Evolving Connections

On display in the galleries, and stored in the collections of the Western Australian Museum, physical objects tell the stories of human connection, so often forged through trade. These stories reach back centuries and millennia. It is hard not to be awestruck by 30,000 year-old tusk shell beads from the Riwi cave on Gooniyandi Country, which were found 500 kilometres from the ancient coastline and point to early long-distance First Peoples’ networks, or resist the charm of a tiny Dutch coin from the early 1800s, probably lost by Indonesian fishermen during one of their visits to the Kimberley coast.  

The Tianqi Lithium Connections Gallery at WA Museum Boola Bardip highlights the many different ways in which global networks, like trade and immigration, have shaped WA. The Gallery is a testament to a new global connection. Named after Founding Partner Tianqi Lithium, the partnership between Tianqi Lithium, the Foundation for the WA Museum and the Western Australian Museum was born out of Tianqi Lithium Corporation’s (TLC) Chairman Jiang Weiping’s passion for history, heritage and community, and his desire to deepen the relationship and cultural connections between China and Western Australia.  

The relationship was formalised in 2017, when a 10-year Founding Partnership and Naming Rights Sponsorship agreement was signed between Tianqi Lithium, the WA Museum and the Foundation for the WA Museum.  

Since then, lithium has taken centre stage in the spotlight of technological innovation and the climate crisis, and lithium producers like Tianqi Lithium are stepping up to become key players in WA’s critical minerals industry. For TLEA, the joint venture between Tianqi Lithium Corporation and Australian miner IGO Ltd, this includes establishing industry-leading sustainability performance at all levels.  

Sustainability is fundamental to TLEA’s business model, and the company’s philosophy of ‘building a better clean energy future’ encompasses sustainability across all facets of environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. As a young organisation, the work on their sustainability charter has only just begun, and TLEA is looking to the concept of ‘social impact’ rather than ‘social licence’ to inform their approach and drive innovation. 

“Social impact is based on collaborative relationships, partnerships and trust. We are deeply committed to ensuring our communities benefit from our presence. When the focus is on social impact, the approach changes from setting short-term objectives to developing strategic goals for social and community impact that are bigger, broader and longer-term. And that is what drives innovation”, commented TLEA’s CEO Raj Surendran.  

“Communities aren’t passive bystanders – they’ll very quickly let you know if you aren’t meeting their expectations. ESG performance is a business driver for us. It’s crucial that we meet our “green energy” promise, and people know we are genuine.” 

He continued: “These expectations don’t just exist on a local level, but are driven by the global end users of our product, the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The OEMs are feeding the requirements placed upon them, for example in the form of supply passports and carbon targets, back up the supply chain to us.” 

The focus on sustainability and social impact is shared by the WA Museum and Foundation for the WA Museum. Key WA Museum sustainability goals include contributing to the knowledge of biodiversity, geodiversity and the environment, and providing thought leadership on environmental practices.  

“The WA Museum is a leading authority in marine and terrestrial biodiversity and geoscience, and contributes to significant research outcomes that aid in the conservation of landscapes and biodiversity. Every year brings a plethora of discoveries which deepen our understanding of Western Australia’s unique environment and inform our ability to protect it”, explained Alec Coles, CEO of the Western Australian Museum. 

With shared ambitions for social value and sustainability, TLC, the Foundation and the WA Museum have begun the conversation around how the partnership can be elevated to the next level. In May, the three parties entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a new, global scope.  

Coralie Bishop, CEO of the Foundation for the WA Museum, explained: “The MOU focuses on three core areas of collaboration. The first two centre on cross-cultural communication and connection in the form of cultural exchanges or exhibition creation; and exploring the potential for ESG collaborations around WA Museum’s areas of expertise, for example biodiversity research – which is valuable knowledge for businesses like Tianqi Lithium. The final piece is about blue sky thinking. How do we work together to prepare for history in the making, and find solutions to problems that didn’t even exist a decade ago?” 

Mrs Bishop added: “True partnerships don’t stop when you sign the agreement, it’s the start of the journey. The current partnership with TLEA is focused on WA Museum Boola Bardip and raising the awareness of TLEA in Western Australia. The MOU means that our next step is global, and we hope to see some exciting material outcomes soon.” 

With the help of partners like Tianqi Lithium, WA Museum is not only recording and preserving the connections of Western Australia, but is itself playing an active role in forging new connections that have the potential to shape WA’s future. 

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