Extractivist Imaginaries in Australia’s Latrobe Valley: Slow Violence and True Crime in Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist and Tom Doig’s Hazelwood
Keywords:Australian literature, true crime, extractivism, climate crisis, imaginaries, Latrobe Valley
This essay considers the active legacies of Australia's colonial extractivist imaginaries in the context of the nation's refusal to adequately acknowledge the current climate crisis. It explores this through two recent works of Australian narrative non-fiction writing, Chloe Hooper's The Arsonist (2018) and Tom Doig's Hazelwood (2020), both of which address major fire events in a particular region of south eastern Australia: the Latrobe Valley, a place profoundly shaped by mining and other extractivist practices. Histories of genocide and dispossession are commonly disconnected from the discourse of Australia's current environmental crisis, but these books connect these manifestations of colonial-capitalist violence, and draw threads between this and the contemporary experiences of a community living in the midst of extractivism's material realities. The fires and their consequences that Hooper and Doig recount are presented as 'true crime' accounts of extraordinary events in which the question of 'who did it?' seems initially apparent. Through their narrative poetics and strategies, however, the complexity of crime, especially in the face of extractivist colonial legacies, becomes much less clear. These texts ultimately ask us to consider our own complicity in these crimes, and also point to the possibility of alternative imaginaries that co-exist in the shadows of extractivism's continued dominance.