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The demise of Central Queensland's small-scale sapphire miners : 1970-1995
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Daniel TegheDaniel Teghe, James McallisterJames Mcallister
In the capitalistic drive for economic and social 'restaicturing' and an increase in economic efficiency', some of the industries supporting small-scale enterprises have been marginalised and labelled as 'anachronistic'. Whilst studying the culture of the Queensland small-scale sapphire miner, we took the opportunity to observe and analyse a case of how this phenomenon and its consequences can develop in a specific community. Generally, we found that, when state policy supports and encourages larger enterprises to displace established small-scale enterprises in a particular industry, this can have dire consequences for small communities. In this paper, we discuss the case of the Anakie Gemfields. a small community in Central Queensland. We focus on the years 1970-95, the period in which the small-scale sapphire mining industry was displaced by large-scale machinery mining. This Gemfields community emerged in support of the sapphire mining operation that, up to the early 1970s, was conducted mainly by small-scale miners. These miners worked individually or in small partnerships to extract sapphires from alluvial deposits with hand tools, and later with the aid of a few mechanised devices that complemented hand mining. In the Marxian tradition, we refer to this type of mining as 'petty bourgeois mining'. The paper outlines how this type of mining has been progressively replaced by large-scale fully capitalist methods, so that few smallscale sapphire miners remained on the Anakie Gemfields by 1995. It also discusses how the shift in the economic composition of this community was accompanied by a sharp decline in its general well-being. By the early 1990s, the Anakie Gemfields had become a welfare pocket, experiencing unusually high unemployment figures, low incomes and low workforce participation rates.