Heads rolled after Rio Tinto famously dynamited an old aboriginal rock shelter at the Juukan gorge last year.
But the sackings weren’t just because of that specific act of vandalism, but rather because the destruction at Juukan spoke of a long history and an embedded culture of insensitivity towards indigenous people that had been running riot for decades.
Allegations that Rio Tinto failed to protect 18,000-year-old artefacts showing how people lived during the last Ice Age and which were recovered from the Mirandoo iron ore mine have now hit the headlines.
The Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation has argued that the Australian mining industry “hasn’t behaved responsibly” in regard to archaeological and cultural sites, and that wholesale changes is necessary.
It seems that what’s required isn’t only a commitment to future best practice, which Rio Tinto has given, but also a reckoning with the past.
The Wintawari Guruma Corporation said it had learned that material dating back at least 18,000 years and other artefacts had been thrown in a Darwin rubbish heap.
In response Rio Tinto’s iron ore chief Simon Trott apologised for “past actions” but did not address the specific allegations.
One reason for that might be that he knows there are plenty more allegations to come, and that addressing each of them specifically could end up bogging the company down for years in legal battles and compensation claims.