All that Glitters is Not Gold: The Effect of Mining Activities and Royalties on the Built Environment of Remote North East Arnhem Land

Hannah Robertson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review


This paper explores the effects of mining activities and royalties on the Northern Territory’s remote northeast Arnhem Land region, including the mining town of Nhulunbuy (with a 93.8% non-Indigenous population) and surrounding Indigenous communities, and shows that the associated architectures do not provide long-term benefit to local people. In 2014, Rio Tinto Alcan closed their alumina re nery in Nhulunbuy. This resulted in the redundancy or redeployment of 1100 workers and a signi cant reduction in the town’s 4000 strong population. The closure of the re nery calls into question the role of mining settlements and their surrounding regions beyond the life of a mine.

Using the case study of northeast Arnhem Land, the paper describes the genesis of the Nhulunbuy Township in the late 1960s and how it precipitated the Indigenous land rights movement in the Northern Territory and the repatriation to homelands throughout the region. The paper analyses the architecture of Nhulunbuy, whose public, commercial and residential buildings were almost exclusively designed and built by the mining company, in comparison to the architectures that emerged through mining royalty funds distributed to traditional land owner groups such as the Gumatj and Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporations, the Yirrkala Dhanbul Association and the Arnhem Land Trust. It historicises and critiques their respective contextual response to environmental, social and adaptive economic factors.

Nhulunbuy has grown to become a significant resource centre for the northeast Arnhem Land region providing services to surrounding Indigenous communities and homelands. Thus the paper turns to a discussion of the recent history of the alumina re nery closure and the subsequent rami cations for the region’s architecture, both in the mining town and for mining royalty funded structures throughout the region. With the sudden closure of other mines throughout remote Australia, such as the Alinta coal mine at Leigh Creek, South Australia, which also acts as a service centre to the nearby Iga Warta Indigenous community, this paper is both a timely and relevant contribution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGOLD: Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand
EditorsAnnMarie Brennan, Philip Goad
Place of PublicationMelbourne, Vic, Australia
PublisherSociety of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ)
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)978-0-7340-5265-0
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes
EventGold: The 33rd Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand - University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 6 Jul 20169 Jul 2018


ConferenceGold: The 33rd Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand

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