framing a vision for the tarkine

framing a vision for the tarkine

Last year the battles were about logging native timber in the Tarkine, right now it’s about mining. On the one hand there is the economic growth argument about extracting valuable minerals, and on the other the recognition of the significance of the ecosystem. Finding sensible solutions must start with an understanding of the place and the issues, and finish with a spirit of compromise, because there are no right answers in these debates.

There’s no doubt that the Tarkine is one of the world’s great wild places. It is a landscape of such breathtaking beauty that it is impossible not to love it. It is an expansive 447,000 hectare wilderness area which contains remarkable natural and cultural values, including one of the world’s most significant remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.

 The Tarkine is now generally recognised as that part of north west Tasmania bounded by the Arthur River and its tributaries to the north, the Pieman River to the south, the Murchison Highway to the east and the Southern Ocean to the west. Most of the land is either managed by Forestry Tasmania or the Parks and Wildlife Service. Much of the Tarkine is listed on the Register of the National Estate and there are a number of reserves that provide the Tarkine with some level of conservation protection.  

The Cradle Coast Authority Master Plan for the Tarkine describes it as, “a place of sustenance for its inhabitants, a breathtaking, fragile wilderness for those in search of renewal, a robust landscape rich in minerals and forest resources, and a playground for the communities that surround it”. 

The Tarkine is Australia’s most significant tract of rainforest wilderness and Tasmania’s largest unprotected wilderness area. It is described by the Australian Heritage Commission as “one of the world’s great archeological regions” with aboriginal middens, artefacts and rock carvings that predate the pyramids. 

There’s been much debate and emotion about land use priorities in the area – for tourism access, primary production, logging and mining. Conservationists have sought to have the Tarkine classified under the world heritage listing. The Forests Agreement of September 2011 has brought timber industry and conservationists closer, although many issues remained unresolved. Tasmania, now facing reductions in contribution from commercial timber, is increasingly looking to the resources sector for economic growth.

How do we, as stewards of this 60 million year old wilderness, make sensible decisions on its future at any point in time? We can rest assured that it will involve compromise from all sides. As a plan is developed for the Tarkine, some guiding principles are needed, and these might be a good start:

  1. Manage the Tarkine for multiple end use according to the sensitivity and significance of particular areas, rather than lock it up
  2. Special parts of the Tarkine, notably the primary rainforest, should be totally protected from logging, mining and recreational vehicles (these areas may be the focus of world heritage)
  3. Controlled tourism access that leaves no footprint should be encouraged
  4. Community involvement in decision making is essential

 Such guidelines need fleshing out and adding to. They may well end up allowing a flourishing adventure tourism industry based on walking, some selective logging for value added timber in agreed areas and mining with appropriate rehabilitation, in areas other than primary rainforest. Honey production and agriculture in existing cleared areas would sit comfortably under these guidelines.

 They would not, however, allow clear felling of native timber in the region, nor allow projects such as the proposed open cut tin and tungsten mine in primary rainforest at Mount Lindsay by Venture Minerals. That particular proposal, for a 3.5km x 3km 200 metre deep mine, is not within the scope of these guidelines. It’s also the sort of project that depends on the price of tin to be high for its sustainability.

 If the right information is gathered and shared, and if there is willingness to compromise, worthwhile outcomes can flow. They will only be forged by people working together. As the old African proverb goes:

“if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

We also need to remember that we are transitory human beings making decisions in a microsecond of time, in the context of what has gone before us.

diversity, inclusiveness and aussie rules

diversity, inclusiveness and aussie rules

April 26, 2011  |  aborigines, knowledge, life, main blog, motivation  |  3 Comments

Australian Football has always brought people together from different walks of life. If you’ve supported, or played for an Aussie Rules team, you’ll understand. I once played in a team with truckies, scientists, farmers, wine makers and policemen. There was a salesman, a preacher and a horse trainer as well. We were the Rutherglen Redlegs, where backgrounds and occupation counted for nothing, where there was a strong sense of belonging, acceptance and inclusiveness. In our team however, there was little cultural or ethnic diversity. Thirty five years later, Australian football is now a game open to any person, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexuality. The evolution is not accidental.

For indigenous people, AFL has been a conduit to better life opportunities for the gifted, a source of fun for others and a vehicle for greater understanding and tolerance by Australians generally. Understanding the passion that indigenous kids have for footy, some schools demand attendance into senior years as a pre-requisite for their participation. While there is strong evidence that aboriginal people were the pioneers of Aussie Rules, for many years it was a white man’s game. Through the leadership of people like Kevin Sheedy, Maurice Rioli, Michael Long, and more recently Andrew McLeod, Michael O’Loughlin and Adam Goodes, that has changed. We now have 10% of senior AFL lists made up of indigenous people, although they make up less than 2% of the total population.

What about ethnic diversity? While AFL hasn’t been the game of choice for many immigrants brought up on soccer, for example, there have been many men from 47 different countries (going back no more than one generation) who have played Aussie Rules at the highest level. Andrew Embley from Burma, Peter Daicos from Macedonia, David Wojinski from Poland and Alex Jesaulenko from Austria, are just some examples.

In what can sometimes be a thankless role, Andrew Demetriou is the CEO of the AFL. He is a former North Melbourne player with Cyprian roots and takes a progressive stance on diversity. His address at a forum organised by the Diversity Council of Australia last year is excellent, including this extract…

“…and, most importantly, we want to be respectful….to embrace diversity and inclusion….to understand and value the differences in every person. I like to think of Australian football as a game for anyone and everyone….a game which is inclusive, accessible and affordable…a game that does not discriminate.  That’s why we must continue to engage with indigenous and multicultural communities to provide pathways for them to participate in our game. Australian football has extraordinary power. Its greatest power is to bring people – regardless of their background or belief – together”

Good on you Andrew! The AFL is walking the talk with its multicultural program and indigenous programs (including ambassadors for life, indigenous academies and employment strategy and AFL kick start programs).

The stimulus for this blog was listening to the old master himself giving an address to the Royal Sydney Show Community lunch last week. Kevin Sheedy, apart from stressing that Greater Western Sydney will be successful on the field, said “it’s not all about footy…. it’s about the game of life”. He went on to tell the story of a Muslim boy who was given a trial game recently and had 150 mates turn up to watch him. He also shared the fact that there are people from 170 countries in his catchment area (33% of people in western Sydney were not born in Australia) and explained how he intends to embrace as many of them as he can. Kevin is a true pioneer in this area, just as he’s been in fostering indigenous inclusion at all levels of our game.

David Wright-Neville, a consultant to ASIO on terrorism, recently spoke at a lunch In Melbourne about managing a junior team. His team comprised Vietnamese Australians, Lebanese Australians and boys from many other ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including recently arrived Sudanese refugees. One of the boy’s grandfathers, the Imam of a large mosque in Melbourne, said that Australia’s capacity to embrace immigrants went a long way to diminishing feelings of ostracism and disenfranchisement – conditions we understand can be precursors to cells of rebellion. He emphasised the vital role that Australian Rules plays in supporting true multiculturalism and a sense of belonging.

These stories highlight some great Australian values – inclusiveness, mateship, originality, groundedness and optimism. Interestingly, these were the some of the values that we defined at the Australian Tourist Commission for Brand Australia in 2004 – values which still underpin the brand story and promotion of our country overseas. It’s what I would like to see Australia really become. It seems that Andrew Demetriou and the AFL do as well…perhaps more readily than some other Australian communities and individuals. AFL is, and will continue to be, a circuit breaker in fighting prejudice – by including all people in the love of our national game.

from garden of eden to world heritage

from garden of eden to world heritage

September 13, 2010  |  aborigines, travel tips and tales  |  2 Comments

I can’t believe that it has taken so long to experience Mungo National Park – one of the globally recognised treasures on the Australian landscape. Only an hour north of Mildura, Mungo National Park includes most of the ancient dry lake bed of Lake Mungo, one of a series of dry lake beds that make up the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area.

40,000 years ago, Mungo National Park was a Garden of Area teeming with wildlife. Now it’s a parched semi-desert with differential erosion unlocking the secrets of an ancient aboriginal culture dating back 50,000 years. Mungo is owned and operated by three tribal groups of aboriginal people who form a Group Elders Council – something of a model for other places – operating Mungo with Parks in a joint management agreement.

Each school holidays, one of the tribal groups – the Barkindjii, Mutthi Mutthi and Nyiampaa – run the excellent Discovery Tours guided tour program. Another commercial tour is run by Graeme Clark of Harry Nanya Tours. Harry’s story is legendary and may well become a film one day. Mungo certainly has incredible archaeological and geological significance, but the aboriginal stories going back tens of thousands of years provide the real meaning.

The relatively recent discovery of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man provides the most important human remains ever found in Australia. They were buried on the shore of Lake Mungo, beneath the ‘Walls of China’, a series of lunettes on the South eastern edge of the lake. Their discovery re-wrote the ancient story of this land and its people and sent shock-waves around the world. Three years after their re-discovery and intense scrutiny, the trackways were carefully covered over again with a bed of sand – the same sand that had protected the footprints from the elements for thousands of years. The tracks are so fragile and precious that they have to be protected from everybody, even researchers

These 42,000 year old ritual burials are some of the oldest remains of modern humans (Homo sapiens) yet found outside of Africa. Mungo Lady is the oldest known cremation in the world, representing the early emergence of humanity’s spiritual beliefs.

Mungo Lady and Mungo Man are particularly special to their Aboriginal descendants who still live around the Willandra Lakes area, as this quote from Nyiampaa Elder, Roy Kennedy demonstrates:

Coming to Mungo I get a different sense of feeling that I’m home. You seem to know when you’re back in your own Country. It’s not taught to you, it’s built in you. It’s in your soul, that that’s your Country”

Visitors can stay at Mungo Lodge, but I must say I was a little disappointed with the result after Indigenous Business Australia invested a lot of money in its refurbishment. The Lodge lacks soul and stories and is still an opportunity waiting to happen. The accommodation is pleasant but you could be anywhere else in Australia. The old Lodge used to come alive with campfires and stories. Let’s hope that is rekindled soon.

a quiet revolution begins

 Did you know that well before white explorers and settlers in this Australia, the Chinese, often through traders from Sulawesi, were active traders with the residents of this country? They respected the owners of this vast land and treated them with respect, as  Warren Mundine reminded Richard Fidler recently. More than 220 years after white men treated our country’s owners as savages, showing little respect or understanding, we don’t seem to have made a lot of progress….but there are some encouraging signs.

I’ve always held the view that decisions are easy if you have the right information. It could be argued that lack of information (and hence understanding) led to the attitudes of Arthur Phillip and subsequent boat people. One can only wonder how things might have been today with a different approach.

While it is impossible to generalise about the evolution of the attitudes of non-aboriginal Australians over the last two centuries, we have seen various combinations of aggression, intolerance, prejudice, dispossession, platitudes, tokenism and interference, there are some positive signs as awareness of issues grows more broadly in the community.  In fact my colleague John Morse, author of A Shared Vision, calls it a quiet, dignified revolution.

One of the most significant enablers of this quiet revolution was the apology to the stolen generation in February 2008. It was no silver bullet to reconciliation and progress, but it did lift a heavy cloud. From the aboriginal perspective, it was highly symbolic and cathartic. From the perspective of the non-aboriginal residents of Australia, it seemed to give permission and legitimacy to engage in forward focussed dialogue with less guilt. Most Australians carry huge good will and hope for their aboriginal brothers and sisters – but don’t know how to interface and react.

The piecemeal, hand out mentality is not a solution to the many issues faced by aboriginal communities. Treatment of symptoms is always short term and as Tania Major argues, boosts the addiction to passive welfare.  She argues persuasively against the “one size fits all” approach as seen in the NT intervention.

O'Loughlin and Goodes at work

The GO Foundation

The approach of the GO Foundation is impressive. Formed by Sydney Swans legends Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin, who both feel a keen sense of responsibility to their people, GO Foundation zeroes in on root causes. The initial project in Dareton identified the reasons for domestic violence and alcoholism by talking with the people affected. Having then identified solutions – such as a workshop for men – help from the corporate sector has been enlisted with materials and construction. The Foundation allows corporate Australia and aboriginal people to engage and helps indigenous Australians set life goals.

We need to work with aboriginal communities on many levels of problem solving and opportunity building. In every case solutions need to be owned by the aboriginal people and based on understanding and respect. I see amazing opportunities for aboriginal people to be involved in mainstream economic and cultural activity, rather than on the periphery. While tourism and AFL football have played an important role in providing incentives for aboriginal children, there are new role models coming forward in contemporary culture, business, land management and trade – just as the Chinese appreciated centuries ago.