Rio Tinto Contrite, But Still Digging, After Juukan Gorge Destruction

THE BOURSE WHISPERER: Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO), publicly at least, has its tail between its legs in regards to the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site in Juukan Gorge.

The company blew up the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara of Western Australia in May to expand its Brockman 4 iron ore mine.

The Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP) had pleaded with Rio, telling it they wanted to preserve the site and had issued an urgent request to halt the blast five days before the detonation took place.

Photo Credit: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation

Rio Tinto made a submission to a Senate inquiry into the destruction of the site, saying that it, “has unreservedly apologised to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP), and we reaffirm that apology now”.

Then came the lip-service, letting the company look contrite, but not taking away from the wanton damage it caused.

“For the benefit of current and future generations of Australians,” the company continued.

“We are determined to learn the lessons to ensure that the destruction of heritage sites of exceptional archaeological and cultural significance, such as the Juukan rock shelters, never occurs again”.

It is probably fair to give credit to the company here, as it is true the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters can never happen again, because it has happened and they can never be re-constructed for them to fall under any further protection. They’ve gone. Never to return.

What has come to light from the Senate inquiry is that Rio had another three options on the table to expand its iron ore mine that would not have damaged the caves.

Instead, it chose option four, which allowed it to, “access higher volumes of high-grade ore”, which would ensure it maintained the happiness of its shareholders who all received a healthy dividend of approximately $2.16 this year.

Rio informed the inquiry that it had engaged an independent expert to see if it could unload explosives from the relative holes before the blast.

It was found there was, “insufficient time to do so safely”.

On how much time compared to 46,000 years it did not expand.

As we were going to press a response was in the offing from Fortescue Metals (ASX: FMG) to a submission by the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) regarding two rock shelters, estimated at 60,000 years old, that are under threat from FMG expansion.