The concept of sustainability calls for a holistic perspective where the prospects for future generations are not compromised by decisions made today. This paper provides an exploration of the Western Australian town of Leonora whose existence is based on mining, pastoralism, services to the region and tourism. The longest surviving residents with roots in Leonora country are the Aboriginal people of the region. In recent years Leonora has experienced a mining boom triggered mainly by resource demand from China but is not clear whether the wealth generated in the town is contributing to its sustainability. The fly-in/fly-out operations of the mining companies rely on bringing workers from outside the local community and have had limited benefits for the local Aboriginal people. A new addition to the Leonora’s diversity are asylum seekers, temporarily located in a former mining camp accommodation site. There is strong separation between these different groups within the community which does not allow for integrated development whereby knowledge can be shared and co-created.

It is important for Leonora’s long-term sustainability that it evolves into an adaptive complex system where current practices are challenged and new discourses of living together are being developed. This paper proposes the use of deliberation techniques to start the process of ‘sustainability societalisation’ which requires a different way of thinking about the relevance of place and the long-term future of a desert settlement.