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Man Turns Down Billions for His Ancestral Homeland

Though his tribal land is worth an estimated $5 billion, an Aboriginal man refuses to sell it, instead keeping it as a legacy for his family.


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A stunning vista of jagged brick-red cliffs lies in Australia’s desolate Northern Territory. As breathtaking as the scenery is, though, most people are more concerned with what lies beneath Koongarra: A massive deposit of uranium worth $5 billion.

Just one man, 36-year-old Jeffrey Lee, holds the title to this unfathomably valuable piece of real estate – and he says it’s not for sale.

Lee, an Australian Aborigine, won’t condone the destruction of his ancestral land at any cost. As the sole survivor of the Djok clan, he believes that he has a grave responsibility to protect Koongarra and the rest of his tribe’s native lands from harm.

“There are sacred sites, there are burial sites and there are other special places out there which are my responsibility to look after,” Lee told The Sydney Morning Herald.

So, rather than rubbing elbows with Donald Trump andRichard Branson on the Forbes billionaire list, Lee has rejected all requests to purchase Koongarra. He is committed to protecting it from uranium mining, which would poison the land and destroy its fragile ecosystem.

It’s a shocking choice, to be sure – but Lee has no need for a fleet of yachts, his own island, or any other trappings of the decadent life. His desire is simply to preserve the legacy of his ancestral tribe.

So instead of selling Koongarra to a mining company, Lee plans to incorporate his homeland into Kakadu National Park, where “it will be protected and safe forever,” he said.

Lee’s incredible sacrifice isn’t just about salvaging the past: It’s about protecting the future, too. Even though he has no children yet, he believes that access to the sacred ancestral land is the greatest gift that he can provide for his future offspring.

“I was taken all through here on the shoulder of my grandmother,” said Lee. “I heard all the stories and learnt everything about this land, and I want to pass it all on to my kids.”

Originally published August 16th, 2007

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