restricted access Epilogue
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Epilogue The “City” of Karratha, Western Australia, 2016 I am back in Western Australia. It has been only two years since I visited this home on Crockett Way in Karratha. I park the van in front of what had once been a well-kept home. I’ve come to see if my former informant is still living there; I had lost track of him after he was laid off in 2014. I assume he has moved away and that his home is in foreclosure. I base this solely on anecdotal evidence: a broken window, a yard overgrown with weeds, and a for sale sign that appears to have been there for some time. I hear a dog barking and see someone peek out from the home next door, signs that not all the workers have moved away. It is hard to reconcile this place—what used to be called the “Powerhouse of the Pilbara”—with the place I see now. The once small mining community set its sights high, aiming to be a key industry player (see Figure 8). Life in the city is clearly different today. With industry waning, the region no longer benefits from the revenue, or the infusions of cash from government. Gone are the influx of moneyed workers, in their fluorescent “hi-vis” clothing and the fly-in/fly-out workers that drove housing costs well beyond what is expected in more cosmopolitan cities. The grocery store is not well stocked. Many of the restaurants and stores are shuttered. And, my conversations with community members are different now, punctuated with long silences. People are worried and have difficulty imagining the future. I read in the margins of my notes the word riptide—I don’t remember writing this, but I guess it is meant to indicate the sense that he was fighting to stay in place, when perhaps the better approach would be to let go. What is clear is that the fortunes of the Pilbara rise and fall with the sale and speculation of minerals and gas. Many bought into the promise of steady economic growth, and the idea that the region’s natural resources are inexhaustible , that these alone can sustain the community. The events of the Pilbara—its 106 / Critical Theory and the Anthropology of Heritage Landscapes boom-and-bust cycles, its newly declared city, its shifting economies—dominate the discussions. Yet, economies recover (or not); businesses rebuild (or don’t). What troubles me is that our discussions have overlooked the changes to land, to the environment, and to Country. I am reminded of a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing (1995:148), where the priest prophesies that the “passing of armies and the passing of sands in the desert are one. There is no favoring,” meaning no justice, no merit, but an inevitable “reckoning whose Figure 8. City center, Karratha, Western Australia, photo by author. Epilogue / 107 ledgers would be drawn up and dated” (1995:5). Whether the economies of the Pilbara will recover, the changes to the land and Country cannot be undone . In what ways will we lament the loss of this land? How can this fragile and stunningly beautiful place repair? These questions demand our attention, something beyond reductive attempts and explanations: to recognize that our actions have consequences, whether we take notice or not. ...