restricted access 6. Toward a Critical Theory of Heritage
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6 Toward a Critical Theory of Heritage Law and culture never change. You can do what you like to this land, but whatever you do, this land never change. They think you can do anything with it . . . but in the end maybe this land might turn on us. One day he got to turn on us. Kurrama elder, Karijini National Park, Western Australia Karijini National Park, Western Australia, July 2014 We are standing just below the summit of Mount Bruce in Karijini National Park—known as Punurrunha to the Traditional Owners of these lands, the Banyjima, Kurrama, and Innawonga Aboriginal people (see Figure 7). We had hiked up in the early-morning hours, navigating its steep western face, in hopes of getting a better view and some pictures of Rio Tinto’s Marandoo mine.1 Australians tend to have an optimistic view of people’s hiking abilities (and courage), as the trail was marked as Class 3, though its dizzying drop-offs and slippery terrain seemed to me more like a Class 5. We had spent two weeks exploring Karijini’s gorges and plains and walking on Country with Aboriginal Rangers —and as luck would have it, talking at length with mine workers on holiday who camped near us for four days. There really is no way to adequately capture the beauty and starkness of this place: deep gorges and pools, yellow-flowering cassias and red kangaroos, termite mounds and mulga trees, and banded iron formations that geologists say are more than two billion years old. As I looked toward Marandoo Hill, I could see an iron ore train heading toward the port of Dampier on the privately owned Hamersley Iron Ore Railway. Although I had talked with many people about the mine during our visit, it was still jarring to see an active mine in this place.2 To know Country, you need to know its stories. And while I did come to know a few of these, this is not the same as knowledge of Country. I do know that it must be tended to and respected, and that it connects people to their 98 / Critical Theory and the Anthropology of Heritage Landscapes world and to others (including plants and animals, water and rocks). I also know that such places and stories serve as touchstones to culture and deep knowledge that is far beyond what I could describe. I have often thought that these places may hold the antidote to many of our societal and environmental problems. I do not mean this in a nostalgic or romantic sense that imparts mystical or otherworldly properties to the landscape, but one that recognizes that Law and protocol, and stories and knowledge are trusted systems that are passed down through generations to maintain the land, guide behavior, and ensure cultural and ecological well-being. As the epigraph to this chapter is meant to illustrate, these systems of knowledge are durable. As the Kurrama elder stated, “Law and culture never change.” His words are a testament to the resilience of Country, Figure 7. Karijini National Park Visitor Centre, Australia, photo by author. Toward a Critical Theory of Heritage / 99 despite violence, negation, misinterpretation, and regulation; they serve to reinforce the centrality of Law and culture. But at the same time, he intimates that the compact between people and land could erode in ways that are irrevocable. “In the end,” he warns, “maybe this land might turn on us. One day he got to turn on us.” As I have argued throughout this book, landscapes matter. They exist beyond places on a map; they are how communities articulate their identities and their relationships to the world. Landscapes are mapped and sung, lived and contested, walked on and turned over, cared for and held. But at the same time, landscapes are sites of negotiations; they are constrained and contested, and mediated within systems of exclusion and oppression. We know that landscapes are imbricated in nation-building and tourism schema, as well as sustainability and poverty-reduction initiatives. Raising the question of how to make sense of the points of connection, to make these ethnographically visible, one would have to think about the politics of making place. Do we merely reckon with the “on the ground traces of places that have been destroyed” (Gordillo 2014:11)? I would say, instead, that we need to rethink the very nature of such engagements, that is, to think through the political dynamics, cultural processes, and frictions to better...


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