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Prologue Woodside’s North West Shelf Visitor Centre, Karratha, Western Australia, November 2014 The view, the man told me, “does not disappoint.” We are standing in the parking lot of Woodside’s North West Shelf Visitor Centre looking out upon the massive onshore liquefied natural gas plant, which includes processing and domestic gas trains, condensate stabilization units, and storage and loading facilities. It is a full-sensory experience: whirring, humming, hammering, pounding, whistles, announcements, and an eternal gas flame, set against the blue hue of the Indian Ocean, which brings to mind the flags settlers once used to claim lands. Woodside built the industrial plant on the Burrup Peninsula in the Dampier Archipelago, in the Pilbara region along the northwestern coastline of Western Australia on one of the most important petroglyph and sacred sites in Australia and “Country” to the Traditional Owners, the Ngarluma/Yindjibardni, Yaburara Madudhunera, and Wong-Goo-tt-oo people.1 The peninsula is also a biological hotspot, home to important indicator species, fringing coral reefs, protected rocky shore habitats, and, according to geologists, a place that holds evidence of the Earth’s oldest life, estimated to be nearly 3.5 billion years old. Despite its universal significance, strong link to Traditional Owners, and a well-organized protest that garnered international attention and support, the majority of the peninsula is now an industrial estate. The mid-afternoon sun is relentless, and I can tell that the interview is not going well. My interlocutor, a retired engineer on holiday, has become impatient with me. I remind myself to listen, to be courteous and polite. But instead I force the conversation back to the issues that had brought me to the Pilbara: the development rush and the impacts of mining and gas development on Country and areas with significant heritage values. The rush has emboldened extraordinary changes throughout the region: witnessed in the construction of new roads, ports, and wastewater facilities; announced by 2 / Critical Theory and the Anthropology of Heritage Landscapes government agencies who describe their plans to build desalination plants or to bore ancient aquifers; or speculated by new streams of global capital and investment funds or cross-sector partnerships. The more obvious concerns of rapid growth—in an environmentally fragile and geographically remote region—include environmental impacts, inflation and economic inequalities, and community disruptions. Although my interviews with people throughout the region reveal that many in the community see these changes as critical to supporting economic prosperity, Aboriginal groups I had talked with found these same changes bewildering. To show the extent of changes to the landscape, I bring out photographs and maps and invite the engineer to help me locate landmarks that still remain. But instead, he politely declines and retreats to the safety of the visitor center. Woodside’s North West Shelf Visitor Centre showcases the North West Shelf Project, Australia’s largest oil and gas development to date. Conceptually, its modern design draws on the ancient Pilbara landscape—the iconic red earth, rock outcroppings, and petroglyphs—and juxtaposes these with the new landscapes of energy. I ask the docent what she likes most about the design of the center, and she replies, “It represents progress.” I cannot disagree, but I question what “progress” means in this context. Looking through windows etched with petroglyphs, the sight lines frame the visitor’s view to take in the state-ofthe -art technology (see Figure 1). At first glance, one might see the building’s design and setting as a celebration of Aboriginal Country. But on reflection, I realize that a not-so-subtle shift has occurred: Country now serves as a prop to showcase energy infrastructures and technologies. In the process, Country has been transformed into a resource and the contested contexts and histories are presented as resolved. Unlike the engineer who reveled in the grandeur of the onshore plant, I was overcome with a heaviness of heart. Whereas the engineer and docent saw progress , I saw land alienation and dispossession, a form of structural violence, a point I will develop in this book. Admittedly, my location as a white, Western scholar calls into question any real connection to the Burrup Peninsula or Aboriginal Country. Yet, I still mourned its loss. In her profoundly felt book Living Oil, ecocritic and scholar Stephanie LeMenager (2014:16) uses the term “petromelancholia ” to describe the feelings of grief that communities have in the wake of intensive extractive processes and events. I have heard such feelings described by my interlocutors...


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