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Jobs go, can Nhulunbuy stay -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The imminent closure of an aluminium refinery in the Northern Territory's Gove peninsula will hit remote Nhulunbuy hard.

Hundreds of locals have already been laid off by the town's biggest employer Rio Tinto.

A majority of remaining refinery workers are expecting their last pay packets within weeks.

Now Qantas has announced its ending daily flights from Darwin adding to the community's fears but though the job losses represent one quarter of the town's population, the people of Nhulunbuy won't accept defeat.

Ginny Stein reports from Nhulunbuy.

GINNY STEIN, REPORTER: First there was the boom, now there is the bust.

The mining town of Nhulunbuy at the top of Australia is emptying out.

GARY LYNCH, AUSTRALIAN WORKERS' UNION: Another person there that's been out for 40 years.

GINNY STEIN: There are now empty houses aplenty.

GARY LYNCH: Yeah that's a housing...

GINNY STEIN: Gary Lynch is getting used to saying goodbye to his mates.

You must be seeing lots of your mates departing?

GARY LYNCH: Oh, they're not only your mates, they're like you family you know, they live in Gove, the community and it's just a bit hard on the liver lately because every second day is a farewell (laughs)

GINNY STEIN: His job at the mine will also soon end. He's hoping to buck the trend by staying on in Nhulunbuy and flying out to find work.

GARY LYNCH: I know I'm going to be unemployed in August and my wife's going to be unemployed in June but I think we're fortunate enough, well hopefully I've got enough experience and tickets to get a job elsewhere.

GINNY STEIN: About 4,000 people live in Nhulunbuy a mining town built on leased Aboriginal land. 1500 people worked at the Gove aluminium refinery with most other businesses in the area relying on mining activity. The closure is hitting hard.

HANNAH SEANIGER, EAST ARNHEM REALTY: Before the notice that they were going to shut down the refinery the median house price was about $500,000 we've had a recent offer and it's in the low $200,000's.

GINNY STEIN: Nhulunbuy is the territory's fourth largest town. The government says it's working on contingency plans for the towns future.

But there is growing unease within the community who feel that what little help may come will be too late.

HELEN MARTIN, NHULUNBUY COMMITTEE TOURISM DELEGATE: You know that whole shopfront shop end needs a freshen up.

GINNY STEIN: The whole community has come together to try to find its own solutions.

Helen Martin runs a tourism lodge promoting Aboriginal culture on an island just off Nhulunbuy's coast. Like other tourism operators and residents, she's worried about the impact of cutting back airline services.

HELEN MARTIN: We've got fantastic artists here that are world renowned artists, we've got beautiful beaches, the fishing is amazing and it's a place also if you want to come to island retreats to relax and just unwind. We've got no telephones, no internet, we've got eco retreats and it's very different, we're a totally different you know product, but it is something unique and yet to be discovered.

GINNY STEIN: For the traditional owners who live in nearby communities the impact of the closure is less direct, the refinery employed few Aboriginal people, but there are fears about the impact of cuts to services, such as schools and hospitals.

From the beginning Aboriginal people fought to resist the arrival of mining here in east Arnhem Land, for my Yolngu people there is relief that mining giant Rio Tinto is now cutting back its operations.

BARWULI MARIKA, YIRRIKALA RESIDENT AND ARTIST: Happy, sometimes (shrugs shoulders).


BARWULI MARIKA: Because my grandfather didn't want this to happen.

GINNY STEIN: He didn't want the mine.

BARWULI MARIKA: He didn't want the mine. That's why I'm happy that its' closing and it's very sad because there's lot of people live in Nhulunbuy now.

GINNY STEIN: At the Yirrikala Arts Centre little has changed. Aboriginal culture remains strong and international demand for art produced from here continues to grow.

Ginny Stein, Lateline.