Dig Lit

(Disclosure: this column has been sponsored by Hancock Prospecting. Miss Georgina Hope Rineheart takes responsibility for all election comment, and for the quality of the heptameter.)

It goes without saying – but let me say it again, because I say it so well, if I do say so myself, and I do – that the history of humanity is largely a history of mining. From the Promethean hero at the wheel of a Komatsu 960E-1 ultra-class haul truck as it crosses the rugged Pilbara, to Paleolithic man roaming the forbidding plains in search of phosphate for his hungry children, mining defines where we have come from as a species, and where we are going.

Acknowledging this, I would like to take a break from our usual stampede through the fields of the Western canon to explore the singular contribution of the mining industry to our literary heritage.

Perhaps our greatest mineralogical poet was William Shakespeare himself, who has been named “The Bard of Bauxite”, although this sobriquet has yet to replace more conventional circumlocutions like “the Bard of Avon” or “William Shakespeare”. The Bard’s seminal piece of theatre, King Lear, is the tragic tale of a king whose vast prospecting empire is to be divided amongst three ungrateful daughters.

Shattered by the callousness of his offspring, Lear casts himself out into the wilds of North-Western Australia, where he roams amongst the indifferent rocks and obtains an injunction against his youngest child, declaring in almost-rhyming couplets: “Because of your loud and intolerable ungratefulness/Never shall you now see the spoils of my inheritance”, a sentiment which doesn’t exactly scan, but which strikes so deeply into the open-cut coal mine of Lear’s heart that he has it engraved onto a twenty foot-high lump of iron ore. The play ends with Lear’s shocking death; his children left to invest their millions in questionable Internet start-ups.

John Keats is another poet whose interests were largely subterranean. “Ode to Ferric Oxide”, one of the less well-known odes. “O, for a draught of iron oxide! that hath been/Cool’d a long age in the heroically-and expensively-delved earth” cries the narrator, drunk on the sublime beauty of earthly treasures. But not even ferric oxide is enough to make him forget his one true love, a wealthy though sadly unmarried heiress: “Away, away, for I will fly to thee/Not charioted by the Treasurer and his rampant tax/But on the viewless wings of fly-in fly-out charter planes”.

My time is up, but I hope you will join me in my new spin-off column “Mining and Its Incredible and Hitherto Unrecognised Contribution to Australian Cinematic History”, coming soon to your nearest Fairfax Media product.





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