Mintabie, South Australia
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (June 2011)|
|Population||250 (2001; OACDT)|
|Elevation||353 m (1,158 ft)|
|LGA(s)||Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara|
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
Trafficking of illegal drugs and alcohol
Despite long periods of government inattention, Anangu have repeatedly highlighted the negative impacts that certain individuals and businesses operating out of Mintabie have on their lives. This has included raising their concerns with representatives of the South Australian Parliament.
In October 1987, APY advised a group of parliamentarians visiting the Lands that alcohol had become a major problem for Anangu communities and that a significant amount was being brought illegally on to the Lands through Mintabie. On that occasion, Anangu called for South Australia Police "to pay greater attention in Mintabie to the sale of alcohol to Aborigines." 
In 1988, after visiting Anangu communities and Mintabie, a Parliamentary Committee reported that it had also been "advised of ‘grog running' by persons apparently using Mintabie as the source of supplies and then selling the alcohol at inflated prices to Aboriginal people." The Committee recommended "that the matter of alcohol distribution from the Mintabie area be investigated urgently by the Police."
More than a decade later, significant problems remained. In 2002, in a written submission to a parliamentary inquiry, Iwantja Council alleged that many people at Mintabie were involved in "selling sly grog to Anangu." The submission continued:
So much grog is stored in houses [at Mintabie] that people break in to gain access to it, what follows ends in violence and as proved recently a murder resulted directly from the stored alcohol. In recent times the sale of marijuana has reached an epidemic. This is coming from Mintabie as well. The reason it continues is that the people have to be caught in the act, an almost impossible task as the Marla police are some 40 kilometres away 
A month after Iwantja made these allegations, South Australia Police (SAPOL) confirmed Mintabie as the source for a significant amount of the drugs and alcohol coming on to the APY Lands. On that occasion, SAPOL also reported that it had "recently found buried at Mintabie a large container set up with hydroponic gear that [had] been the source of cannabis for much of the lands for the past couple of years." Drugs and alcohol continue to enter the APY Lands through Mintabie. In August 2007, South Australia Police arrested and charged two men at Mintabie for their alleged involvement in a "cannabis selling network."
In April 2008, the Mullighan Inquiry into child sexual abuse on the APY Lands noted South Australia Police's concern that Mintabie was "being used as a staging post for the trafficking of marijuana on the Lands."
Even so, Coober Pedy has been overlooked as a source of alcohol and drugs even though it is only 250 km south of Mintabie (where only during 2011 a APY citizen was murdered due to alcohol-related sales in Coober Pedy). Also the increase of work on the APY by contractors from Marla has also increased the amount of drugs trafficked into the PAY lands. Again no police action has been taken against either Coober Pedy and Marla.
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.
- OACDT Profile Page
- GeoScience Australia Gazetted Co-ordinates
- Bonzle.com Profile;
- "Every Pub", Vol. 2, Chris Dittmar, Bruce Abernethy & Australian Hotels Association (SA branch), 2006, ISBN 0-646-46619-4, 
- Bonzle.com Topographical profile;
- "Scenic Tour of Mintabie";
- "APY Lands Renewal of the Lease";
- ABS "South Australian Yearbook 1999"
- PIRSA Soil Conservation information page
- Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology data
- 2001 Census Data (Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet)
- ABS 2001 Census Analysis
- 1996 Census Analysis of Population and Housing
- Mintabie Opal Fields Information Page
- The township lease covers an area of approximately two square kilometres. It is located within the Mintabie Precious Stone Field. The Field is approximately 200 square kilometres in size and is proclaimed for the purpose of opal mining (see PIRSA, 1 September 2004, Information provided to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, p14.)
- See Kriven, S. 9 November 1989, "Big trouble in little Mintabie", Advertiser; also District Council of Coober Pedy, , "Submission to the Inquiry into Resource Exploration Impediments," Standing Committee on Industry and Resource, House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia.
- Miners of Mintabie, 24 February 1979, Letter to the Select Committee on the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Bills 1978, Records of the Parliament of South Australia. This letter was signed by 65 people.
- This agreement was signed by the Hon D. Tonkin, Premier of South Australia, and Mr P. Thompson and Mr R Stevens, both of the Pitjantjatjara Council Inc.
- On 20 August 1980, the SA Government had excised Mintabie from pastoral lease "to provide Crown land for the issue of residential tensures for the opal mining community at Mintabie." [Mr F J Vickery, 14/1/1981, p73] . First annual licenses had been issued towards the end of 1979 [Vickery p83]
- "Report of the Select Committee on the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Bill, 1980," tabled in the House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia on 3 March 1981, p1.
- Pitjantjatjara Council. 16 December 1980, "Submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Bill 1980," p8.
- Coker, B. 13 January 1981, "Submission to the Select Committee of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Bill - 1980," p2.
- "Report of the Select Committee on the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Bill, 1980," tabled in the House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia on 3 March 1981, p3-4.
- More precisely, Section 28(2) covers an area of land defined as "section 1291 Out of Hundreds (Everard)" This area of land is approximately 2km2 in total.
- Commissioner for Consumer Affairs (SA). 1994, Annual report 1993/94, Adelaide, p29.
- Report of the Pitjantjatjara Lands Parliamentary Committee, 1988, Parliament of South Australia
- Iwantja Community Inc. 16 September 2002, Written submission to Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, p2.
- Mildren, P. 29 October 2002, Transcript of evidence to Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, p285.
- Mildren, P. 29 October 2002, Transcript of evidence to Select Committee on Pitjantjatjara Land Rights, p289.
- South Australia Police, 4 September 2007, "Tri-State Police initiative - Two men arrested at Mintabie," media release.
- Mullighan, E. April 2008, Children on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands: Commission of Inquiry - a report into sexual abuse, p103.
- OACDT Community Profile Page;
- SA Government Dept. Education & Childrens Services;
-  Education Dept communication to Paper Tracker
- Mintabie Miners Progress Association website;
- "Mintabie Opal Field website". Mintabie Miners Progress Association. 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
- "Google Maps satellite image of Mintabie". Google.
- "Bonzle.com profile page of Mintabie, including Weather, People, LGA and Terrain information". Bonzle.com. 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-16.