods, beetles, syncarids, and copepods - and 45 species of troglofauna - such as spiders, pseudoscorpions, isopods, millipedes, and insects”, said Shae Callan, a subterranean fauna zoologist who was involved in a subterranean fauna survey at Yeelirrie between 2009 and 2011.
“We found only five species were known beyond Yeelirrie: in other words, 95 per cent of Yeelirrie’s subterranean fauna species had been sampled nowhere else in the world.”
While the latest proposal to mine at Yeelirrie – by Canadian company, Cameco – expired in January last year, the threat of uranium mining has not disappeared completely, and the community is wary of where the next threat might come from.
“We were happy when Labor came to government and banned uranium and were glad when they said no to Cameco when they wanted to extend their approval. We hope Labor will take away the approval altogether, help to protect Yeelirrie into the future”, said Tijwarl woman Vicki Abdullah.
“That place is special to me and my family. Yeelirrie should never be mined, and this government can make sure it is safe forever.”
Yeelirrie – 50 years of resistance will be launched at a special event at Rooftop Movies in Northbridge on Sunday 19 March 2022. For more information, visit rooftopmovies.com.au
IMAGE: Walkatjurra Walkabout Yeelirrie in 2015 [Conservation Council of WA]
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing nearly 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 9420 7291 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]