Macquarie University
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Making things come good: Aborigines and miners at Argyle

posted on 2022-03-28, 22:05 authored by Kim Elizabeth Doohan
In 1980, in the East Kimberley region of Western Australian, a major diamond-bearing lamproite source was found in the southern end of the Ragged Range. The Miners later named this site AK1 (Argyle Kimberlite No. 1). This place was also of particular significance to local Aboriginal people. It is one of the numerous resting places of the female Barramundi creative Dreaming being and the site where some Dreamtime Women attempted to capture her with a spinifex fish trap. Following this discovery, of diamonds and the Barramundi, the transnational mining company, CRA Ltd, signed an agreement with five known Aboriginal traditional owners. The agreement provided for a range of benefits to flow to Aboriginal people and for local Aboriginal opposition to a foreshadowed diamond mine to be withdrawn, giving CRA secure tenure over the resource and what became known as the Argyle Diamond Mine. This action, on the part of the company and the Aboriginal people, became a contentious and contested political situation. The thesis uses the Argyle Diamond Mine as a case study of relations between 'Aborigines' and 'Miners'. The aim of the study is both theoretical and practical: to investigate the relationships that exist (or might exist) between 'Aborigines and Miners' at Argyle (or any where else) as a situation of dispossession and exploitation or political oppression reduces Aboriginal agency to virtual invisibility. Representation of the relationships in terms of a simple binary between dispossessed Aboriginal victims and powerful corporate actors fails to tell us what it is that is happening at the site of engagement. To try to measure success or failure in terms of percentages of profit, numbers of employees or other 'tangible' indicators would obscure the humanity of the relationships that are formed and reformed at such sites. Nor does it gives us any insight as to how particular 'Aborigines' or 'Miners' see themselves and each other, or how they maintain their boundaries and identity with each other as situated co-residents within a transformed and transforming landscape, the very contextualised and activated 'space' generated by mining. Contextualised because there are at least two world views operating on, within and around the landscape; a western scientific epistemological framework located within a 'corporate culture' directed to mining and making a profit and, for Aboriginal people, the Dreaming which demands an essential reciprocity of relationships to ensure continuity of life and connection to country. At Argyle, this co-location of a sacred place and a diamond resource has come to represent a major challenge to the worldviews of the local Aboriginal people, senior Argyle managers and various non-indigenous commentators. This thesis examines, in ethnographic detail what matters to the local Aboriginal people and to Argyle. It considers how they have attempted to make sense of this 'co-location' and how they engage with each other. In particular the thesis is concerned with how these engagements have been approached both by Aboriginal people and by Argyle and it explores the kinds of strategies both have deployed as negotiations have unfolded within this context of co-location and cultural difference using unimpeded access to corporate archival material, extensive interviews with corporate decision-makers, and ethnographic engagement with local Gija people of more than twenty years as the empirical foundation of its analysis. In the process of untangling the web of relationships and events that have taken place since the establishment of the Argyle mine, the thesis provides an account of the history of Argyle since the initial discovery of diamonds in 1979. A major focus of this historical account is the Good Neighbour Agreement, how and why it came into being, how it was enacted and transformed through time, and, importantly, how it was understood both by the Argyle Miners and by local Aboriginal people. The thesis uses the window of engaged performance to examine what matters to the local Aboriginal people and to Argyle by providing a “thick description” of the Aboriginal cultural domain, most particularly ritual performance, and the corporate cultural domain, most particularly formal agreement making and implementation. In presenting this data my analysis suggests that the iconic simplicity that dominates the representation of Aborigines and Miners is neither accurate nor adequate.


Alternative Title

Aborigines and miners at Argyle


Bibliography: p. 352-398 "November 2006".

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD) , Macquarie University, Division of Environmental and Life Sciences, Department of Human Geography

Department, Centre or School

Department of Human Geography

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

R. Howitt

Additional Supervisor 1

Marcia Langton


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Kim Elizabeth Doohan 2007.




Western Australia


xvi, 399 p. ill., maps

Former Identifiers

mq:229 1082088