Sarah’s research in the Extractives and Communities Program focuses on the social dimensions of mine closure and community / local level agreements.  

This will initially involve a scoping study within Australia, and then globally, to build a knowledge-base on the dimensions of this issue. What are the social, cultural and political factors of closure at a local and regional level?  Are the Agreements leaving the development legacy they had aspired to? While this research is not Indigenous specific, as the significant majority of these local level agreements are on the Indigenous estate and the mining industry is the most significant employer of Indigenous Australians, the implications of social closure in these remote contexts may present as a wicked problem for both industry and government, if they are not systemically addressed.  

Sarah has been based principally at the ANU (2002 – 2016) as a research intensive academic. She has undertaken research on and published widely on a diverse range of issues in the Indigenous Australian context, including; human rights and intersectional challenges to implementation, Extractive industries and sustainable development, Social exclusion, marginality and post-coloniality, gender violence, Aboriginal community governance and service delivery in remote settlements and the ethical governance of Intellectual Property and collaborative knowledges. 

Sarah's anthropological method unsettles the ground between anthropologist as advocate and change agent, and anthropologist as practising a discursive science.  Sarah’s work in the CSRM draws on all of this expertise in relation to investigating the social aspects of mine closure and the legacies of local level land use Agreements. 

Sarah is a social anthropologist with 20 years’ experience working in Aboriginal Australia both within NGOs, including the 2 major Northern Territory Land Councils, and at the Australian National University in several research centres, including the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies. She was the Social Science Coordinator for the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, during which time she led the development of the Aboriginal Knowledge and Intellectual Property Community Guide, which subsequently won the 2010 CRC Excellence in Innovation Award.         


Sarah has been a researcher on two ARC Linkage projects at the ANU Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR). These include a linkage between Rio Tinto and CAEPR entitled: “Indigenous Community Organisations and Miners: Partnering Sustainable Regional Development?” Sarah was a researcher on this project, in various capacities from 2002 – 2006. Sarah has also undertaken a range of consultancies with the NT Natural Resource Management Board and the CSIRO. This work, including for the DK CRC, involved developing resources, such as protocols and guidelines, for government agencies and research bodies to systematise an ethical and collaborative approach to working with Indigenous knowledge holders in research. 
Most recently Sarah was engaged by Murray-Darling Basin Authority Aboriginal Partnerships Program as a ‘Critical Friend’ on the expert advisory panel for the Aboriginal Weather Stations citizen science research project in 2016-2019.  


Much of Sarah’s research has been cross-disciplinary and she has co-authored widely with political scientists, lawyers, human geographers, systems theorists, etc. Sarah was an expert (research) on the AIATSIS ethics committee from 2012-2016. She was a Director for the Australian Anthropological Society from (AAS) from 2010-2013. 

Key Publications

Holcombe, S. 2010. “Sustainable Aboriginal Livelihoods and the Pilbara Mining Boom” in I. Keen [ed] Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives. ANU E-press monograph, Canberra. Pp 141-164. 

Holcombe, S. 2009. “Indigenous Entrepreneurialism in the Context of Mining Land Use Agreements”. In [ed] J.C. Altman and D. Martin. Culture, Power and Economy: Indigenous Australians and mining. CAEPR Research Monograph 30. ANU E. press. Pp. 149-170. 

Holcombe, S. 2015. “The Revealing Processes of Interpretation: Translating Human Rights Principles into Pintupi-Luritja”. In [eds] I. Keen and B. Blakeman (Special Edition) Anthropology and Morality, The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Pp 428-441.   

Holcombe, S and Sullivan, P. 2012. “Indigenous Australian Organisations”. Chapter 24, Pp 493-518. In [eds] D. Caulkins and A. Jordan. A Companion to Organisational Anthropology, Wiley Blackwell. Pp 493-518.  

Holcombe, S. 2016 “Human Rights, Colonial Criminality and the Death in Custody of Kwementyaye Briscoe: A central Australian case study”. The Political and Legal Anthropology Review (POLAR) Vol 39, NoS1: Pp104-120. 


From 2012-2016 Sarah was the recipient of a 4 year ARC Future Fellowship for the project:  Global Indigenous human rights and local effect in central Australia: Tracing Relations of power and locating potentialities.   

Amnesty International Australia “Human Rights Innovation Fund”. Grant to finalise translation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights into Aboriginal language Pintupi-Luritja, 2014.

While at the ANU, from 2006-2008 Sarah was externally funded as the Social Science Coordinator for the Desert Knowledge CRC and was also the recipient of a field research grant with Dr Will Sanders (CAEPR) for research in the Sustainable Desert Settlements stream.
During 2009, while at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (ANU) Sarah was the principle researcher winning contracts with the NT Government (NRM Board, $100,000) and the CSIRO to develop ethics resources for engaging and working with Indigenous Australians.