Sarah, a social anthropologist, joined CSRM in 2017 after completing an ARC Future Fellowship at the ANU. She has more than 20 years’ experience in applied and academic research with Indigenous Australians. In her formative years, she worked as a regional anthropologist for the two major Northern Territory Land Councils. Most of Sarah’s research has remained focused on working and collaborating with Aboriginal people in the NT and other remote areas, including the Pilbara and Kimberley regions in WA.

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 was based principally at the ANU (2002 – 2016) as a research-intensive academic in the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS) and the School of Archaeology and Anthropology. At CSRM, Sarah’s research draws on all of this expertise in a focus on the anthropology of the extractive industries, the political economy of mining, mine closure, the legacies of land use agreements on Indigenous Australians and cultural heritage management.        


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?” and a linkage between CAEPR and Reconciliation Australia on “Indigenous community governance”. Sarah was also the Social Science Coordinator for the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (DK CRC) during her time at CAEPR. She has 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. 


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

Key Publications

Holcombe, S. 2018. Remote Freedoms: Politics, Personhood and Human Rights in Aboriginal Central Australia. Stanford University Press. Studies in Human Rights Series.

Bainton, N and Holcombe, S. 2018. “A Critical Review of the Social Aspects of Mine Closure”. Resources Policy 59: 468-478.   

Holcombe, S and Kemp, D. 2020. “From Payout to participation: Indigenous mining employment as local development?” In the Journal of Sustainable Development. Early view DOI: 10.1002/sd.2063   

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 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.  


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.