Australian news, and some related international items

The end of the uranium mining era leaves Jabiru with some social and housing problems

NT mine closure has Jabiru community anxious about an uncertain future, and some are already leaving,,  By Matt Garrick
  Packing her life away into boxes and preparing to shift out of her small Northern Territory town has had an emotional impact on Denise House — but it’s not the feeling she expected.

Key points:

  • The Ranger uranium mine will cease operations on January 9
  • Dozens of mining families are expected to leave town in coming months
  • Future rental prices and the standard of the town’s housing remains “unknown”

“It’s funny because I don’t feel like I’m leaving yet, although we know we are. There’s a date, we’ve already got our flights booked and everything,” Ms House said.

“But I’m sure there will be tears.”

The House family is among an exodus of families preparing to up stumps and leave Jabiru — a mining town on the edge of Kakadu National Park with a population of just over 1,000 people — as mining operations officially cease on January 9, 2021.

The vision is for Jabiru to eventually be turned into an Indigenous-run tourism town and service hub.

The entity set up to help handle the transition, Jabiru Kabolkmakmen Limited (JKL), is among those conceding the town faces a huge challenge in the coming year.

“There’s quite a lot of different changes happening in town all at the same time,” said JKL’s chief executive Marinella Faggion.

“Jabiru has found it really challenging to be prepared for the next six to 12 months.

“I think we’re relying on some of the main institutions in town to actually provide a little bit of leadership in that space.

“We’re still looking for some of that leadership now.”

The town’s future success hangs on the cooperation and communication between mining firm Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), the NT and Commonwealth Governments and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation — which Ms Faggion claimed wasn’t “flowing down to the community”.

Housing future Jabiru’s ‘big issue’

Jabiru was constructed in a flurry in the early 1980s to house the hundreds of miners employed to dig out the lucrative deposits from the newly approved Ranger uranium mine.

Now, with Ranger operations winding up and redundancy packages to be handed out next month, the days of Jabiru as a mining company town are numbered.

Housing future Jabiru’s ‘big issue’

Jabiru was constructed in a flurry in the early 1980s to house the hundreds of miners employed to dig out the lucrative deposits from the newly approved Ranger uranium mine.

Now, with Ranger operations winding up and redundancy packages to be handed out next month, the days of Jabiru as a mining company town are numbered.

ERA controls the bulk of Jabiru’s four-decade-old houses — about 300 of them — many of which are in dire need of repairs and maintenance and are water-damaged and asbestos ridden.

Manager of the Marrawuddi Arts and Culture Centre, Kate Hagebols, said while some of these houses were already sitting vacant, they remained tied up in “red tape” awaiting urgent work.

“This is stuff that should’ve been happening two years ago leading up to the lease finishing,” Ms Hagebols said.

“And I don’t think that’s going on.”

Vacant houses sitting without tenants

Jabiru’s town head lease will expire on June 30, 2021, when the land is expected to be signed over to a new “community entity” representing the region’s Mirarr traditional owners for up to 99 years.

By then, many of the uranium miners and their families will be gone — but concern is growing that ERA’s houses won’t yet be ready to be handed over to the community for whatever comes next.

Ms Faggion said as mining families started to leave, there were “more vacant houses appearing” in a town where rental demand was high.

“There’s not a lot of understanding about why they’re vacant, what the issues are,” Ms Faggion said.

“And they’re not being made available to businesses who are really keen to start growing their businesses in town right now.

“There is a big risk of the limitations to housing availability continuing unnecessarily, and small businesses not being able to grow through the transition and be supported.”

ERA signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019 where it committed to fully repairing its Jabiru housing stock before handing it back to the community.

Justin O’Brien, the CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, said he did not believe ERA had so far “honoured the spirit of that” agreement.

ERA chief executive Paul Arnold said in a statement the company planned to fulfil its promises — however “it has not been possible to commence any rectification works” until its workers leave.

“As this will occur shortly, housing works can then commence in earnest,” Mr Arnold said.

There are currently about 30 ERA houses sitting vacant, he confirmed, “although half of these are beyond repair due to such causes as storm and fire damage and are scheduled for demolition”.

Housing clarity may be too late for some

If and when the houses are finally fixed and handed back, a major question still hangs over them — what will the future rental prices be for those choosing to stick around?

A leaked JKL document that found its way onto Jabiru’s Facebook noticeboard recently indicated household rents in the town would be hiked by an average of about $120 per week over the next 10 years.

Ms Faggion said this was just a proposal and had not been locked in stone.

“That document is part of just one of the proposals [we’re] working on for a new housing entity to be established in Jabiru,” Ms Faggion said.

While a concrete rental plan was still “unknown”, she said, “the main changes we can expect with rents is a completely new system in place”.

“What that looks like I can’t say.”

This lack of certainty has rattled business owners hoping to stay post-mining.

“Absolutely, business owners are alarmed,” Ms Faggion said.

“They’ve been asking us what the proposal for rents is going to be for some time, and we’ve been trying to secure some sort of certainty in this space.”

One of those is Samantha Wright, who runs Fat Sam’s bistro at the Jabiru Golf Club.

Ms Wright said she could not afford to sit around and hope for answers.

“I would like to stay around and see what happens to the town, I’ve been here nine years, I feel like this is my home now,” Ms Wright said.

“However, if the document leaked with the proposed housing rent prices turns out to be true, me as a small business owner, I won’t be able to afford those rates, and I don’t suppose a lot of other people will either, sadly.

“There are a lot of good people in this town who do want to stay, and they’re going to be pushed out.”

For Ms Wright, as with many others, their future living on the edge of Kakadu National Park remains far from assured, as the end of an era rapidly approaches.


December 14, 2020 - Posted by | Northern Territory, uranium

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