Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Schwartz Books: Black Inc.

'Title Fight' reveals the real impact of industrial scale iron ore mining on Indigenous Australians and their ancient heritage. It tells how Fortescue Metals, one of Australia's biggest businesses, has used Wild West tactics to mine more than $20 billion of iron ore despite having no agreement in place with the native title holders. It tells how small group of Yindjibarndi people, whose leader Michael Woodley left school in sixth grade, waged a tenacious 13-year battle to defend their Country and went all the way to the High Court to do so.

At a moment of national reckoning with our colonial and ancient past, with our relationship to the land, 'Title Fight' asks some critical questions: Who does the land belong to? Who gets to choose what it's used for? And whose side are we on?

About the author


Paul Cleary

Paul Cleary began his career with the Fairfax press, leading to a decade of economic policy reporting in the Canberra press gallery. After studying in the UK as a Chevening Scholar, he became an adviser to Timor-Leste on resource negotiations. His work has focused on resource conflicts and policy, and his books include 'Trillion Dollar Baby', 'Mine-Field', 'Shakedown' and 'Too Much Luck', which The New Yorker described as a 'fierce, concise book' that investigated how the resources boom was being 'classically mismanaged'. In recent years he has worked with and written about the First Peoples of Australia.

Judges’ comments

In the past 20 years Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has been associated with Aboriginal reconciliation, jobs for young Aboriginal workers, welfare reform and the cashless welfare card and now Green Hydrogen. Forrest, his Fortescue Metals Group and charitable Minderoo Foundation have waged a relentless public relations campaign through the Australian media. Now journalist Paul Cleary tells the other side of the story of the Fortescue miracle. In 'Title Fight, How the Yindjibarndi Battled and Defeated a Mining Giant', Cleary details the tough-minded tactics used by Australia's richest man to exploit the iron ore resources of Western Australia's Pilbara region by strong-arming Native Title holders and claimants. Fortescue Metals Group's Pilbara operations pay royalties about a tenth of those of its Pilbara rivals, Rio Tinto and BHP. But things have not all gone Fortescue's way. It ran into a 30-year-old, grade six educated traditional owner of the Yindjibarndi people, Michael Woodley. Financially and legally outgunned, Woodley led his people to victory over Fortescue Metals Group in a gruelling 13-year battle that culminated in a High Court ruling in 2020 supporting the 2017 Federal Court judgement by Justice Steven Rares finding in favour of the Yindjibarndi. Lawyers are now negotiating a settlement expected to run to hundreds of millions of dollars. Long before the national outcry over Rio Tinto's destruction in 2020 of the Juukan Gorge, Woodley was fighting to defend his people's spiritual connection to the Pilbara. And he won.