The Destruction Of Aboriginal Heritage And The Commercialisation Of Australia’s Outback


Mining in Australia continues to disempower Indigenous people. The fact that heritage destruction still occurs in contemporary mining exposes clear systemic flaws. Many injustices in mining go unreported as resource extraction activities can be hard to critically assess. It involves complex legal contracts which try to realign communities with stolen land. However, the mechanisms that are used to allow for Indigenous incorporation, such as Native Title, have been widely critiqued. Recent events include one that left the Juukan Gorge, protected on behalf of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People, all but destroyed. Events such as these stand as the tip of the iceberg of inequality experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia. Harmful acts continue to strip away Indigenous sites of importance and are also detrimental to the environment.

Systemic Flaws

Following shocking reports of Rio Tinto’s decimation of a 46,000-year old Aboriginal site, questions still need to be answered by BHP, another of Australia’s leading mining corporations. Here, according to Allam and Wahlquist’s report for the Guardian, a further “40 Aboriginal sites” will be destroyed to make room to “expand Pilbara mine.” It remains clear that companies dispossess Aboriginal people under the guise of ‘good business.’

In Australia, large gaps exist between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population in terms of public health and are reflected in incarceration rates. Indigenous people are “likely to die at younger ages and to have [a] higher prevalence of many chronic health conditions” Indigenous people make up just two per cent of the population yet are 28 per cent of the national prisoner demographic. This includes more than 400 death in custody according to the 1991 Royal Commission into deaths in police custody.

Finally, with a consistent denial of frontier violence and only recent constitutional reforms, such as the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act, the Australian state still struggles to recognise Aboriginal communities’ basic human rights.

The Failure Of Development To Help Indigenous People

Today, alongside these social and health inequalities, the erasure of Aboriginal history continues through the actions of mining companies. Here, the mining industries profits partially shared through royalties to indigenous communities, but don’t provide tangible benefits for all Indigenous people, as health and incarceration rates exemplify. Protecting heritage involves lengthy processes where communities must prove they are a “continuing” Indigenous culture. This supports the problematic static presentation of Aboriginal people as a museum artefact, rather than people suffering at the hands of a powerful and oppressive Western country.

The failures of these policies are clear, and this lack of care or consideration for Aboriginal people is perhaps most insidious on resource frontiers. Here, in the mineral-rich outback of Australia often injustice continues out of sight and out of mind, creating profit and value for a selected elite and propping up unfair political institutions. An ‘Investors Guide’ for Australia’s Energy and Mineral Resources cites that the country is “an under-explored content with highly prospective geology.” Despite modern reforms and concessions, they all but fail to support the disenfranchised members of Australia’s Indigenous communities.

The asymmetries of power and unquestionable inequality still experienced by Aboriginal people is clear. We live in a world where there is a proliferation of sustainable, green and conservation mining treaties. The existence of these contracts is to respect Indigenous rights as well as ensure the symbolic and physical protection of their culture. Despite their multiplicity, acts of seemingly outlandish heritage destruction continue. This marks a failure of policies such as Native Title to reconstitute Indigenous people on their own terms. Furthermore, it also calls into question the legitimacy of standards such as the sustainable licence to operate. Clearly these measures actually embolden mining, producing profits for investors, whilst offering token gestures of incorporation and participation.

Understanding Our Past And Present To Make A Better Future

Protecting history, identifying racism and enforcing good behaviour overlap when looking at issues of heritage. Here, the heritage of the oldest surviving Indigenous society is being eroded each day. More needs to be done to allow for forms of Indigenous governance. This needs to operate with an acute awareness to a long history of injustice and begins to decolonise institutions which continue legacies of the violent destruction of Aboriginal lives. Working towards an autonomous, self-determined Aboriginal nation in Australia seems the only way to empower these people on their own terms. This can begin a long process of attempting to find ways to transcend historical injustice, acknowledging violence and genocide, whilst seeking to decolonise our own lives.