Flashback USA or Who hit me? What happened?

Australia: the good and the bloody outrageous

First published in LikeTheDew, September 2012
I’m republishing a lot of these because of a growing sense of horror at the depths to which Australia has sunk in just three or for years. Living in the USA, I watched events back home unfold and thought that when I returned home I may be coming back to a beloved country that was at last somewhere near the right track, if still a little off-course for the waterhole. Silly bugger me.

I’m going to tell you a little bit more about Australia and its peoples – good and bad – but first, as promised earlier, I want to list a few of the things that have been accomplished under the leadership of the much-maligned Julia Gillard. As I wrote last time, Ms Gillard is ridiculed in many quarters and from what I can see it’s simply because she doesn’t fit the mould, but under her gritty leadership the Labor government is now forging ahead with projects that her predecessors lacked the guts or vision, or both, to push through; notably:

  • From July this year, major industrial emitters of CO2 have paid a tax of $A23 per tonne. Revenue raised will be used to reduce income tax and increase pensions and welfare payments to cover expected price increases, and to pay compensation to some affected industries. The fixed price is set to rise by 2.5% a year, until the switch to an emissions trading scheme in 2015–16 when “pollution permits” will be limited in line with a pollution cap.
  • The beginning of the National Broadband Scheme entailing the roll-out of fibre-optic cable where feasible and the launch of 2 Ka-Band communications satellites to cover the whole continent – the earth’s most sparsely populated – with two very close orbital slots so that users can change satellites without moving their receivers.
  • Investment in sustainable electricity generation of over $A5b. 2,500 schools have so far been fitted with solar panels and eligible householders have received help to install 100,000 solar panels and 170,000 solar hot water systems. One state, South Australia, has already reached the national target of 20 per cent renewables and last year, with a generation surplus of 25 per cent, exported green power to its neighbour, Victoria.

These are the ones that get the most coverage (and cop the most flak), but there are thousands of others underway: major investment in water recycling and harvesting including capturing stormwater run-off in major cities and towns; income tax allowances of up to 50 per cent on the purchase of laptops, text books, etc. for each child and the provision of 300,000 new computers in schools; tax rates down by between 26 and 8 per cent for low and higher income earners respectively; and the creation of 711,000 skills-training places. The number of national infrastructure projects completed or underway is about 44,000.

Not bad for a government led by a barren, female sinner for whom, according to one teevee pundit, every day is a bad-hair day.

Of course a lot of this has been made possible by a mining boom that has lasted for more than a generation now, a boom that has many critics, including me. Despite the great short-term benefits that are accruing, I fear that future generations will be paying the price for as long as the human race lasts upon the face of the earth – and that probably won’t be all that long. Without some radical changes in attitude and thinking, I give society as we know it about two generations – maybe three. The human race may, if it’s lucky, last a century or so longer without these changes.

Petroglyphs from Save Dampier rock art

The mining boom, ah the mining boom. To finish, I’d like to tell you about the greatest act of vandalism committed by anyone, anywhere, ever – bar none. You’ve probably never heard of the Burrup Peninsula – or to give it its proper name, Murujuga – and probably never will unless it makes world news because of some catastrophic accident at the giant petro-chemical plants that will be built there.

Once an island, Murujuga juts out into the Dampier Archipelago from the West Australian coast a bit over 1,000 miles north of Perth, the State Capital, as the crow flies. In the eyes of the first Europeans to see it, it was a harsh, forbidding wilderness, rocky, arid and with little redeeming value. One of the island groups in the archipelago, Monte Bello, was once used for nuclear tests. As an indication of the first whites’ feelings for the region, Murujuga’s southern neighbour, North West Cape, was known colloquially as Madman’s Corner.

So what’s so special about this place? Well it’s not the vast deposits of natural gas, nor is it its suitability as a port for iron-ore shipments – not to my eyes anyway. Its beauty and value lies in the legacy created by the hundreds upon hundreds of generations of Aboriginal people for whom this place is an embodiment of the Dreaming, of the Earth; of the Spirit made tangible. It also holds the spilled blood of people murdered during the Murujuga [“Flying Foam”] Massacres over four months in 1868. Only six Yaburara people, the land’s custodians, are recorded as having escaped this police action and no compensation has ever been paid.

Murujuga has been described by Australia’s National trust as “one of the world’s pre-eminent sites of recorded human evolution and a prehistoric university” and is a record of the spiritual and temporal life of the area’s indigenous inhabitants over many millennia to the recent past. It is the repository for the greatest assemblage of petroglyphs ever created; perhaps one million works, including the earliest known depictions of the human face and depictions of animals extinct on mainland Australia for thousands of years. And it may disappear in just a few years of this century.

Since the 1960s, indifference, bigotry, ignorance and collusion on the part of successive state governments has seen the destruction or disruption of a little under 25 per cent of the site. In more recent times, while the state government was “assessing” the impact of petro-chemical plants, developers happily put the bulldozer through 100 acres or so of the “rocks”. The less that’s left, the easier to denigrate the site and what the dozers leave, the acidic pollution from the petrochemical plants will finish off.

Despite the pleas of scientists, indigenous peoples and a concerned public, Murujuga remains on the World Monument Fund’s list of the 100 most endangered places on earth, and while the Federal government pays lip service to its importance, successive State governments remain callously indifferent. In my personal opinion, Murujuga should be defended by the United Nations and Australia and the companies involved should be made to defend themselves before an international court.

As I have written previously, Australia is a land of paradoxes.

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