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Mintabie
South Australia
Population 250 (2001; OACDT)
Established 1978
Postcode(s) 5724
Elevation 353 m (1,158 ft)
Location
LGA(s) Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara
State electorate(s) Giles
Federal Division(s) Grey
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
37.1 °C
99 °F
5.0 °C
41 °F
222.6 mm
8.8 in

Mintabie is an opal mining community in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara or "APY" Lands in South Australia. It is unique in comparison to other communities situated in the APY Lands, in that its residents are largely not of Indigenous Australian origin, and significant mining activity (of opal gemstones) is occurring.

Geography

Mintabie is situated west of the Stuart Highway and approximately 35 kilometres northwest of Marla and 980 kilometres northwest of the capital of South Australia, Adelaide. Mintabie is approximately 200 kilometres south of the Northern Territory border.

Mintabie sits in a geographical basin. It is therefore not surprising that there is a lake basin near Mintabie. The Mintabie Miners Progress Association describes the lake as follows:

The lake at Mintabie is fed by many small surrounding creeks. In the past 15 years, it has been filled twice. The first time was in 1988, when higher than normal rainfall filled the lake to capacity. Although the rainfall returned to normal, the lake retained water for approximately three years. Rains in 2000 again filled the lake Today the lake has once again dried up awaiting another big rain.

The parcel of land on which Mintabie sits is leased by the State government from Anangu. The original township lease expired in 2002. On 3 December 2009, the South Australian Parliament passed the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights (Mintabie) Amendment Act 2009. This legislation creates the framework for a new lease.

Geology and Mining

The ABS 1999 Yearbook for South Australia states, concerning Opal Mining at Mintabie, that:

The opal fields at Coober Pedy, Mintabie and Andamooka, together with fields in New South Wales, supply most of the world’s precious opal. The estimated value of raw opal production in South Australia was $40.7m in 1997. Most of this is exported to Hong Kong, Japan, United States of America and Germany.

The South Australian Department of Primary Industry and Resources describes Mintabie's geology as follows:

the Eromanga Basin borders onto old basement rocks which are about 1,500 million years old and consist of granite and gneiss. Also on the western margin lie the sediments of the Officer Basin which comprise sandstone, quartzite, siltstone and shale about 500 million years old. These sediments were tilted by crustal forces and form prominent hills such as the Mount Johns Range near Marla. The opal deposits at Mintabie occur in a sandstone unit which was bleached and weathered by the same process that affected the Eromanga Basin sediments as described above.

Climate

Based upon the climate records of the nearest weather station at Marla Police Station, Mintabie experiences summer maximum temperatures of an average of 37.1 degrees Celsius in January and a winter maximum average temperature of 19.7 degrees Celsius in June. Overnight lows range from a mean minimum temperature of 21.8 degrees in January to 5.0 degrees in June.

Annual rainfall averages 222.6 millimetres.

Population

Mintabie's population is approximately 200-250 people. The OACDT states that Mintabie's population:

... can fluctuate significantly between the hotter and cooler parts of the year. Some of the Mintabie miners also work claims at the new Seven Waterholes opal field well to the east

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census data showed a fall from 239 residents in the 1996 Census to 201 in the 2001 Census.

ABS analysis of its 2001 census data showed that Mintabie, like other South Australian mining communities, had one of South Australia's highest proportions of male to female residents (62.5%). Mintabie had the highest ratio of lone person households (51.2%), again a characteristic of South Australian mining communities. Mintabie also recorded one of the State's highest unemployment rates (30.8%, second only to Iron Knob, South Australia with 32.8%).

Significantly, the Indigenous Australian population in Mintabie is far lower than other parts of the APY Lands. The 1991 Census found just 21 indigenous people, which had decreased to 12 by 1996. Hence, despite being situated in the APY Lands, Mintabie's profile is much more like its sister opal mining communities like Roxby Downs, Andamooka and Coober Pedy.

History

The Mintabie Miners Progress Association, through its promotional website, gives the following early history of the area:

As in many other parts of South Australia, Aborigines were reportedly the first people to find opal at Mintabie. They sold black opal at Coober Pedy during the first world war but it was many years before miners braved the harsh conditions to mine the area. The first miners to work in Mintabie found the sandstone too hard to successfully mine. It was not until 1976, when large machinery was introduced, that the potential of Mintabie was fully realized and the fledgling township was established.

In 1981, Anangu won the inalienable freehold title to the APY Lands. This victory came at the end of protracted and often bitter negotiations. As part of those negotiations Anangu agreed to lease back to the Crown the small parcel of land on which the township of Mintabie sits.

When Anangu began their struggle for land rights in 1976, very little prospecting was being conducted at Mintabie. As things turned out, the push for land rights coincided with a rush on opal exploration. Consequently, by the time the South Australian Parliament began to seriously consider granting land rights to Anangu, a growing number of opal miners were setting up operations around Mintabie.

In November 1978, a Labor Government introduced a Bill to establish Pitjantjatjara land rights. Before long, a group of miners from Mintabie had expressed their strong opposition to the Bill. They warned that the proposed legislation would:

act against future opal prospecting and mining ... tend to hinder any other industry set up by people other than Aboriginals... [and] give no real benefit to the Aboriginals but ... cause plenty of friction with the rest of the population.[

The Bill was still before Parliament when a State Election was called. After the election, Anangu entered into a fresh round of negotiations with the newly elected Liberal Government. Those negotiations concluded on 2 October 1980, when the Pitjantjatjara Council - acting for all Anangu -formally reached an agreement with the Government on the provisions of a new Bill.

Introduced into Parliament on 23 October 1980, the "Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Bill 1980" proposed granting Anangu title to a large area of land including the township of Mintabie. At the same time, the Bill recognised that opal mining would continue at Mintabie and included provisions to control that activity. Certain occupancy rights were to be provided to prospectors but these would be balanced with processes that Anangu could use, if necessary, to have someone evicted from Mintabie.

On 25 November 1980, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee. In the course of its work the Committee visited both Mintabie and the Anangu community of Iwantja.

In a written submission to the Select Committee, the Pitjantjatjara Council explained that while it did "not wish to interfere with any person who wishes to mine, conduct business or otherwise live at or visit Mintabie lawfully," it had serious concerns about "sly grog selling":

The difficulties associated with Mintabie are deep-rooted ones. For a long time, the community there has been under little control from the Government, either through the Police or the Mines Department. ... The main problem in the past has been sly grog selling which has continued unchecked as recently as last week. As a result of unlimited access to take-away liquor, many Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people have been subjected to acute social dislocation. One of their men was shot-gunned to death, others killed in road accidents and many involved in lesser violence. ... the Bill must include the [Mintabie Precious Stone] Field under title to enable integrated rules for protection of the lands to apply and ... long-awaited social controls [to] be enforced.

In contrast, the opal miners of Mintabie - and also some from Coober Pedy - opposed the Bill, sometimes vehemently:

it is absolutely essential that the area ... of the Mintabie Precious Stones Field be excised from the Act! ... if the politicians of South Australia ignore this request, then they must be held fully responsible for any confrontation - and possibly even bloodshed - that would almost certainly follow.

After extensive discussions with both the Pitjantjatjara Council and the Mintabie Progress Association, the Parliamentary Select Committee recommended that the area of land covering the township of Mintabie be included in the grant of land to Anangu but would be leased back to the Crown for a period of 21 years. Such an arrangement would enable the Crown to "issue Annual Licenses to persons entering... and wishing to reside" at Mintabie.

The Committee tabled its report on 3 March 1981 and the Bill proceeded through Parliament.

On 2 October 1981, the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act 1981 came into operation. On that day, under Section 28(2) of the Act, the township of Mintabie was "deemed to have been leased by Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara to the Crown for a term of twenty-one years."

Facilities

Mintabie has an "all-weather" airstrip, school,and 7-day supply of fuel and services. Accommodation is catered for by the Mintabie Hotel (Goanna Grill and Bar) which has 6 rooms, 2 self-contained units and also a 24-hour power caravan park. Mintabie also has another caravan park.

The Mintabie health clinic, called the "Clarice Megaw Clinic" was opened in 1990 and so named in honour of a bequest from a deceased estate which enabled health authorities to commit more resources to the region. This has now been sold by Frontier Services for an undisclosed amount to a private buyer.

The Mintabie Area School is a R-12 school with approximately 20 students. By 2009 this had fallen to only 11 enrolments. Mintabie does not have a permanent police presence. South Australian police are based at Marla and run patrols in the area.

A permit from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara is required to access Mintabie, as the land is owned freehold by the resident Aboriginal people. Currently this isn't being enforced because of unresolved issues.

For State elections (i.e. to elect the Parliament of South Australia), a mobile polling booth is taken to Mintabie.

Native Fauna

Native animal species commonly found in and about Mintabie include the galah, thorny devil and netted dragon lizard and the larger lizard variety known as goanna.

Footnotes

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