Australia’s mining boom is a period of history economists and politicians still talk about with a sense of awe. At the time the accepted wisdom was that China’s economy would never stop growing and Australia’s mines would always be there to supply them. Australia rode this once-in-history event through 25 straight years of economic growth. We even managed to sidestep the worst of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, and it was because of the boom Australia could call itself an economic miracle. No one thought it would end.
Until it did. Today the country is grappling with what that means at a time when inequality is rising and dissatisfaction with politics is at its highest since the Whitlam government dismissal. The mining boom, when it has been written about previously, is usually only considered as a question of economics. These discussions point to the infrastructure the boom built, the people who moved in to try their luck and ended up staying, and the question of whether a sovereign wealth fund would have ensured Australia’s vast mineral wealth could be put to use for its people, rather than multinational corporations.
This book is different. Its focus is not economic, but the lived experience of people who came into vast wealth, only to watch it dry up. It sketches that feeling at the dizzying height of the boom, a time when anything seemed possible, when distant, dusty towns on the Australian periphery got rich overnight and could command the whole nation’s attention. It tells the stories of the winners, and the losers, who bought into the mining boom’s promise of easy money. It also examines the fall, when the boom that would never end, ended and took away the six-figure salaries that had made it so good for so long.