Innovative research into mining closures (Issue 45, 2010)


Dr Labrador at the Ranger Uranium Mines

For the past few months, La Trobe University has been the host of highly respected anthropologist and museologist Professor Ana Maria Theresa Labrador, research associate for anthropology at the National Museum of Philippines.

Dr Labrador received an Australian Leadership Awards Fellowship (funded by AusAID) to conduct a research project at the Philippines Australia Studies Centre in the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University.

The project evaluates state-of-the-art developments in the Australian mining industry in relation to utilising the ecological knowledge of indigenous people to enhance mine closure strategies in the Philippines. Dr Labrador’s research project is titled Developing appropriate cultural criteria for post-mining closure in the Philippine mining industry and it involves field research conducted in different parts of Australia, the results of which will contribute to better practices in mining in the Philippines. 

The project has also benefited from the collaboration with Dr Augustine Doronila, a biogeoscientist specialised in post-mining rehabilitation and based at the University of Melbourne, and who has been living and working in Australia for more than 30 years.  

Together with Dr Doronila, Dr Labrador has been visiting several mining operations around Australia, observing mining operations and restoration programs and talking to stakeholders and community members. Among others they visited the Queensland Herbarium, the Centre of Mine Land Research, Sustainable Minerals institute (SMI) at the University of Queensland, and the North Stradbroke Mineral Sand Operation. 

Dr Labrador had engagements with representatives of indigenous communities to get acquainted with their involvement in the closure and rehabilitation process. In Jabiru, the two researchers met with members of the Gundjheimi Aboriginal Corporation, who were concerned about how the outcomes of post-mining rehabilitation would affect the future of their descendants. 

Visits in the Northern Territory and Queensland were followed by fieldwork in the Victorian region, in the longest operating gold mine in Australia, in Stawell, close to the Grampians-Garawired National Park. Here Dr Labrador was able to interview some of the miners who have lived in the Victorian Goldfields in the Wimmera region for generations as well as various stakeholders in the newly opened mineral sands mines. Talks with indigenous representatives from the Mildura region revealed another perspective: some of the local Aboriginal groups may be open to mining that they could manage and control. 

During these multiple visits and interviews, Dr Labrador and Dr Doronila collected data that would help build the available knowledge regarding the scientific and cultural criteria on which post-mining closure in Australia is implemented.  

'Considering that nearly 60 percent of the mining companies in the Philippines are Australian-owned, it has been worth looking into how they plan and implement their post-mining restoration here and compare this experience with their own projections for mine closure in my country,’ reflects Dr Labrador.
Her recommendations will be valuable as these will then guide the Philippines local and foreign mining industries to adhere to the best practices that would benefit the local communities that are affected and to enhance community-based restoration and reforestation projects for post-mining and degraded landscapes.

Dr Labrador was awarded a MPhil and PhD in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge in England. She also obtained a Master of Arts in museum and gallery management from the City University London. 

Until recently, she was with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ateneo de Manila University as Associate Professor of Anthropology. Prior to that, she taught art history and museum studies for 20 years at the Art Studies Department, University of Philippines at Diliman and director for 7 years of the university-based Jorge B Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center.