‘I AM SO sick,’ my friend remarked, ‘of hearing about the fucking mining boom.’ It was 2009, and for the past few years mining had seemed omnipresent in the texture of both our everyday lives and the wider world. I was working as a native title lawyer representing claim groups in the Pilbara, which included negotiations with mining companies, and everyone else I knew seemed connected with the industry in some way. Friends, relatives and people I met at parties provided legal services to the resources sector, worked within it as engineers, or drove trucks on the mines. Newspapers breathlessly reported announcements of some new project or other and the latest disputes between companies; fluctuations in iron ore prices occupied our conversations.
A few years on, with the initial exploration and investment boom well and truly over, it remains almost impossible to write about Western Australia without discussing mining, yet anyone seeking to do so faces a number of treacherous clichés: that the state is both ruggedly individualist and rusted-on conservative; that mining occurs ‘on the frontier’; that there is something innate that sets the state and its inhabitants fundamentally apart from the rest of the country. It’s worth, instead, taking a second glance at notions of possession and legitimacy that lurk in the background when we talk about mining. Arguments about property rights are, at base, about the kind of society we want and the kind of people we think we are – questions that burn away quietly in our largest state, and merit exploration.
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