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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Uranium mining – Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, 1975–77

Extensive uranium mining in the Northern Territory began at the Rum Jungle site in 1949. By the 1960s, mining at Rum Jungle began to wind down, and the mine closed in 1971. Major discoveries, however, were soon made at Narbarlek, and then later at Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra in the Alligator Rivers Region, east of Darwin.

The discovery of large quantities of uranium in an area which had both historical and cultural significance led the Whitlam Government to appoint a committee of inquiry to examine the environmental impacts of any proposed mining in the area. The Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, under the direction of Russell Fox, was appointed in July 1975. Its brief was to inquire into the environmental aspects of a proposal, by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission in association with Ranger Uranium Mines, to develop Northern Territory uranium deposits.

The Inquiry held public hearings in Sydney, Darwin, Mudginberri (near the proposed Ranger mine site), Gove, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, between 9 September 1975 and 12 August 1976. A total of 281 persons gave evidence to the Inquiry.

The Inquiry issued two reports. The first, on 2 November 1976, dealt solely with the grounds of objection to uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region. The second report, issued on 17 May 1977, dealt with other issues, such as Aboriginal land rights, the establishment of a national park in the region, and other environmental matters.2

The Inquiry found that if uranium mining was properly regulated and controlled, its hazards were not sufficient to prevent the development of the mines. The Inquiry recommended the establishment of a comprehensive system of environmental monitoring and research, overseen by a coordinating committee representing all the agencies involved, and chaired by a supervising scientist. It also recommended the granting of Aboriginal title to a substantial part of the region and the creation of a national park.

The Inquiry's records, which consist of 12,575 pages of transcript of evidence and 354 documentary exhibits, as well as general files, maps, photographs and press clippings, are held by the National Archives in Canberra.

Selected records relating to preliminary studies of uranium mining in the Alligator rivers region
National Archives, Darwin
Arnhem Land uranium province pre-environmental studies, 1971–74 F1, 1971/6618
Arnhem Land uranium province pre-environmental studies, exchange of information, 1971–73 F1, 1971/7268
Arnhem Land uranium province pre-environmental studies, exchange of information, 1974–76 F1, 1974/1798
Arnhem Land uranium province pre-environmental studies, exchange of information, 1976–77 F1, 1976/728
Arnhem Land uranium province pre-environmental studies, exchange of information, 1977–79 F1, 1977/4295
National Archives, Canberra
Transcripts of the Inquiry's hearings, 1975–77 A4153
Written submissions/statements of the Inquiry, 1975–77 A4156
Inquiry exhibits, 1975–77 A4157
Submissions files, 1975–77 A4159
Administration files, 1975–77 A4160
Alligator Rivers region environmental fact finding studies, 1975 A4298
Maps and plans, 1975–77 A4299
Press cuttings (alphabetical series), 1975–76 A4300
Press cuttings (chronological series), 1975 A4301
Statements and submissions, 1975–76 A4407
Aerial photographs of the Jabiluka mine site and surrounds, 1975 A4409
Copy of sketches of Aboriginal paintings, 1975 A4410
Alphabetical list of witnesses, 1975–76 A4411
Submissions to the Inquiry, 1975–77 A10394
National Archives, Darwin
Copy of Alligator Rivers region environmental fact finding study, 1975 E1394


Chapter notes | All notes

2 Australia. Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, Second Report, May 1977; Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers (1977), volume 6, paper 117.


Chapter 14