Archive for the ‘land’ category

lifestyles of the not so rich and famous

March 12, 2015

Yesterday, in supporting the forced closure of over 100 remote communities in Western Australia, the PM said this:

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”

#%$& !!

So I stayed up late and wrote him a letter. Maybe the staffer who reads it will think it’s too long and won’t get to the end; maybe they won’t like my stories. Deep down I’m not counting on any change of approach on the part of the PM, but in the face of deceit and oppression, we shouldn’t stay silent. (letter below)

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Dear Mr Abbott,

I am writing to you regarding the comments you made yesterday about remote communities. I was moved to write because it seems to me you just don’t understand.

There have been many responses to your comments – anger, derision, disbelief. I feel many of those too, but mostly I feel sad. Sad that Australia’s Prime Minister can have so little understanding of what being ‘on country’ means to so many Aboriginal people, sad that in the midst of criticism you congratulate yourself for taking your office to a remote place for one week, sad that this seems just another episode in a long line of policy decisions and statements which negatively target people in Australia who are already vulnerable.

I trained as a primary school teacher, and my first teaching position was in a remote community called Tjukurla, a community in the tali (sandhill) country in the far east of Western Australia, not far from the Northern Territory border. I taught there for a couple of years, and have returned numerous times, to visit again with people who so welcomed me when I ventured there as a young teacher. Tjukurla is one of a number of communities, including Warakurna, Mirlirrtjarra (Warburton Ranges) and many others, which are part of the Ngaanyatjarra lands. The Ngaanyatjarra lands include parts of the Gibson, Great Sandy and Great Victoria deserts and cover over 250 thousand square kilometres. It is striking country – dirt tracks stretching to wide horizons, ranges and desert oaks and rock-holes, stark blues and reds and golds.

And it is home to over 2000 people. Let’s repeat that word: ‘home’.

These are Mums and Dads, health workers, artists, school students, hunters, community leaders, custodians. These are people whose language is alive, when so many others have perished. These are people who have a long and enduring connection to their land, a connection which fosters identity, well-being and sustenance. As somewhat of an outsider, I don’t have the words, or the conceptual knowledge, to describe this connection properly, but there are many members of communities all over Australia who can and have, and continue to do so. If we pay attention, we might start to understand what this means, at least a bit.

Tjukurla and the other communities in the region where I lived were not without their challenges – intermittent power supplies; rough roads; a government education service usually staffed by inexperienced teaching graduates (as I was); health services not well enough equipped for the challenging circumstances in which they worked; lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables. These and other challenges, many of which still persist, are ones that require complex and long-term policy responses. They also require listening to the people for whom these challenges are most real. The blunt instrument of removing people from their ancestral lands, and all the associated grief and disruption that will bring, is what I would consider the complete opposite.

As one journalist commented today, maybe your idea of ‘closing the gap’, is that Aboriginal people just become more like white people. While this is not said out loud, that is the implication and that is profoundly disturbing.

In February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke these words on behalf of the Australian Parliament:

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.”

You were in the parliament that day, and I imagine, like most of us, you would have applauded those words. Let’s not make those same mistakes all over again.

Prime Minister, the criticism your comments received from around the country should serve to you a warning, that there is an enormous amount of listening to be done, especially to Aboriginal people and their plans and worries and hopes. Instead of backing the closing down of communities which are people’s homes, I would think that as the ‘Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’, meaningful listening and a genuine attempt to understand would be the best place to start.

Yours sincerely

Cameron Tero
Belmont, etc

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Imagination, affection and preservation

May 2, 2013

Well sir, I’ve looked with all the eyes I’ve got, and I wouldn’t trade the field behind my barn for every inch I’ve seen.

So said Wendell Berry’s grandfather after his trip across Kentucky into Tennessee; one of the few trips he took very far from where he lived. Berry’s recollections about his grandfather begin his 2012 Jefferson Lecture: “It all turns on affection”. The printed copy I have of his speech still loiters in the bottom of my work bag, and I read fragments of it over again when I have some spare minutes on the bus.

Berry still lives on his family property, as his ancestors before him have done. He tells stories of his grandfather, like when he would return from the market with nothing, having taken in the hard won tobacco crop, and been forced to sell at a price which left them “without a dime”. This was because of the way crop prices were controlled by a monopoly called the American Tobacco Company, which having eradicated market competitors could pay what it liked – an immense benefit for the profits of the corporation, and a source of pain for those who laboured to plough and grow and bring it to the market in the first place. He tells too of how his grandfather stuck on the land to repair and heal the damage he’d done when he ploughed a field on the lower part of a long slope and it was seriously eroded. Others may have left the damage behind, but his obligation of care for the land was deeply held.

In some senses Berry felt that in an age when urbanization and industrialization were taking hold, his grandfather was ‘the wrong kind of man’. Still, there is a great deal to learn from their ability to be stickers on the land, and their knowledge of and affection for it. From these stories emerge other questions about the opposite of affection, of exploitation, the role of agribusiness, the demise of small landholders, and the ramifications of a loss of intimacy with the land and its people.

In modern times we are largely all participants in this ‘absentee economy’ as Berry calls it; very often unconsciously. We may have comparatively little wealth, nor power, but we are more like the industrialist than the small landholder. This is so because we are largely removed or at least distant from the roots of much of what we consume. It is this distance, and a lack of imagination, that allows us not to see the suffering of a small landholder bankrupted at the mercy of the agricultural corporation. We may not see the small shifted to make way for the big, the vulnerable brushed away by the strong. We may not see the village downstream from the polluting factory. I do not see the seamstress who stitched my shirt, the boy harvesting my tea leaves, a long way from my home, and a long way from his. Or we may not even imagine the future, where the soil is degraded, the trees downed, the gullies eroded, the water cloudy.

Berry describes how the tobacco corporation, in the case of his family, exerted an oppression that was entirely economic. It wasn’t political in that it wasn’t personal or intentional; it was simply oppression because the corporation was following its ordained purpose of making a profit. And their family and those around them were the side effects.

Imagination is the idea on which much of this rests; it may even be what rescues us. By imagination Berry doesn’t mean make believe, or any suggestion of a lack of reality, but instead the idea of imagination is built around the sense of the root word – image – ‘to see’. Imagination, in its true sense, enables us to see what is real, even though it is not in front of us.

Imagination, real imagination, enables sympathy. Sympathy enables affection, and affection, Berry argues, is the key to a neighbourly and conserving economy.

He explains sustainability by two cycles – the cycle of nature and the cycle of culture. Nature being that of fertility and growth and the circle of life which sustains living things and the soil and the water. The cultural cycle is the passing of knowledge, between the young and the old. These things work in tandem to sustain our life on the earth. This speaks of a need for sustainable living that is based on connection, and in turn affection. Connection and affection is required in moral family and other relationships. And connection and affection are required for a sustaining and moral treatment of the land and landscape. Together, the passing of knowledge and the cycle of the natural world, are the means for survival and constant reinvigoration. Again, they are the keys to a neighbourly and conserving economy.

It is the imagination and affection concepts that stay with me – the idea that if we nurture that imagination, and that imagination turns to affection and preservation, an economy might grow which does actually ‘see’ – see the future, see the far away labourer, farmer, factory worker, and see them as a neighbour.

The whole text of the lecture can be found here:

http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/wendell-e-berry-lecture

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1945: My mother (left), with her mother and young brother on their farm, north of Albany. That year they had to leave the farm and move to the city when my grandfather died.

Rothwell and landscape

August 23, 2010

So often our primary thoughts are that it is us, the humans, who dominate the landscape and control and change it. Whether our attempts are to conserve or to exploit, or to record and interpret, our thoughts circle around the ideas and the changes and actions that eminate from us.

There is another attitude, possibility less easy to take – that instead the landscape might take hold of us, shape us and speak to us, in ways we cannot yet imagine or even describe.

These words below are not my own, they are the work of journalist Nicholas Rothwell, in his latest book “Journeys to the Interior”. But still, they help me find a way into those indescribable ideas about the natural world and the work it does on me.

Can today’s Australians inhabit such a landscape? Can we feel at home there? When you find yourself in a pale dunefield at sunset, with the sky blush pink and deepest indigo, or when you look out from the crest of an inland mesa at the clouds in their indifferent race across the sky, such questions tend to dissolve, and patterns and thought-chains separate from man’s deliberate kingdom take hold.

I have always felt, at such moments, on the verge of dissolution – close to death as much as on the threshold of new revelations in the march of life – and rather than imposing my will on country, or on landscape, and prolonging the dictatorship of control and consciousness, I am overwhelmed – I am a creature of new rhythm, and the desert, and the inland, are writing me.

From “Journey’s to the Interior” by Nicholas Rothwell (2010, p53)

A handful of sand

August 16, 2010

Today, 16th August, marks the 35th anniversary of the day Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of sand through the fingers of Gurindji man Vincent Lingiari, to symbolise the restoration of land ownership to the Gurindji people.

Source: National Library of Australia.

 

The story began on Wave Hill station, a large cattle station about 600 km south of Darwin in the Northern Territory. For many years after European settlement it was run by the British pastoral company called Vesteys. Vesteys employed the local Indigenous people, the Gurindji, to work on Wave Hill, but working conditions were very poor and the Gurindji people were paid much less than the other workers.

In 1966, Vincent Lingiari, a prominent Gurindji man who worked at Wave Hill, led a walk off of Indigenous workers as a protest against the poor pay and conditions. The protesters established the Wattie Creek Camp and demanded the return of some of their traditional lands.

The strike lasted for 8 years – “We know how to wait”, Vincent said. “We want them Vestey mob all go away from here. Wave Hill Aboriginal people bin called Gurindji. We been here long time before them Vestey mob. This is our country, all this bin Gurindji country … We want this land, we strike for that.”

Vincent Lingiari travelled all over Australia to address meetings and raise support for the strike. The protest eventually led to the Commonwealth Land Rights Act of 1976 which gave Indigenous Australians freehold title to traditional lands in the Northern Territory and powers to make decisions about mining and development on those lands. 

The story is told really well in “From little things, big things grow” by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody

An act of patience and bravery well worth remembering.