Redbank is located in the Gulf region of the Northern Territory (NT) approximately 30 km west of the Queensland/NT border and 70 km inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria. It consists of a number of shallow oxide copper deposits, with a majority of the mining activity being undertaken at the Sandy Flat Mine site. Hanrahan’s Creek and the Savannah Way run along the north western boundary of the site.
The Redbank copper deposits have been worked intermittently since their discovery in the early 20th century. Sandy Flat pit, the main disturbance, was mined briefly in the mid-1990’s.
Redbank Mine Site UAV Video
The Redbank and Azurite prospects were discovered by William (Bill) Masterton in 1916. It is estimated that 800 tonnes of copper oxide were mined by Masterton prior to his death in 1961. The ore was hand-sorted and transported to the coast by packhorse. In 1966 Granville Development mined 2,000 tons, which was sent to Mount Isa for processing.
Prospecting continued at Redbank, including a geophysical survey undertaken in 1967 by Placer Prospecting Pty Ltd. Confirmatory drilling was subsequently undertaken by Harbourside Oil NL in 1970, during drilling high grade copper sulphide ore was encountered beneath an equally high grade oxide cap at the Sandy Flat prospect.
The Westmoreland-Harbourside-Newaim joint venture undertook further drilling, geophysical surveys and geological mapping in 1971. The joint venture was dissolved at the end of 1971, as the reserves did not meet their corporate requirements.
Hydro-metallurgical testing was undertaken at Sandy Flat in 1981 by Triako-Buka-Amdex. Sandine-Restech-Hunter Resources-Vanoxi subsequently took control of a reduced area in 1983, and Exploration Retention Lease (ERL) 94 was established to protect the Sandy Flat area.
Redbank Copper Pty Ltd purchased the tenement group from Sanidine-Vanoxi in December 1989. Following further drilling programs and metallurgical testing, a Preliminary Environmental Report was submitted and assessed under the NT Environmental Assessment Act (EA Act) in 1993. A mining approval was consequently granted in 1994.
Mining and associated processing was undertaken between 1994 and 1996. The ore was processed through conventional floatation methods to produce a copper concentrate. Operations continued for approximately two years at the site, until copper prices dropped and the take-off customer, Mt Isa Mines, was no longer willing to accepting the concentrate. The last mining occurred in June 1996 and at this time the site was placed in care and maintenance.
Following the cessation of mining activities, an estimated 54,000 tonnes of partially treated and potentially acid forming material remained stockpiled on the surface at site. In 2004 a heap and vat leach extraction process was established at the site, this process consisting of placing crushed ore in lined vats and leap leach pads. A recycled acidic solution, of pH 2 to 3, was used to irrigate the ore and leach the copper.
In early 2006 the Redbank Project was acquired by Burdekin Pacific and the name of the company operating the site was changed to Redbank Mines Limited. Production was ceased during the 2005/2006 wet season, however, recommenced in 2006/2007. During this period stockpile material was treated using a similar leaching process as outlined above, however, on a smaller scale. It should be noted that there has been no significant production at the site since 1996.
Further exploration was undertaken by Redbank Mines Limited between 2006 and 2008 to verify the results of the 1971 exploration. A pre-feasibility study was completed in November 2007, and a definitive feasibility study was undertaken in 2007 and 2008.
In 2009 the site was again placed in care and maintenance. At this time Redbank Mines Limited was renamed Redbank Copper Limited.
Redbank Copper Limited submitted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the expansion of the Redbank copper operations in 2009. Redbank Copper Limited proposed to expand the current infrastructure at the Sandy Flat Mine, including commencing processing using a new tank leach solvent extract electro winning plant, and mining of the Bluff, Azurite and Redbank deposits. In addition, a new tailings storage facility (TSF) and waste rock dumps were proposed.
Due to insufficient detail being provided in the EIS, supplementary information was requested. Supplementary information was consequently provided to the Department of Natural Resources, Environment the Arts and Sport in February 2010. The supplementary information proposed excluding mining and processing of sulphidic ores and the TSF from the assessment proves. An application for these components was to be resubmitted once sufficient information was available.
Approval for mining of oxide ore from the Redbank, Azurite and Bluff deposits was granted in April 2010. However, Redbank Copper Limited deemed the project uneconomic and the site has remained in care and maintenance. On-going exploration has been undertaken during the care and maintenance period.
In June 2016 a Deed of Agreement was signed by The Department of Mines and Energy, Redbank Operations Pty Ltd, and the Controller of Water Resources. Redbank Operations Pty Ltd surrendered the Mineral Leases MLN 631, MLN 632, MLN 633, MLN 636 and MLN 1108 pursuant to section 103(1) of the Mineral Titles Act. The surrendered leases covered an area of 65.4 ha. Redbank Operations Pty Ltd currently holds the exploration lease ELR94 over the site.
Redbank and the land surrounding are acknowledged to be significant to the Traditional Owners, and a number of sites of significance are known to exist along Hanrahan's Creek and further downstream. A Redbank Working Group was established in 2013 with the initial meeting held at Redbank in September 2013. The Working Group aims to meet biannually and is intended to provide a forum for all stakeholders to be informed regarding activities at the site.
Following the meeting in September 2013 local Garawa artist Jacky Green painted a record of the agreement reached with the Ministers. A copy of the painting and the story behind it are presented below along with comments from people who have been impacted by the contamination from Redbank.
Three - ways: Agreement for Redbank Mine
Jacky Green 2013
This painting is about the agreement the Northern Territory Government and Redbank Mining Company made with Garawa traditional owners about fixing up the pollution leaking from Redbank Mine.
In September 2013, we had the meeting with the government and Redbank mining company about Redbank Mine that’s located on Garawa country near Wollogorang. There’s been a lot of damage to that country from the mine. It’s been going on for a long time and we been real worried about it. The meeting opened a lot of people’s eyes to what’s been going on.
The reason I put this painting together is that the Garawa traditional owners for that country have never had a decent agreement with the government or the mining company about the country where the mine is located. If we did the damage wouldn’t have happened.
At the meeting were traditional owners for the country, the Minister for Mines and Energy, Willem Westra van Holthe, the Minister for Land Planning and Environment, Peter Chandler, and representatives from Redbank Copper Pty Ltd. The government and mining company made an agreement with us. The agreement was to fix-?up the mine, to stop it leaking into the creeks and waterways on our country. And to heal our country so that it’s safe.
In the painting are three hands: one is the government, one the mining company and one the traditional owners. The painting represents the agreement the government and mining company made with us at the meeting. It’s how we see the agreement as Aboriginal people. Once you make an agreement with us, we stick to it. We may not use pen and paper but we listen to what the words say.
The Minister told us that fixing up Redbank Mine so it doesn’t damage our country, our fish our turtles, and our sacred sites was a priority for his government. He told us he would apply for money from a thing called the Mining Remediation Fund. Then all three parties would set up a team to work together, to keep an eye on one another so everything runs smoothly. As part of the agreement, Aboriginal rangers and old people will work with the government and the mining company to fix the problem and keep and eye on things. We got to make sure our sacred sites are safe.
In the painting the three hands rest over Hanrahan’s Creek that’s bright bluey-?green from pollution leaking from the mine and killing everything in the creeks. Along the banks there’s places with no trees, they can’t grow there because the waters polluted and it’s slowly killing them. In the foreground stands a man, he represents the whitefellas that been mining our country and causing the damage. They wander around the place, they never talk to us and they never recognise us as owners for that country. The emu, kangaroo, goanna, turkey and ducks represent the animals that used to live on the country, but they gone now because the country is sick. The site where the mine is located used to be an important stopping-off place for our people on their journeys. It was a place were there was always food but now there’s nothing.
Through the agreement we are all going to work together to heal the country so we can leave it to our children and grandchildren and all the other ones yet to come.
“That place where we were walking [Redbank mine site]. We used to stay there, before, when we used to walk from the place Ngarlalina. We used to roll our swag and stop near [Hanrahans] creek. We used to have a big camp, sit down for maybe four days. Get Kangaroo; my father and my grandfather used to spear them with a spear. We used to sit down and make fire. My mother and my grandmother used to get wood and make big fire. My dad and grandfather used to cook the kangaroo, take it from the fire, cut all the meat and share it to all the family.
"Maybe tomorrow they would go hunting for Emu. When the Emu came down to drink the water they used to spear him with a spear. My grandfather used to wait at the water where [Hanrahans] creek is. It was really lovely back in that day, that water. One Emu used to feed the whole family: Go back and cook it, share it with the family. Another thing - night time used to come. By moonlight my Aunty Phyllis and Aunty Clara, they used to go nighttime with a dog, go look for [echidna], one each. I used to walk with them too.
"The future, you know when I go through it and I start thinking about [Redbank mine], it really hunts my feelings. It never been like that before, that place. I feel sorry."
“We have grandchildren and kids coming up, we need a future. The mine needs to do the right thing by the people. Our young kids need to get on the country, hunting and fishing. They can't be frightened of contamination. We need to make to make sure that the country is safe for our young people to go back, to work, hunt and live on their grandfather's and grandmother's country.
“From my side as Junggai, and my wife's side as Traditional Owner, I like to see government make an agreement with Traditional Owners and Junggai before they go ahead and do work there. They talk to and negotiate with Traditional Owners and Junggai of country.
“We really need a good communication between us, government, miners, and the pastoralist. All the members of the [Redbank] Working Group, and all the members of the region really need to work with the mine from now. We need to get up straight away to fix it.”
Redbank Mine locality map
Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade
GPO Box 4550, DARWIN NT 0801
Senior Environmental Advisor
Legacy Mines Unit
tel: +61 8 8999 6598