Juukan Gorge Destruction: Extractivism and the Australian Settler-colonial Imagination

In the days leading up to National Sorry Day and the opening of National Reconciliation Week in May 2020, the mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed two Juukan Gorge sites belonging to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples. These sites were said to contain some of the earliest human expressions of symbolic meaning on the planet. They are the only known inland sites showing evidence of continual human occupation back into the last ice age, 46,000 years or more.

Despite Rio Tinto’s initial claims that the destruction was the result of an unfortunate ‘misunderstanding’ and its issuing of a series of correspondingly underwhelming non-apologies, recent revelations of the company’s deliberate duplicity have provoked a widespread backlash. This has in turn compelled actual apologies from Rio Tinto, accompanied by a round of executive resignations (‘by mutual agreement’ and with golden parachutes attached) and promises of improved corporate behaviour. Rio has even paid for its now ‘unreserved’ apology to be prioritised in related Google search results, presumably in the hope of salvaging its reputation.

So far, media coverage has focused largely on either the failures of Rio Tinto’s corporate behaviour and decision-making processes or on the outdated nature of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA). Corporate and political responses have by and large followed suit. In a recent article published in Arena Online, Jon Altman offered several important correctives to the received narratives regarding this act of destruction and desecration. In particular, he highlighted a series of important underlying issues with the native-title regime as an ostensible means of protecting Indigenous rights to land, and pointed towards the settler-colonial logics of contemporary Australia as an overlooked factor in the destruction and its aftermath.1 Still, several months later, these logics and their ongoing implications are rarely, if ever, identified as the primary issue involved.

This essay elaborates these two aspects of corporate decision-making and heritage protection, but it does so in a broader context. I want to reveal the underlying dynamics of this specific act of destruction as representative of the contradictions of contemporary settler colonialism at large. While the promised improvements to corporate behaviour and heritage-protection laws are welcome, the persistence of a settler-colonial and distinctively settler-capitalist system of relations undermines any reasonable expectation that these reforms will prove to be meaningful. Indeed, the deep structures of settler-colonial Australia point in entirely the opposite direction. Extractive settler-capitalist economies founded in ongoing processes of Indigenous displacement, dispossession and erasure stand as one of Australia’s most enduring national features.


Settler colonialism is primarily about land. Settler-colonial formations are premised on the foundational projection of permanent territorial sovereignty. The clue is in the name: unlike the temporary colonial sojourner, the settler stays. The peculiarities of the sovereign intentions of the settler project, which seeks to establish exclusive territorial sovereignty over expropriated Indigenous lands, produce what Patrick Wolfe described as a ‘logic of elimination’. Access to land is the primary motivation for elimination. Settlers—and the settler state—aim to displace the pre-existing (and inconveniently persisting) Indigenous presence in order to establish their own direct connection with the land. This sought-after connection, which has both economic and cultural dimensions, continues to have far-reaching consequences for the peoples on whose presumed absence both dimensions proceed. In the settler-colonial equation, as Deborah Bird Rose has suggested, ‘to get in the way all the native has to do is stay at home’.2

The destruction of Juukan Gorge and the ‘half-assed’ non-apologies that followed were not simply another example of racism-in-action, as Jeff Sparrow, writing in the Guardian,seemed to imply.3 As Ghassan Hage has argued, racism in itself provides little to no imperative to act, unless or until provoked by an actual or perceived threat to national unity or coherence.4 Nor, indeed, was the destruction just a failure of the prevailing heritage-protection and native-title regimes that are ostensibly there to protect First Nations peoples from precisely the kind of cultural devastation the PKKP peoples have suffered here.

In much the same way that black deaths in custody are best understood as a feature rather than a flaw of the settler-colonial ‘justice’ system, this and parallel acts of destruction and desecration take place as part of an ongoing settler-colonial project of displacement. They are allowed, excused and often actively facilitated by overlapping agencies concerned to ‘open up’ the land (to use the language of the frontier) for the purpose of extractive exploitation. In this instance, as in innumerable others, mining interests and governments can be seen working hand-in-glove to further the ends of the settler-colonial project: the displacement of sovereign Indigenous peoples from the land so as to render that land available for exploitation and economic gain.

This is not to suggest that Rio Tinto was somehow enacting a settler-colonial will on behalf of Australian society when it proceeded to destroy Juukan Gorge sites 1 and 2. It is perfectly accurate to say that Rio Tinto was acting both in accordance with the profit-making imperative and within the law. What I want to highlight here, however, is how the heritage-protection and native-title regimes are themselves conditioned, if not determined, by the underlying logics of settler colonialism and their current conjuncture with the trajectory of late neoliberal capitalism. Indeed, it is the contemporary combination of cultural and economic logics that renders Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge so representative, and so revealing.


It is possible that the reputational damage incurred by Rio Tinto will temper its corporate behaviour now and for some time into the future. Other participants in the extractive industries’ ongoing exploitation of the Indigenous estate may well follow suit, since their reputations have been tarnished by association, and they too now find themselves, for once, the subjects of critical public-political attention. BHP has very publicly announced a ‘pause’ to any further expansion of its South Flank iron-ore operation, for example. It has also come out in support of increased rights to consultation and appeal on the part of Indigenous owners, perhaps in an attempt to bolster its own credentials in comparison with its competitors. At the same time, however, chief executive Mike Henry refused to rule out the possibility that the South Flank expansion would proceed in the future. Rio, for its part, has insisted on its willingness to learn from the Juukan Gorge disaster. It has announced a similar pause on its extension of Brockman 4 (of which Juukan Gorge formed a part) and has signalled its intention to ‘make sure this does not happen again’. 

Yet hopes for meaningful and long-lasting voluntary improvements to corporate behaviour seem optimistic at best, and, more realistically, misplaced and diversionary. Any such improvements are almost certain to be fleeting, and mining companies are likely to return to their default settings of displacement and destruction once public attention moves on. In much the same way as the exploitative relations of capitalism are not reliant on the good or ill will of any individual actor, the current model of a ‘good’ (that is, profitable) mining company cannot realistically be reconciled with the substantive protection of Indigenous lands and cultural heritage. Considered in combination with the eliminationist logics of settler colonialism, such hopes appear less plausible still. 

Heritage manager for the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) Dr Kathryn Przywolnik observed in the organisation’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of Juukan Gorge that there was a ‘significant power imbalance’ in the existing agreement between Rio Tinto and the WGAC that put the latter in the position of having to rely on the company’s ‘better nature’ to respect their cultural heritage. As Apache and US environmental groups pointed out in the wake of Juukan Gorge’s destruction, plans by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to build a major copper mine on one of their sacred sites, underneath Oak Flat in California, thoroughly undermine the idea that anything of substance has changed in Rio’s attitudes towards Indigenous peoples. WGAC representatives seem to agree. When asked at the inquiry how much confidence they had that Rio Tinto would maintain its ‘pause’ on destruction once the media spotlight had moved on, they responded, ‘None’.

While BHP has followed Rio’s lead in hitting pause on its projects in the Pilbara, Fortescue Metals Group, Australian Potash, China Shenhua and others appear ready to continue theirs in the region and beyond. A recent Guardian investigation found that more than 100 sites in the Pilbara are currently at risk of destruction.5 The pattern is well established by now. Of the 463 applications to destroy or disturb sites of significance to local Aboriginal people lodged by mining companies since mid-2010 in Western Australia alone, not a single one has been denied.


Promises of legislative reform on the part of governments that have similarly operated on the presumption, and towards the enactment, of Indigenous elimination are also likely to remain partial, if history is anything to go by. The overarching pattern of relations between governments, mining companies and sovereign First Nations peoples seems self-evidently to bear this out. The prevailing heritage-protection regimes in Western Australia and beyond, as numerous submissions to the federal parliamentary inquiry have emphasised, are heavily stacked in favour of non-Indigenous economic interests at the expense of Indigenous rights to land, culture and heritage. The Banjima people in the Pilbara, for example, could lose up to eighty-six significant sites in BHP’s planned (but ‘paused’) South Flank expansion (the destruction of forty sites was approved five days after the destruction of Juukan Gorge). Banjima representatives told the inquiry that Indigenous owners have ‘no choice’ but to ‘trade away their heritage’ to mining companies. In the absence of a right of veto, their ‘choice’ is a Hobson’s choice: accept the mine with whatever agreement is on offer, or have the mine imposed without any agreement at all. 

Worse still, such agreements often contain ‘gag’ clauses preventing Indigenous owners from publicly raising concerns about mining companies’ destructive behaviour, while the current WA Aboriginal Heritage Act grants them no right of appeal. Indeed, recent revelations regarding Rio Tinto’s preparations against a potential injunction in the days leading up to the Juukan Gorge destruction suggest that the company was relying on just such a provision—the so-called ‘non-disparagement clause’ in the company’s agreement with the Indigenous owners—to prevent the PKKP from speaking out in a last-ditch attempt to protect the caves. 

According to Carol Meredith, chief executive of the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation, lawyers representing Rio Tinto not only warned them against speaking out but also insisted that they could not apply for an emergency declaration to halt the caves’ destruction without first seeking the company’s permission and providing it with thirty days’ notice of their intention to do so. The company’s focus in the lead-up to the blast remained firmly on its legal standing. As Calla Wahlquist reported in the Guardian, ‘the significance of the site was not discussed’.6 In its submission to the ongoing parliamentary inquiry, the Australian Archaeological Association noted that Aboriginal sites of significance are ‘routinely destroyed’ under the existing protection regime. As Marcia Langton remarked in the Guardian, in its current guise, ‘far from protecting Aboriginal heritage’ the WA Act ‘provides a fast-track for mining companies to destroy it’.7 The default setting of the WA government, as with mining companies and other interests, seems ‘stuck on destroy’.8

Media coverage since the destruction of Juukan Gorge has consistently emphasised the fact that the outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act is being revised to improve the level of protection afforded to Indigenous owners. And the recently released Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 (WA), intended to replace the 1972 Act, contains several promising provisions, including harsher penalties for land users who engage in unauthorised acts of destruction (although again we should note that what occurred at Juukan Gorge was not ‘unauthorised’). Other measures are intended to provide greater transparency with respect to governments and increased rights of consultation and appeal on the part of Indigenous owners. However, all existing section 18 approvals will remain in force despite the proposed improvements. Rio Tinto alone has current approval to destroy approximately 1780 Aboriginal heritage sites under the existing Act, and these approvals are set to remain in place. The perversity of ‘improvements’ to heritage-protection laws prioritising mining companies’ rights to destroy the very cultural heritage the laws are ostensibly designed to protect is startling in its audacity, if not in the logic and principles it so clearly reflects. 

Robin Chapple, Greens MP for the Mining and Pastoral Region in Western Australia, has also raised concerns over the period and process for Indigenous consultation with regard to the proposed legislation. The time frames, which would allow Indigenous groups just over a week between the commencement of consultation and closure of public comment, echo the sham ‘consultation’ processes used by the Gillard Labor government to claim Indigenous consent for continuing the NT Intervention under its perversely named Stronger Futures package of 2012.9


It is telling that while BHP has come out in support of greater consultation and appeal rights for Indigenous owners, it, Fortescue Metals and Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill are united in seeking to keep the federal government out of the matter altogether. They appear intent on keeping heritage protection with the WA government, whose coffers are filled with royalties from the state’s mineral and petroleum producers, to the tune of $5.6 billion in the 2018–19 financial year. The profitable nature of this relationship is more than reciprocated, with $22 billion of Rio’s $29 billion in earnings over the same period the product of its destructive/extractive activities in the Pilbara region alone.

WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt has promoted his proposed legislation on the basis that it will bring Western Australia’s heritage protections into alignment with Commonwealth native-title laws. This is a mixed blessing at best. The native-title regime has arguably always operated in the way it was intended: against Indigenous interests. And the absence of a right of veto, which produces the Hobson’s choice the Banjima people highlighted, has been the central enabler of its ongoing adverse implications. The proposed restructuring of the native-title regime to include the right of veto, as advocated by Altman and others, therefore strikes me as more urgent and necessary, and correspondingly more difficult to achieve. The inclusion of a right of refusal in Australia’s native-title and heritage-protection regimes would bring Australia into line with at least one of its international legal obligations with respect to Indigenous rights: the right to ‘free, prior and informed consent’ guaranteed under international law. Yet the economic and national-cultural implications would be extensive, to say the least.

Former Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques, in full damage-control mode in the aftermath of the caves’ destruction, recently conceded that the question of whether Indigenous owners should be granted veto powers over mining projects was an ‘absolutely valid’ one to ask, albeit one he stopped short of answering. If past behaviour offers any indication of future behaviour, the evidence suggests that the company will remain opposed to such a right, given the impediment it would present to the destructive/extractive activities it depends on. Rio’s choice of non-executive director Michael L’Estrange to lead its internal review into the destruction of Juukan Gorge, having found no First Nations person prepared to do so, seems to bear this out. In the interests of the transparency Rio has been trumpeting of late, we should recall the fact that in 1997 L’Estrange headed John Howard’s cabinet policy unit when, in response to the High Court’s Wik decision, it devised its infamous 10-point plan to provide, as then deputy prime minister Tim Fischer boasted, ‘bucketloads of extinguishment’ in relation to native title.

At face value, some of these potential shifts of policy and behaviour on the part of mining companies and governments might be seen to provide grounds for optimism. Perhaps more positive still has been the formation of a national coalition of Aboriginal native-title and land-rights councils to seek legislative reforms in Western Australia and beyond, although the extent to which they will be able or willing to remain outside of and in opposition to the dominant trajectory remains to be seen. As has been the case with even the modest gains in recognition and protection of Indigenous rights over the course of Australia’s settler-colonial history, Indigenous agency and activism will undoubtedly be key to any future improvements as well. But until the underlying currents of settler colonialism and extractive settler capitalism are addressed, all of the proposed remedies canvassed above remain unconvincing, as the very notion of a ‘pause’ implies.


Ernest Renan famously suggested that forgetting, as much as remembering, is fundamental to all national/ist traditions.10 This certainly applies in settler-colonial contexts, where the task has been to undermine, interfere with or eradicate the sovereignty conceded by the Crown in the originary act of entreating with ‘the natives’. In settler-colonial Australia, premised as it is on the imagined non-existence of pre-existing Indigenous societies, however, the task has not been to forget, or even to actively disremember, but rather to erase all traces of Indigenous occupation—of Indigenous sovereignty—at the moment or, better yet, before they appear.

In recent decades it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the outright strategies of erasure and disavowal that characterised Bill Stanner’s ‘Great Australian Silence’ in the wake of the revolutions in archaeology, anthropology and history that First Nations activism in large part provoked. Yet far from a reversal of preceding attitudes and relations, the post-1967 period has been marked by the development of new strategies to submerge, subsume or otherwise evade the implications of Indigenous sovereignties, as they are asserted and reasserted by their living bearers. Far from a form of recognition and protection of Indigenous rights to land—let alone sovereignty—native title, properly understood, represents precisely one such strategy.

Ben Silverstein has written of how the High Court’s decision in Mabo no. 2, and especially the Keating government’s response to that decision, acted to ‘submerge’ Indigenous sovereignties at the very moment they (re)appeared.11 When the court ‘overturned’ the terra nullius doctrine in its application to the colonisation of Australia, it acted immediately to constrain the obvious implications of that determination. On the question of the Crown’s acquisition of sovereignty, so clearly and fundamentally challenged by the court’s recognition of the Meriam people’s pre-existing native title, the court refused to engage in existential questioning and simply ruled the matter beyond its jurisdiction. Its determination that Australia’s settler-colonial sovereignty was not ‘municipally justiciable’ effectively displaced the question of its own legitimacy, and the sovereignty it supposedly represents, into an international arena premised on the prior and presumed recognition of that very sovereignty.

Paul Keating’s introduction of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) in response to the Mabo decision is often regarded by small-l liberals and ‘progressives’ as a crowning achievement in the reign of their acerbic political hero, and an important step in his principled march towards a reconciled republic. Patrick Wolfe, however, characterised it more accurately as signalling the ‘fulfilment’ rather than the removal of terra nullius—as marking the point at which it had ‘completed its historical task’.12 Under the native-title regime, Indigenous rights to land have been constructed as both inherently limited and peculiarly fragile—uniquely susceptible to ‘extinguishment’. In its requirement that claimants prove their uninterrupted and continuing ‘traditional connection’ with the land in question, for example, the native-title regime displaces the burden of proof, and of history, from coloniser to colonised. The implications of this displacement were starkly illustrated by Justice Olney’s infamous conclusion that the ‘tide of history’ had ‘washed away’ the Yorta Yorta’s native title.

As Altman pointed out in relation to the destruction of Juukan Gorge, the Native Title Act ‘quite intentionally’ failed to provide Indigenous peoples with the sought-after right of veto over mineral and other forms of exploration and exploitation on their land.13 By placing decision-making power with the vested interests of mining companies and government agencies, affirming the Crown’s (and Commonwealth’s) acquisition of sovereignty, guaranteeing existing non-Indigenous interests in land, and radically circumscribing both the number of potential claimants and the implications of their claims, the Mabo decision, and the native-title regime that followed, can best be understood in line with Wolfe’s characterisation. In the context of the longue durée of attempted elimination and erasure that has defined the Australian settler-colonial project, native title can be seen to represent not an inversion but rather a further enactment of settler-colonial invasion.

Crucially, the continuation of the destructive activities of Australia’s extractive economy on Indigenous lands contributes to the ongoing erasure of Indigenous sovereignties the settler project has always sought to enact and maintain. The interruption of Indigenous peoples’ ‘traditional connection’, the fundamental basis from which native-title claims and entitlements proceed, as with the destruction of evidence thereof, has the effect of contributing to the ‘extinguishment’ of native title and associated rights. This is the context in which the destruction of Juukan Gorge—along with the many other, less widely reported acts of settler-colonial desecration, past and planned—took place, with the tacit approval of state and federal governments alike. To the extent that acts such as those that occurred at Juukan Gorge have the effect, from a settler-colonial perspective, of undermining the availability of acceptable, admissible evidence of First Nations peoples’ profound and continuing connections to Country, these actions and their broader context can be understood as another wave in the relentlessly destructive settler-colonial ‘tide of history’. From this point of view, WA senator Pat Dodson’s suggestion that the mining industry is engaged in ‘a form of incremental genocide’ rings true.


Marcia Langton’s refusal to lead Rio Tinto’s internal inquiry into the Juukan Gorge disaster and her attacks on the company’s leadership seem to signal an important shift away from the contradictory alignment of Indigenous and mining interests she vehemently promoted in her 2012 Boyer Lectures (themselves based on research partly funded by Rio Tinto) and beyond.14 Noel Pearson seems to have followed suit, publishing a scathing attack in the Weekend Australian against Rio Tinto’s ‘astounding silence’ on ‘any spiritual, if not spiritual then moral, if not moral then ethical, if not ethical then philosophical, reflection of the loss that the traditional owners, the nation and the world have suffered’.15 

At the same time, however, the announcement that mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest will deliver the 2020 Boyer Lectures—not incidentally the same series of public lectures in which Stanner, in 1968, first highlighted and elaborated the ‘Great Australian Silence’—suggests the absolute integration of contemporary settler-colonial culture and economy. Epitomised here in the figure of Forrest delivering one of Australia’s premier ‘intellectual’ events, culture and economy appear unified in the promotion of an exploitative relation to the land at the expense of the Indigenous interests that might otherwise stand in their way. Australia’s ‘biggest philanthropist’, lauded by politicians and the media for his company’s treatment of First Nations people and for his (largely unfulfilled) promises of bringing ‘real jobs’ to remote Australia, this is the same Twiggy Forrest whose Fortescue Metals Group fought (and ultimately lost) a long and bitter battle with the Yindjibarndi people over compensation for the destructive/extractive activities it has been carrying out on their lands for over a decade. 

In spite of Forrest’s well-documented attempts to undermine the Yindjibarndi’s claim, in a rare instance of the system responding to Indigenous interests the Yindjibarndi were recently awarded exclusive possession rights over land in the Pilbara that includes the site of Fortescue’s multi-billion-dollar Solomon Hub. Nevertheless, running counter to this decision and Fortescue’s announcement of a ‘pause’ on the relevant part of the Solomon Hub expansion to allow for additional consultation with the Indigenous owners, the company seems intent on proceeding with plans to expand its Queens mine, also part of the Solomon Hub—on Eastern Guruma lands. Fortescue is seeking approval under section 18 of the current WA Act to destroy the first of several sites in the area, including two rock shelters showing evidence of human use and occupation dating back 47,800 years in one and 60,000 years in the other. 

Recent revelations from the Eastern Guruma regarding Fortescue’s decision to withhold $1.9 million in royalties in apparent response to their refusal to sign off on new mining leases while awaiting further information on the company’s plans underscore Fortescue’s—and by extension Forrest’s—consistent opposition to Indigenous interests. Fortescue’s rejection, on the basis of a minor technicality, of shareholders’ calls for a moratorium on the destruction of other sites of significance to Indigenous owners in the wake of Juukan Gorge further attests to this position. The company wasted no time in taking advantage of its avoidance of the proposed moratorium, applying within weeks to convert its existing prospecting licence into a mining licence on land within an area of ‘high cultural sensitivity’ currently protected by a separate six-month moratorium negotiated between the PKKP and Rio Tinto in the immediate aftermath of the latter’s act of destruction. Cutting against Fortescue’s claim that it opposed the more far-reaching moratorium on the grounds that it would ‘disempower’ Indigenous owners, PKKP cultural-heritage manager Heather Builth described Fortescue’s apparent attempt to work around the existing moratorium as ‘insensitive at best, unconscionable at the worst’.16


Culturally, the settler-colonial drive towards displacement is compelled by what Wolfe described as a sought-after ‘fusion of people and land’ in the formation of a new society.17 In Australia, the economic base of the new society has been constructed around the unfettered exploitation of land rendered available by the presumed absence—actual or imminent—of the original custodians. This encompasses early and subsequent forms of pastoralism and agrarianism through to the contemporary dominance of Australia’s extractive industries. While the cultural significance of that extractive economic base has always been overstated (mining makes up only 10 per cent of Australia’s GDP, for example), this only reinforces the entanglement of cultural and economic forces in the ongoing processes of settler-colonial displacement and erasure. 

In light of the current conjuncture, it is revealing, appropriate even, that Forrest has been chosen to deliver the 2020 iteration of the national broadcaster’s foremost lecture series (presumably in a pair of R. M. Williams boots, since he has just acquired that iconic company). Whereas historically the settler–land relation was constitutive of Australian identity in the guise of national archetypes such as diggers, bushmen and battlers, formed through the direct domination and exploitation of a ‘hostile’ and ‘empty’ land, today the relationship is far more mediated by and aligned with market ideals. In this sense, Twiggy Forrest represents the new Coming Man: Australian man remade for our contemporary age, the personification of a settler-colonial Australia written in and on the absence of First Nations peoples and almost entirely given over to the demands and seductions of the market. 

Here, now, the settler-colonial logic of elimination—of displacement for the purpose of replacement—has come to align in ever more destructive ways with the economic logic of neoliberal capitalism that David Harvey terms accumulation by dispossession.18 The ‘direct relationship’ Altman identified ‘between the coffers of the state and the extraction of minerals owned by the Crown that is now conferred upon Commonwealth, state and territory governments’ cannot be excluded from consideration here.19 The reciprocal and mutually reinforcing relationship in which state funding is funnelled back to mining companies in the form of subsidies and infrastructure used to underwrite their unfettered extraction of mineral resources from Indigenous lands is similarly fundamental. This destructive system of relations results in a ruinous cycle akin to—and indeed entangled with—the spiralling feedback loops of global warming and environmental destruction.

In summary, Australia’s First Nations peoples—as in the other settler colonies, including Trump’s United States and Bolsonaro’s Brazil, to which we might well add Trudeau’s Canada, though perhaps not now Ardern’s Aotearoa/New Zealand—once again find themselves ‘in the way’. Yet the contemporary coupling of the eliminationist cultural logics of settler colonialism and the extractive economic ones of neoliberal capitalism represents a clear and present danger not only to Indigenous peoples, whose lives and lands are directly in the path of these twinned and revivified forces of destruction, but also, now, to all of humanity.


1 Jon Altman, ‘The Native Title Act Supports Mineral Extraction and Heritage Destruction’, Arena Online, 16 June 2020, https://arena.org.au/the-native-title-act-supports-mineral-extraction-and-heritage-destruction/.

2 See Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event, London & New York: Cassell, 1999; Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

3 Jeff Sparrow, ‘Culture Warriors Obsessed with Statues Ignore Rio Tinto’s Vandalism of Indigenous Heritage, Guardian, 17 June 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/17/culture-warriors-obsessed-with-statues-ignore-rio-tintos-vandalism-of-indigenous-heritage.

4 Ghassan Hage, White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, New York: Routledge, 2000.

5 Lorena Allam and Calla Wahlquist, ‘More Than 100 Aboriginal Sacred Sites – Some Dating Before the Ice Age – Could Be Destroyed by Mining Companies’, Guardian, 28 August 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/aug/28/more-than-100-aboriginal-sacred-sites-some-dating-before-the-ice-age-could-be-destroyed-by-mining-companies.

6 Calla Wahlquist, ‘Juukan Gorge: Rio Tinto Hired Lawyers for Potential Injunction Against Blasting of Aboriginal Site’, Guardian, 5 September 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/sep/05/juukan-gorge-rio-tinto-hired-lawyers-for-potential-injunction-against-blasting-of-aboriginal-site.

7 Marcia Langton, ‘We Need a Thorough Investigation into the Destruction of the Juukan Gorge Caves. A Mere Apology Will Not Cut It’, Guardian, 28 July 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/28/we-need-a-thorough-investigation-into-the-destruction-of-the-juukan-gorge-caves-a-mere-apology-will-not-cut-it.

8 Emma Young, ‘“Default Setting Stuck on Destroy”: FMG’s Plan to Blast 60,000-Year-Old Site’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 June 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/national/default-setting-stuck-on-destroy-fmg-s-plan-to-blast-60-000-year-old-site-20200608-p550ld.html.

9 See Alastair Nicholson et al., Listening but Not Hearing: A Response to the NTER Stronger Futures Consultations, June to August 2011, Sydney: University of Technology Sydney, 2012, https://www.uts.edu.au/sites/default/files/ListeningButNotHearing8March2012_1.pdf.

10 Ernest Renan, ‘What Is a Nation?’ [1882], in Homi K. Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration, London & New York: Routledge, 1990, pp. 8–22.

11 Ben Silverstein, ‘Submerged Sovereignty: Native Title within a History of Incorporation’, in Julie Evans, Ann Genovese, Alexander Reilly and Patrick Wolfe (eds), Sovereignty: Frontiers of Possibility, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013, pp 60–85.

12 Wolfe, p. 203.

13 Altman, n.p.

14 See, for example, Marcia Langton, ‘The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom’, the 53rd Boyer Lectures, ABC, 2012, https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/boyerlectures/series/2012-boyer-lectures/4305696 and From Conflict to Cooperation: Transformations and Challenges in the Engagement between the Australian Minerals Industry and Australian Indigenous Peoples, Forrest: Minerals Council of Australia, 2015, https://minerals.org.au/sites/default/files/MCA%20Monograph%207%20-%20From%20Conflic~on%20by%20Professor%20Marcia%20Langton.pdf.

15 Noel Pearson, ‘Rio Tinto’s Poor Excuses on Juukan Gorge, Australian, 5 September 2020, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/rio-tintos-poor-excuses-on-juukan-gorge/news-story/35f4ef04cf4add0254d4945059e4dd46.

16 Keira Jenkins, ‘“Immense Grief and Guilt”: PKKP Say the Destruction of Juukan Caves Has Taken Toll, NITV News, 12 October 2020, https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2020/10/12/immense-grief-and-guilt-pkkp-say-destruction-juukan-caves-has-taken-toll.

17 Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race, London: Verso, 2016, p. 34.

18 David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003; David Harvey, ‘The “New” Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession’, Socialist Register, 40, 2004, pp 63–87.

19 Altman, n.p.

About the author

Dan Tout

Dan Tout is a lecturer in history and sociology at Federation University and an Arena Publications Editor. In 2023, he was an inaugural Visiting Fellow with the Australian Centre at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on settler colonialism and nationalism in Australia and their impacts on and implications for First Nations peoples.

More articles by Dan Tout

Support Arena

Independent publications and critical thought are more important than ever. Arena has never relied on or received government funding. It has sustained its activities largely through the voluntary work and funding provided by editors and supporters. If Arena is to continue and to expand its readership, we need your support to do it.