Sustainable Aboriginal livelihoods and the Pilbara mining boom

Sarah Holcombe

This chapter has been a speculative consideration of the sustainable livelihoods strategy as a framework and language for Gumala, and potentially other Aboriginal organisations set up to manage agreement flows. So it seems that the Pilbara region at least, with its access to a mine economy, has a relative advantage in the support that Aboriginal native titleholders receive for homeland or outstation development. Likewise, the leverage that Gumala is able to gain from the state and commonwealth governments from already having a certain baseline of funding is also crucial for their continuing support. There is also evidence, albeit from Gumala, that there are more Aboriginal people employed in the mining industry than was found by Taylor and Scambary (2005). The extensive pre-employment programs that Rio Tinto and others such as Ngarda Civil and Mining have implemented appear to be making their mark. The possibilities for sustainable livelihoods are clearly compromised by the pervasiveness of mining in the Pilbara region and the footprint of the industry, as this encompasses not only the actual mines, but also the complex network of infrastructure, water requirements, and so on. Likewise, mining cannot sit comfortably with the concept of sustainability, unless there is directed focus on developing the region’s other capital—the social, cultural, human and environmental. As Armstrong (in Newman et al. 2005:40) argues, ‘a sustainable solution to FIFO in the Pilbara is about increasing the positive benefits of mining to local communities whilst reducing their dependence upon it’. Gumala is in a strategic position in the region to do this and deliver sustainable outcomes.

Holcombe, S. (2010). Sustainable Aboriginal livelihoods and the Pilbara mining boom. In I. Keen (Ed.), Indigenous participation in Australian economies: Historical and anthropological perspectives, pp. 141-164. ANU Press. Retrieved from

Book chapter
Sustainable Aboriginal livelihoods and the Pilbara mining boom