ANTH Seminar Series | Digging the Future: Mining Voids as Potentiality, Contest and Destruction
Throughout New South Wales, mining has come to play a central role in imagining of local futures, whether as dystopic or utopic imaginings of a time ahead. The role of mining in informing the materiality of place and people’s connections to place have been explored, with concepts such as solastalgia (Albrecht 2005) bringing attention to the relationship between mining, environmental change and people’s sense of place and home. Less has, however, been written about how mining connects to place through visions of a time past and a time to come.
In this paper, I will explore some of the dynamics around mining and temporality through the case study of the small village of Wollar in the Mid-Western Regional Council of NSW. Wollar is a village transformed by extractive interests and mining operations, with emotions shaping conflict and contestation, perception and anticipation. Contractions and emotions currently hold the village in a temporal bind where past futures have become uncertain and ontological anxieties unleashed.
Over the past few decades, three multinational open-cut mining operations have gradually seized the area, reducing Wollar from a close-knit rural community of 300-400 people to a ghost town with less than 30 residents. The conquest has been slow and silent. For the people who live there, it has been a disaster; it has ruptured their community and unsettled their future. Nonetheless, the government has offered support to the multinational corporations, and extractive activities have been written into government narratives of ‘energy security’, ‘regional prosperity’ and ‘economic development’.
In this paper, I will explore how the discourses of extraction as prosperity clash with lived experiences at the coal frontier through the notion of ‘mining voids’. Mining voids—both present and future—have become markers for physical and social landscapes and, as a metaphor, it embeds the contradiction between utopian narratives of a coal-sponsored future and dystopian imaginings at the coal face. By exploring how visions of the past and the future form part of the discourses of mining voids and how, as the voids materialise, emotions are mined, I will tie this case study to debates on extraction and community making, affect and temporality.
About the speaker
Hedda Askland is a Lecturer in Anthropology in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She previously worked as a Research Fellow at the School of Architecture and Built Environment. She holds a Candidata Magisterii (Can.Mag.) degree from the University of Bergen, Norway, majoring in social anthropology, and a Masters of Social Science and a PhD (Sociology/Anthropology) from The University of Newcastle, Australia.