Goldfields legacies

In ‘Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World’, Marcia Bjornerud states -in relation to large-scale mining processes- “Understanding the lingering effects of sudden topographic change is important because we ourselves are now agents of geomorphic catastrophe.” The effects of mining, which involves the massive derangement of topographies and natural systems will be “wide ranging and long lasting,” she says. “Worldwide, humans now move more rock and sediment, both intentionally through activities like mining, and unintentionally by accelerating erosion through agriculture and urbanization, than all of Earth’s rivers combined. It can no longer be assumed that geographic features reflect the work of geologic processes.” (p 90)

I (Jessie) live in the Central Victorian goldfields region- on Dja Dja Wurrung country- where the landscape has been turned over by thousands of hands, picks and shovels, buckets of blood and booze, violence and poverty- it has been made anew by a rabid search for gold. It is hard to imagine this land un-scarred by the quest for wealth and the dispossession of  Aboriginal land. All mining-scapes feel scarred, some more profound than others. Here, admist the box-ironbark forest, we have diggings, mullock heaps, gullies and shafts completely covering the topography, and, as I explore this landscape with my children, we see almost no place untouched by the events of the 1850s.

I’ve been to a lot of mines… I’ve worked on numerous projects exploring the legacies and impacts of mining in Australia and overseas. I’ve walked around large mines in places like Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Western Australia, I’ve descended into the ground 500 meters below the surface – I’ve felt the rumble of the mining blast, and heard it’s warning sirens… but still I wonder how big those caverns are under there – miles of holes – millions of tonnes of minerals extracted – leaving… what in their place? Surely the earth shows, or will show, its geotrauma somehow…. I wonder… just how solid is the ground we are standing on?

While reading Speculative Research; the lure of possible futures, I began to think about how we can really not think about the future only as an extension of the present, and how that might relate to massive geotraumas that have occurred, or, are occurring. How can the future not be an extension, or not yield the impacts of, the present? I think about the below proposition and what it might mean to ‘participate in eventful temporality’.

“Participating in the eventful temporality forces us to come to resist the temptation of reducing futures to presents, of entering futures backwards, and requires that we come to terms with irreducible futures that come into existence through processes of path dependency (Sewell, 2005),  temporally heterogeneous and emergent casualties (Connolly, 2012) and global contingencies (Serres, 1995). In other words, an eventful temporality assumes that ‘contingent, unexpected, and inherently unpredictable events can undo or alter the most apparently durable trends of history’ (Sewell, 20015: 102), enabling a swerve of possible futures and creative alternatives to be explored and harnessed.” (Speculative Research: The Lure of Possible Futures, p. 7)

I’m not sure how we lure these possible futures into imagination/into being… but I wonder if the rocks might have something to teach us here.

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