The hills are alive with the sound of rehabilitation
Rhys Jenkins is a mine closure specialist. His day job involves mountains of work - literally.
Rhys works at Rio Tinto's Argyle Diamond Mine in the East Kimberley, in the remote north of Western Australia. Every hour, every day of the year, excavators dump 45 tonnes of ore - at a time - into massive trucks capable of carrying 200-tonne loads. The trucks haul the ore up out of the open pit, ready for processing. In the ore are diamonds, which Argyle has been chasing for over 25 years. However, all good things must come to an end. As the open pit winds down in preparation to move to underground mining, Rhys' skills as a closure specialist come into play.
"Argyle is committed to handing back the best possible environment to the Traditional Owners. My job is to ensure that the mine's leftover waste rock is shaped into a hill that blends in with the surrounding, natural landscape and in time becomes a habitat for local wildlife," says Rhys.
"We start by designing the best shape for the waste rock dumps that will fit in with the surrounding area, minimise potential erosion and encourage the creation of sustainable habitats. Dozers will then smooth out the waste rock, add a layer of top soil and, at the same time, lay fertilisers and seeds and rip the all-important trenches for seeds to nestle in," he says.
If they get the timing right, the wet season will help to grow the spinifex grass, eucalypt snappy gums and more than 50 other plant species in the mix.
Once the rehabilitation has been completed Rhys applies the old maxim, "build it and they will come", meaning let nature take its course.
"Over time," Rhys says, "a sustainable habitat will evolve that will be home for local lizards, birds, marsupials, snakes, insects, kangaroos and dingoes."
Argyle's long history of partnering with the Traditional Owners is enhanced by a Participation Agreement that establishes various community and environmental initiatives with the region's Indigenous people. Through the Gelganyem Trust the mine is fostering Indigenous business development, and in partnership with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, is creating Indigenous traineeships and apprenticeships.
Rhys says, "I'm thrilled about working with the local community to rejuvenate these striking Australian landscapes. Right now we're setting up a unique Indigenous business that will collect and provide locally collected seed for the big rehabilitation challenges ahead of us. And we're investigating involving local Indigenous rangers in ongoing fire management and environmental monitoring projects."