I am looking forward to the end of the hot weather and the beginning of autumn here. Last week, and into the beginning of this one, it’s been unbearably hot and I’ve been out bush for most of it.
If you can imagine what it’s like camping when the temperature is 39 degrees (that’s more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) in the company of 10 gazillion flies, then driving over extremely remote country (check out the photo below – there were no tracks, but that’s what we were driving over), you’ll get the idea.
At night the temperatures have been strangely warm. We usually get a respite from the daytime heat here at night. Rarely are our summer nights more than 25 degrees – this week it’s been 27 and more with humidity. Whilst the dramatic and sacred nature of the landscape are compensation for the heat, flies and discomfort, camping out during this kind of weather is tough and exhausting – even for someone who’s very fit and very used to the heat.
I could write at length about the nature of the work I was doing (sacred site clearances for uranium exploration) but I am -as you might well guess- not able to give details of either the sacred nature of the sites or the company wishing to undertake exploration in this place.
Needless to say, I have far more concerns about the possibility of a uranium mine in this location than I do about the possibility of a mine 25km south of Alice Springs (a far more geologically stable and biodiversity-poor landscape). And yes, I’ve been working on that sacred site clearance, too. (Uranium exploration in the Northern Territory has been crazy for the past 2 years – mining companies are looking everywhere for the magic deposit that will bring them $$$).
If you’re wondering what this mysterious ‘sacred site clearance’ is, quite simply, individuals, government agencies and private companies who wish to conduct any ground-disturbing works in the Northern Territory are required by law to seek a sacred site clearance through the agency I work for if they wish to avoid Aboriginal sacred sites and prosecution for damaging them.
My role is to identify the correct Aboriginal Elders/Custodians, describe the proposed works to them, take them out into the field and have them identify any sacred sites that need protecting and say what can and can’t be done on these sites. I map the sites, record ethnographic and cultural information relating to them (all protected by secrecy provisions under law, so this is not publicly available information) and then turn this information into a legal document and a map that indemnifies the individual/company/government department against prosecution. That’s one part of my job in a nutshell. My other work involves managing anthropological staff…
This week was equally stressful with a Board meeting held here in Alice Springs. I work for a Board of 12 people – 10 Aboriginal people and 2 white people. Four times each year, my agency convenes a Board meeting, which is an enormous logistical and preparatory effort to bring all together. I’m glad once it’s over and done. So I am a bit exhausted after all this and looking forward to a more normal week at work next week, when I finish off the reports and maps for both lots of uranium exploration, and create the all-important sacred site clearance documents that tell these companies where they must not go and what they must not do if they wish to protect themselves from prosecution.
By mid-week, a blessed cool change marched thru (pun intended), and finally we’ve got the gentle slide into our beautiful desert winter… and camping and bushwalking season! Yippee!! The night time temperatures have come down as low as 12 degrees (Centigrade – no idea what that is in Fahrenheit) and the days have only been around 30 degrees (which is like 25 degrees in Sydney or Melbourne cos we don’t got no humidity here!). Bliss bliss bliss!!
I have some more wonderful news, but I will hold that off until tomorrow. For now, here’s the amazing little vehicle that the mining exploration company were scooting round the countryside in.
Cool post, Amanda. Seriously!
I loved hearing more about exactly what it is you do for a job. Fascinating stuff. Its good that some parts of the land are protected, even if other parts aren’t, from those evil land destroyers!
If I was in the shoes of someone saying what parts of the land are sacred, I’m pretty sure I’d exaggerate if I could get away with it. Just because.
Glad the heat has started to lessen for you. Here in Melbourne we’re into autumn properly, now. I think we’ve seen the last of the extremely hot days for the year. Then, I could be wrong!
thanks for reading my post and leaving a lovely comment 🙂
I realise that most people have no idea what an anthropologist actually might do, apart from lecture at university.
Sometimes, people confuse anthropology (which are living cultures in my branch of the discipline) with archaeology (ummm…. historical cultures) and ask me whether I dig up bones and things like that. (There goes my brown chook as I type this. Man, I’m sure it is THE world’s most cackling chook!!).
Other times, I get asked if I study spiders (arthropods) and once, I was asked whether I measured people’s heads (physical anthropology).
Applied anthropology -which is what I do- means that I have worked on Native Title claims (my very first job in anthropology), cultural heritage protection (what I do now) and in joint management (what my PhD specialisation is in). Basically, applied anthropology means you’re working on real life, short term projects, rather than examining social life and coming up with a theory about it.
BTW. Most of the areas where the uranium company wanted to drill were sacred sites. One of the mountains I’ve photographed above is the most dangerous men’s sacred site in the West MacDonnell Ranges. Then entire area is criss-crossed by Dreamings and littered with sites. Thus, senior Aboriginal men simply cannot allow anything to happen to this area, for fear they’ll be killed by other groups (tribes) who also are connected to these Dreaming tracks.
And yes, people are still killed up here for disobeying the Law.