After one community received notice from the government that their water supply was undrinkable, many locals blame the nearby mine. However, the fact that it passed without greater discussion is also the issue.
Sometimes, it’s particularly hard not to view the black and white of headlines through the prism of skin colour.
On Saturday afternoon, the ABC broke the story of one NT indigenous community and the government-sponsored note that was passed around it, warning the residents to steer clear of their water supply, due to lead-based contamination.
Per the ABC report, the notices claim that the contamination is “short-term” and is currently under investigation from the government-run Power and Water Corporation, and they’d inform the residents when the water was again safe to drink.
What makes this horse a different colour is what neighbours the community of Borroloola. The McArthur River mine (one of the world’s largest zinc, lead and silver mines) sits a mere 70km down the road. One that is currently in the process of doubling its size.
Both the mine and the community have a particularly storied history, as back in 2014, the former contaminated both the fish that swam in the river and also the ruminants that drank from it, with the latter eventually discovering the source of the contamination a full year later. The element responsible is apparently the same as it was then. Lead.
Now, what makes this story important is the lack of stories about it. Only the ABC broke the news, and nothing else has been said regarding it, despite the historic battles between the community and the mine. Speaking to the ABC, Keith Rory, the Gawara community leader, claimed that despite Power and Water Corporation advising the community there was “some concern” about the water last year, the notification to stop drinking it only turned up late last week.
Glencore (the parent company of the mine), said via statement: “There is no indication this incident is in any way related to McArthur River Mining’s operations.”
To that end, Mr Rory stated that the community was not jumping to conclusions until the PWC tests are complete, but some who toe the streets of Borroloola see it differently, with a local Elder pointing the finger directly at the mines.
What we have, it seems, is an impasse, and indeed a wait to see what the tests say. Until that point, the community must survive on bottled water, and the contents of the water truck in the above image. What we have here is an issue not being discussed. The timing between this incident and the Northern Territory government okaying fracking should elevate Borroloola as a counter-point. Even the possibility of a mine poisoning a town’s water supply should be a talking point. After all, this is one town next to one mine, and there are many more of both in this country. What we have here is a microcosm of a larger issue.
To be frank, it’s easy to muse what the reaction would have been if this was run off from a questionable source next to a white community. The headlines would scream punny murder, with media commentators on both sides of the fence would dial up the rhetoric, speaking furious anger. Talking heads would jar, lines would be drawn and the Twittersphere would collapse in on itself.
What we have is an issue not being discussed.
And that is an issue.