The dusty red soil of the West Australian outback covers one of the world’s most prolific gold producing regions. It’s also home to many Indigenous Australians, who have inhabited this isolated and harsh landscape for thousands of years. In many communities, gold miners and Indigenous people are neighbours.
Barrick Gold’s Granny Smith mine is one such example, situated between large aboriginal communities in Laverton and Leonora, approximately 1,000 kilometers northeast of Perth.
Many remote Indigenous communities in Australia suffer from socio-economic challenges that contribute to high unemployment, increased health risks and a standard of living that falls well below the national average.
The Granny Smith mine began production in 1990 and since then, has worked to improve quality of life for local Indigenous people by supporting education, training and job opportunities, and by bolstering childhood nutrition.
To achieve these goals, the mine joined forces with Indigenous community leaders and two other nearby gold mining companies in 1997 to create the Laverton Leonora Cross Cultural Association (LLCCA). Today, the organization is supported by Barrick Gold along with several other mining companies.
The LLCCA supports business development opportunities that provide long-term employment for Indigenous people, along with programs to create genuine benefits for communities that will continue long after nearby mines have closed.
Along with jobs and training, the LLCCA has also taken an active role in supporting the education of Indigenous youth. Over the years, this has included projects such as an after-school homework center for Indigenous students. The center recruited part-time teachers and volunteer staff who developed programs to assist children with their studies on a daily basis.
“The results were very positive,” says Annette Nykiel, manager of the LLCCA. “The programs helped more students keep up with their schoolwork and encouraged both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to finish high school and continue to post-secondary education.”
The organization has also helped students find apprenticeships and traineeships with various mining companies, with an average of two to three placements per year.
Barrick Gold’s director of Operations for Australia Pacific, Nick Cernotta, believes the LLCCA has had a positive impact on children’s access to education and their ability to succeed beyond school.
“Our program has created a win-win scenario for Indigenous people and mining companies in the area. It’s about giving people the skills they need to succeed,” Cernotta says. “The relationship between the Indigenous groups and LLCCA is a very important one. It’s encouraging to see the positive changes in the community and I’m confident this will only improve.”
Proper childhood nutrition is another vital ingredient for academic success. Recognizing many families in the remote Laverton Leonora area struggle to meet nutritional needs, the LLCCA initiated a lunch program at the Mount Margaret Remote Community School with the support of Barrick Gold’s Granny Smith mine.
Each day, Barrick Gold provides the school with a variety of fresh fruits and ingredients such as breads, salads and meats to make healthy and nutritional lunchtime sandwiches for the children.
As a result, 19 Indigenous children who attend the Mount Margaret School can rely on a nutritional and wholesome lunch every day, improving attention in the classroom and student health.
The LLCCA has also been instrumental in the coordination of a community safety program called the Wongatha Patrol. Members typically patrol after-dark in Laverton, and are trained to deal with Indigenous issues and provide crucial support to local police. Patrol members also assist Indigenous children to get to and from school and other youth activities safely and on time.
In addition to support for education, training courses held at the LLCCA have allowed hundreds of local Indigenous people to gain employment, primarily in the mining industry, but also in the local business community. Barrick Gold has employed a significant number of Indigenous employees and contractors at Granny Smith, in positions such as equipment operators, electricians and in diesel fitting, mill operations and as trade apprentices.
Today, the LLCCA is branching out, offering training in a range of fields. These include automobile maintenance and service and housing repairs and carpentry. These programs have proved popular with local Aboriginal people, and the organization has engaged Western Australia’s Curtin University and other training organizations to run selected courses as a Certificate 4 registered training organization.
On average, the LLCCA has successfully facilitated the employment of about 100 Indigenous people per year in meaningful, full-time jobs.
Cernotta says Barrick Gold’s goal is to support a jobs, training and business philosophy through the LLCCA that promotes economic growth and social benefits.
Promoting local artists has been another area of focus for the LLCCA and Aboriginal communities. The organization operates a cooperative art gallery to showcase and sell the work of Aboriginal artists, who receive up to 80 per cent of the sale price of their work. The LLCCA has also developed a website to bring the artists’ work to a much wider audience.
Local indigenous artist, Nye Johnston, has recently sold his work through the LLCCA. He believes the organization is a huge benefit to his community.
“There’s no other place like it. It’s the only outlet for us to advertise our artwork and it gives us a great opportunity to learn more about business development. A growing number of my people are selling their artwork through the center,” says Johnston. “We are demonstrating to other communities that you can work progressively and proactively with mining companies through centers like LLCCA.”
Since 1997, the LLCCA has played an important role in the Laverton and Leonora region. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents are united in their support for the organization and a desire to see the LLCCA grow and offer support to the community for many years to come.