Before the Mine
A short while ago, I went out to a soon-to-be mine site somewhere in Western Australia. It was a beautiful spring morning, 32C, a brisk wind.
We stood up on a mesa, about forty metres up from the floodplain. The mesa spread in a gentle arc from north to south, like an arm embracing the body of the valley below. The land to the east was flat, with other mesas to the north and the north- east.
A strong steady wind blew up the ridge, rattling in the spinifex. Small birds soared along the ridge crest and dodged through the ghost gums.
We left the top of the mesa and drove our 4WD down into the valley.
There were piles of test ore scattered about, left by another mining company years ago. In between the piles of iron ore, occasionally we would see flakes of worked stone, dropped by people working tools over many thousands of years. There were delicate chips of jasper and river rock, pale stone standing out from the dark pisolite surround.
We drove on into the river valley beyond the next mesas. It’s the dry season now, and the river bed was empty except for the permanent waterholes tucked in against the base of the rocks. As we drove through the deep gravel of the river bed and out across the flood plain, we saw a solitary cow, calmly pulling young shoots from a bush, indifferent to our roaring passage.
High in the branches of the trees we saw flood debris, carried there in the great cyclone of the year before, when the river bridge was washed away down to its footings.
We stopped at the waterhole. Dragonflies hummed, a kingfisher darted across the water. Further downstream, a pair of pelicans sailed in quiet dignity. A snowy egret darted across the water. A kangaroo came out from the trees to feed.
We could hear nothing but the calls of ducks and miner birds, the hum of the flies, and the occasional splash of a fish rising to an insect.
Surrounded by this richness and beauty, I felt a sadness that the construction contractors would come, and in two years time there would be a mine, a road, a bridge, and the constant noise of heavy vehicles.
But, thinking about the chips of jasper, and the piles of iron ore, and the birds, I reflected on the ancient ground, and all the things that had come and gone. Then I thought that a century after this mine had ended little would be left to ever say it was here. Thinking this I could put it in its perspective and say “It’s ok”.