Lines above and below ground
Early the next morning we go up Parnngurr Hill with Curtis, a novice filmmaker from town. Uranium was first discovered here by CRA (now Rio Tinto) in the 1970s. Now there's a four-year survey update period during which the company, the government, and Traditional Owners will discuss everything. We're standing on a hill that someday may no longer exist, one of three local ore bodies. Curtis says that you can look at the hill on Google Earth and see the outline of the head belonging to the Dreamtime figure of the old man who lives there. “If you fall asleep here, you have to be careful”, says Curtis. “You dream of that old man and he may steal your soul, and then you wake up dead.”
I don't attempt to conflate the Dreamtime reality with the mining plans, and know that the local politics over the uranium are complicated. But I find it impossible not to think about the Martu traditions that place malevolent figures underground here and at Lake Disappointment, another proposed mining site, without acknowledging that we also have our own understanding of the dangers below ground when the surface is disturbed. Here in Parnngurr it's radioactivity, and on the playa to our southwest it's minerals such as selenium, which when let loose in the wind are ten times more poisonous to humans than arsenic.