The impact of mining is generally considered in terms of holes in the ground and polluted waterways. Out of Place (Gwalia), edited by Philip Goldswain, Nicole Sully and William M Taylor, however, looks at the footprint mining has left through time on communities, culture and the built environment.
It is a beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes haunting collection of essays that reveals, through a series of shifting frames and lenses, the way the extractive industries create and then abandon communities, often in remote and challenging locations.
These regional communities and the built environment they inhabit are explored within their situation of transition, whether toward growth like Charters Towers, or toward post-mining decline. The people who work and live in these communities themselves are also often in a state of flux, whether because it is or was a temporary settlement for the life of a specific ore body, or because the job is a fly-in-fly-out role, or because the community founded largely on a mining boom can just as easily go bust.
As Taylor writes in the first essay, Introduction to Australian places, place-making and the politics of displacement in a transient society, the industry is often captured in statistics, but “not every phenomenon – particularly the human consequences and experiences of mobility – is captured by statistics. Often there is simply bewilderment over the day-to-day reality of change.”
Philip Goldswain in his essay, Public Photographs, around a series of historical images of Kalgoorlie taken between 1893-1903, examines the way the shift from alluvial mining to major extractive operations changed the character of the environment and the relationship the community had with it, and further, how the commercial image-maker has a role to play in constructing the identity and interpretations of the industry.
The relationship between mining communities and architecture, and the shift in Australian practice towards a greater engagement with designing for the environment and engaging in beneficial approaches to planning, is illustrated in great detail by Lee Stickells in Designing way out, using the example of Shays Gap, an experimental mining town designed in the 1960s.
The ideas and approaches utilised in the town’s design and construction are linked to the broader themes emerging within the [then] Royal Australian Institute of Architects, which in 1974 published a full edition of its professional journal, Architecture in Australia dedicated to mining towns.
Other essays that explore the influence mining has had on the built form and approaches to design include William M Taylor’s The moral economy of prefabrication, Stuart King’s Mining, Place and Propriety in Queenstown, and “The World” and Charters Towers by John Macarthur.
Contributions such as Criena Fitzgerald’s Burning the bastards out, an essay on the destruction of Yugoslav homes on the Boulder lease, open up the shame file on the racial tensions and socioeconomic exploitation that often accompanied historical mining projects.
Clarissa Ball outlines the impact of the 1851 gold rush on women and their role in From lords of dominion to petticoat dominions, while Nicole Sully’s On the Edge of Beyond traces historical artistic representations of mining and the people engaged in it, and how these images convey deeper themes around the relationship between people and their environment.
Mathew Aitchison, in his essay Back to the Future, explores the way the FIFO practices are “reinforcing an already highly centralised and urbanised costal population distribution”. Drawing on the findings and context of the federal FIFO Inquiry in 2013, he argues that this form of management, with all its attendant social and wellbeing issues for the workers themselves, is creating a scenario similar to Mad Max II, which he points out was filmed near the virtual ghost town of Silverton in outback New South Wales, once a town of 3000 people and now home to just 60.
The dream of the miners in the film, he says, is an allegory for the current situation, where the workforce, like the film’s characters, dreams of a return to “civilisation” on the coast.