Being asked to lead a uranium mine clean up in Australia’s most famous national park with the world’s eyes watching amid a huge budget blowout – all while blazing a trail for First Nations people – you could forgive Brad Welsh for having some hesitancy.

But where on paper the challenge appeared extreme, the long-serving Rio Tinto manager, Murawari man and boy from Redfern, NSW, only saw a chance to make a statement.

“Bringing to life one of the world’s most exciting rehabilitation projects in a very Indigenous way I think is a phenomenal opportunity,” he said.

In a statement released to the ASX on Monday, Ranger Uranium Mine operator Energy Resources of Australia revealed Mr Welsh had been appointed chief executive and managing director of the Northern Territory company.

Ranger Uranium Mine in the NT

Mr Welsh is understood to be the first Indigenous person appointed to the top job of a high profile ASX500 (All Ords) company.

For the past decade he has come through the ranks at Rio Tinto, starting as community and environment advisor and working his way up to senior advisory and management roles at the mining giant’s Weipa operations.

Now at the helm of ERA, Mr Welsh wants to highlight the economic potential of Indigenous thought in business alongside his responsibility to shareholders.

“It would be remiss of me not to hopefully set a path for future Indigenous people to think about a career in an ASX-listed company, and to think about bringing Indigenous thought to senior leadership,” he said.

“I always wanted to be a senior leader who is Indigenous, not a senior Indigenous leader.

“Things like NAIDOC Week and the reconciliation actions are really important, and I care about those, but I actually want to bring Indigenous thought into a competitive advantage for a company.”

Mr Welsh’s appointment comes at a critical time for ERA – in early February the company revealed rehabilitation of Ranger could blow out by $1.2bn, more than double the original cost.

“It is a very challenging time, but also an incredibly exciting time” – Brad Welsh

They are also negotiating with the Federal Government over the timeline, with the clean-up now expected to take until 2028, two years longer than anticipated.

Mr Welsh said through these challenges the rehabilitation was a chance for Indigenous thought to shine.

“Bringing Indigenous thought to the business and the leadership role allows us to not just do rehabilitation well, but to actually unlock the cultural landscape and bring Indigeneity to the centre of our approach,” he said.

“Kakadu is a very special place and we are really looking to build a landscape that can be incorporated back into the Kakadu National Park if that is what the Traditional Owners wish.

“It is a very challenging time, but also an incredibly exciting time.”

ERA chairman Peter Mansell said Mr Welsh came highly recommended by Rio Tinto.

“During his tenure to date as acting chief executive, Brad has demonstrated strong leadership and has already made a significant contribution,” he said.

“We are confident in this appointment and look forward to an enduring and mutually beneficial relationship.”

Mr Welsh has been appointed to the role for three years on a $390,000 salary.

ERA is majority-owned by Rio Tinto.