- Mining and Indigenous Lifeworlds in Australia and Papua New Guinea
This volume is a companion to Rumsey and Weiner's earlier collection of papers entitled Emplaced Myth: Space, Narrative, and Knowledge in Aboriginal Australia and Papua New Guinea (2001). Both volumes emerged out of a 1997 conference, but Mining and Indigenous Lifeworlds was originally published by Crawford House in Australia and did not enjoy a wide circulation. This 2004 reprint from Sean Kingston Press thus makes this valuable and [End Page 449] important collection of papers more widely available.
While Emplaced Myth focused on more traditional academic issues surrounding myth, this volume seeks to supplement the existing literature on mining and indigenous people in the Asia–South Pacific region by analyzing "the nature of the knowledge systems and the culturally distinctive epistemological and discursive practices within indigenous societies in these contexts" (1). This is a welcome change, because most of the literature on mining in this area of the world tends to focus on the economic or environmental aspects of mining at the expense of understanding the cultural dimensions of resource development and the social impact large-scale mining can have on indigenous people. This fact, combined with the high quality of many of the papers, means that this is a volume that anyone interested in the social impact of mining will want to take a look at.
On the one hand, this volume seeks to describe the indigenous response tomining. On the other hand, it is important to note that it is not written by indigenous people or from their point of view. With the exception of Bill Sagir, a Papua New Guinean, and Ian McIntosh, a member of Cultural Survival International, all of the authors are academic anthropologists. Indeed, the list of contributors is an impressive one, and almost all of the authors are very well known in their field. Those familiar with the anthropology of Papua NewGuinea and Australia will thus welcome these essays from well-respected scholars.
As a result, your opinion of the volume will depend on what you thinkabout anthropology's relation to indigenous people. Indigenous activists who consider anthropologists to be mere handmaidens of (post)colonialism will find the academic tone and detached descriptions of social structure in this book unhelpful, while people in the mining industry will nodoubt consider the authors' work hopelessly compromised by their sympathy for "the locals." In fact thetruth is probably somewhere in between, since the overall theme of the papers in this collection is the difficulty of translating indigenous notions of ownership, belonging, and territoriality into Western forms of law and knowledge.
The authors in this volume do an excellent job of describing the enormous diversity of indigenous lifeworlds in Australia and Papua New Guinea, ranging from the Pilbara Coast of Western Australia to the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Although the ethnography of their areas may vary, the contributors frequently focus on similar themes. Throughout this region, for instance, government and industry assumptions about "the true landowners" or "the authentic local people" as a coherent, clearly delineated corporate group fail to recognize the fluidity and contingency that characterizes much of customary life in this part of the world. Thus Dan Jorgensen and Don Gardner point out that there are no "real landowners" of the Frieda River prospect in Papua New Guinea—at least not in the sense defined by the government of that country. Ian Keen, discussing Arnhem Land, points out that using a road to delineate two [End Page 450] tracts of land is in keeping with Aboriginal traditions of naming the land, which are after all dynamic, despite the fact that this is often not what judges, politicians, and industry executives might expect.
Stylistically, these essays certainly fall in the range of academic anthropology. For readers who are at home with the technical literature on myth, social structure, and landscape, the application of these topics to...