RESIDENTS of a remote opal township in South Australia may be forced to leave their homes this month after a state government decision to end the town's lease.
There is now a push from the predominantly white settlement to sue the SA Government for racial discrimination over the move.
Last year the Government announced residents would have 12 months to leave the town of Mintabie, which is on Aboriginal land, after a review found many were living there illegally, and the town was an access point for drugs and alcohol into Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands.
Control of the township located 980km northwest of Adelaide will be handed back to its Aboriginal owners on July 1, but some residents will have to depart by the end of this month.
Todd Grant, a lawyer for the Mintabie Miners' Progress Association, may now fight the residents' forced eviction by using the Racial Discrimination Act.
"I think it's overwhelmingly likely we'll be filing documents in the Federal Court in the next two weeks," the lawyer reportedly told a town-hall meeting last weekend.
Residents have told The Australian they feel unfairly demonised after a damning report raised serious concerns about criminal activities in the town.
According to the ABC, these activities included "reports of an arson attack which destroyed a house, a woman being imprisoned in her house and sexually assaulted, verbal threats towards store owners, three cars being set alight, a deliberately-lit grass fire near the school, a break-and-enter at the school, numerous residential property break-ins, hooning and drug dealing".
One of the main reasons the report suggested the town should be closed was because drugs and alcohol were being sold to Aboriginal people in dry communities.
In 2016, a general store in the township was also found to have drained almost $1 million from the bank accounts of local Aboriginal people in an "exploitative" system used to control its customers.
"Consumers were required to provide their debit cards, PINs and details of their income to (owner) Mr Kobelt, who then used the information and cards to withdraw all, or nearly all, of the customer's money from their bank account on or around the day they were paid," an Australian Securities and Investments Commission statement said.
The Federal Court later fined owner Lindsay Gordon Kobelt $167,500 for the "book-up" practice.
Despite the eviction notice, one Mintabie resident who is being kicked out told The Australian he had lived in the township since he was a boy and was determined to stay.
"For us it's comfortable and we have the prospect of finding a million dollars whenever we go to mine opal. It's like having an uncashed lottery ticket in your pocket," Robert Haanstra said.
"I don't have a criminal record, my parents don't have one - you always get one rotten apple in a tray, but it doesn't mean you have to throw the whole lot out."
About 20 residents live in Mintabie year-round with about 60 there during peak opal mining season.
Mintabie is near an opal field and both areas are on Aboriginal land.
The SA Government has leased the land from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) people since the early 1980s.
The Government issues 12-month licences for people to live or run businesses in the town and mine the surrounding opal field. However, it decided last year to terminate its lease with APY, which means control of the land will be handed back to the Aboriginal people.
A SA Government spokesman told news.com.au it was implementing a decision the former Labor government made in February 2018 to terminate the lease following an independent review in 2017.
Residents were given a year's notice to move out.
"People living in Mintabie without a licence have been asked to contact the Government to outline their plans for departing the township," he said.
Those with current licences are able to renew these until June 30, but the spokesman said residents without permits were required to advise of their plans to relocate by February 28.
"Individuals (visitors) without permits are trespassing on freehold land," he said.
The State Government has denied it is closing the township, saying that after June 30, residents could deal directly with the APY if they wanted to remain on the land. Visitors will also need permits to enter the lands.
News.com.au contacted the APY about whether any residents would be allowed to remain but has not received a response.
No compensation or financial assistance to relocate for residents would be provided, The Australian reported, and the SA Government spokesman said residents would also have "make good" on their site before they leave, which is a condition of their licence.
Some long-term residents are devastated about losing their homes, which may look modest from the outside but feature new kitchens and other features.
As for the opal mining, the SA Government spokesman said discussions were continuing about the options for opal miners to access the Mintabie Precious Stones Field after July 1.