At 1,850 kilometres, the Canning Stock Route is the longest and toughest cattle run in the world.
It was on that route, under the scorching outback sun of Western Australia, that BHP’s Principal Community, Jen, was reminded of the importance of a broad perspective.
“I was talking to an older Indigenous man about a project we were considering developing and explaining it could be a long-life mining project of up to 50 years,” she said.
“He smiled and said to me, ‘Don’t talk to me about long life Jen. My ancestors stood on this very spot tens of thousands of years ago’". Time is relative when you are speaking with someone from the oldest living culture in the world.
Born in Western Australia, Jen moved throughout the outback during her childhood due to her father’s role as a school principal.
“The lifestyle gave me a unique experience and understanding of rural and remote life, plus a deep respect for the incredible diversity of Australian communities and all the people who make it up”, she said.
Jen drew on this experience when she joined BHP more than ten years ago, “I was living in a mining community and saw how the industry had a profound impact on Indigenous people.
“There are great opportunities to be realised when through respectful engagement we recognise the rights of Indigenous people and their culture, land and heritage,” she said.
“The emphasis has shifted from just a regulatory compliance approach to engagement, to developing a strong relationship with everyone we deal with.
“It is these drivers that saw BHP develop an Indigenous Peoples Strategy, to outline our aim is to contribute as much as we can and be a partner of choice for Indigenous people, and more importantly, be willing to listen,” she said.
Mining today is aware of its impact not just on the land but is actively involved in positively influencing global social issues such as gender balance, human rights, diversity and supporting a reconciled Australia.
BHP has been operating in Australia since 1885 and according to Jen, today more than ever, it recognises that there is no point in going forward with a project unless you have the consent of everyone in the community it impacts.
“Mining and extraction companies the world over now realise that if you ignore any part of a community you will not succeed because you will spend most of your time trying to mitigate your failures,” she said.
“I see my role and that of BHP’s community team around the world as vital in this process because we can only make the right decisions as a company when we understand the perspectives of all members of a community and do our best to make sure people can benefit from the opportunities that mining can bring.”
A big part of this, she explained, is making sure that Indigenous people have the opportunity to articulate how the relationship should work.
Whether it is in Saskatchewan in Canada, Antofagasta in Chile or Wiluna in Western Australia, she explained, Indigenous people will always have profound connections to the land BHP works on and must be included in decision making processes.
“We have to continue to improve our work and get better at listening, respecting society and recognise the great privilege we have in participating in remarkable communities around the world,” she said.
“This job is all about seeing things through a different lens and understanding that perspective. Every day I reflect on our Charter values and my own. It’s not only extremely interesting work but enormously rewarding and an honour to be part of.”