Frances Whittle is a member of the Land Management & Rehabilitation team at Rio Tinto's Weipa bauxite mine in far northern Australia

Frances works on helping Rio Tinto rehabilitate land

Frances works on helping Rio Tinto rehabilitate land

Work is always rewarding when you see the results. To Frances Whittle, who has worked in the Land Management & Rehabilitation team at Rio Tinto for more than seven years, nothing is more rewarding than seeing tress thrive in a new piece of land and creating the special bonding with the local Aboriginal people. 

Meet Rio Tinto's Frances Whittle

Frances joined Rio Tinto as a haul truck driver in 2007, before moving into the Land Management & Rehabilitation team seven years ago.

Being an animal lover, green thumb and proud member of the team at Rio Tinto's Weipa bauxite mine in far northern Australia, Frances has an important job. She makes sure the mine leaves the smallest impact on the environment. It can be tough work and you definitely get your hands dirty but Frances says: "I'm passionate about what I do – that's why I’m here."

Working for the future generations

Frances and her team restore parts of the land back to nature, once mining stops. Just last year they grew 25,000 native plants from seed. And they planted 25,000 seedlings – baby trees – on 125 hectares. A year on, almost all of the seedlings planted are thriving.

"It means what we're doing is working. It's really important, because we want to make sure it's looked after properly for future generations," says Frances.

Combining science and local knowledge to minimize environmental impact

That's why the team is working closely with local Aboriginal people in Australia as part of the company's focus on land rehabilitation.

"We're working with people who live here, who work here, and who know this land – because it's their country. And by combining science with the unique knowledge of the local people, we can get the best result," Frances said.

It's an essential part of the mining process. Long before mining starts, Rio Tinto's teams undertake cultural and environmental studies to understand the area and look for ways to reduce any impacts. They work with Traditional Owners to make sure heritage sites are looked after during mining. There is also a focus on making sure land is rehabilitated the right way after mining. One of the ways the company does this at Weipa in Australia is by working with Traditional Owners to understand how they use the region's plants – for medicine, food and ceremonies. Then, as part of rehabilitation, the team makes sure those plants are grown in the right areas: "We make sure trees like the nonda plum – an edible native fruit – are planted in areas where local Aboriginal people gather and share stories," Frances says.

The mutually beneficial Seed Collection Programme

There's also the mine's seed collection programme. Recently, local Aboriginal people collected nearly 800 kgs of native seed to help regenerate mined areas. It's a source of income for collectors, and gives families an opportunity to work together on country and pass on knowledge to the next generation. And it gives Frances's team a source of local seeds to grow native plants.

"Aboriginal people have a strong spiritual connection to the land. And so it's important they have a hand in the regeneration – that they can be part of it," Frances said.

For Frances, who is from the Torres Strait Islands, coaching local Aboriginal trainees is one of her favourite parts of her job.

"For me, it's about giving something back because I'm working on their country. I can pass on my knowledge so they can further their future and do what they want to do. And I learn from them too – about the land and their culture, and what it means to them," she shares.

Science, nature and ancient knowledge all working together. That's one way Rio Tinto defines progress.

Join talented women like Frances at Rio Tinto

As a global leader in the mining and metals sector with around 55,000 people operating across six continents in more than 40 countries, Rio Tinto has lots of exciting career pathways and opportunities available. Sign up to their Talent Network today to work with talented women like Frances.

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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