Discovering the real Toodyay

Toodyay, in the West Australian Wheatbelt and 85km north-east of Perth, was founded as Newcastle by European settlers with its name later changed and pronounced Too-dyay, as it is to this day, with the plum further into the mouth the higher one’s imagined social standing.

However, to the Ballardong Nyungar, in whose ancestral land it sits, it is Tudjii (u as in book, ii as in feet), sometimes written Duidgee. And not only to the Nyungar. Relatives of my parents’ generation who farmed at Moora also called it Tudjii, with a local rhyme to back them up:

Tudjii was Tudjii, when Northam was a pup;
And Tudjii will be Tudjii, when Northam’s buggered up.

So there.

An ancient story retold

This is not an attempt to copy the joyous art I was privileged to see in the rock-shelter somewhere beyond the
Blue Mountains; that masterpiece is imbued with 60,000 years and more of knowledge and tradition and
is there to commemorate a momentous event, the breaking of a monstrous drought. If any of my Indigenous
friends and readers are offended, please tell me and I will take it down.

I first came across this wonderful legend in Mrs Eve Langloh-Parker‘s Australian Legendary Tales, first published in 1896. I have read and heard abbreviated versions and been shown sites associated with the legend. There are many stories connected to this drought, and various reasons for it. In some versions Tidda-link (the Frog) and Coola (the Koala) are named as two beings who stole the water, and many and various were the ruses by which they were tricked into returning it. In retelling this story, I have added snippets of what I heard. Mrs Parker’s transcript of the version she was given all those years ago is wonderful and worth reading. Despite the criticism she has received, I believe she had a genuine interest in the lore of the people she encountered in her daily life and treated their philosophy and artistry with far more respect than did some of the early reviewers of her work. Some of my Indigenous friends agree with me. You can decide for yourself.

Mulla-mulla photographed in the arid country around Menzies, Western Australia, where my maternal
great-grandparents settled when they came out from Wales.—Photo courtesy Brooke Collins

Drought is a fact of life in Australia and studies have shown that one such event, recent in geological terms, lasted for about 1000 years; this beautiful story from the central west of NSW no doubt recalls that time. Set in the time after the hero, Baiame (or Bayamii), had finished his work on Earth and returned with his wives to his home along the great river that we call the Milky Way, it speaks of the interconnection between all living things, the joy the Indigenous peoples find in flowers, and the importance of social cohesion. Our climate-denialist politicians need to listen to the wisdom in these ancient stories and learn the lessons they impart.

BAYAAMII’S LAST TASK on Earth had been to carve his mark on three giant gums, telling the Bagiin, the Clever Men, that the Bee people who lived among them were never to be raided for their sugar bag, the dark, thin, delicious honey so loved by his people. “No matter what,” he told them, “these are always for the Bees in times of need, for without them many of the flowers will never grow and a time may come when the Bees are needed.”

Bayaamii had gone, taking his wives with him. South-east wind, their earthly relative, missed her kinfolk and began to sulk, causing the rain-bearing winds to cease. As the country dried, so the flowers gradually disappeared until the Bees – sacred to Bayaamii – had only tree sap and the occasional blossom from which to make honey to store in their comibii, their bags.

As the generations passed, the young people became angry with their elders the Lawmen, and scoffed at their stories about a time when the south-easterly brought spring rains and the land was covered in flowers; stories about the delicious sugar bag that could be found in rock overhangs, tree hollows and, in exceptionally good seasons, even in cracks in high ground.

“You are lying,” they would say. “Prove it’s true by letting us raid Bayaamii’s trees for their sugar bag.”

“We must not,” their elders would say, “It is the Law.”

But as the long, bitter years passed, the younger generations became even less inclined to listen to advice and, fearing that the injunctions would be overturned, the Bagiin consulted the Yuurii, the little hairy people who have links to the secret Other World. Feeling the people’s plight and knowing the consequences of breaking Law, the Yuurii pleaded with Bayaamii who told them they could guide a group of Bagiin from every corner of the land up to his home on the great river where he would tell them what to do.

The Bagiin were led to the sacred mountain – where even today you can see the steps Bayaamii cut when he returned to his home – and up to the ancient, sacred Bora, the ceremonial ground, on its summit.

There, the Bagiin and Yuurii danced a great Borraa, driving away obstacles and preparing the path to Bayaamii’s home. As the dancing reached its peak, the men were dragged upward by a great wind, twisting and whirling, sucking them up to the great river. When they had recovered the courage to open their eyes, they found themselves standing on river flats covered in all manner of beautiful flowers stretching away as far as they could see.

Bayaamii’s great voice spoke to them from somewhere along the river: “Go now,” he thundered, “and gather all the flowers you can carry and I will send you with them back to your home in my country on Earth. When you get there, you must give them to the women, who will place them on the ground. Do not,” his voice grew louder, “stop the children in whatever they might do, for you know they are special to me and my wives.” The magic of Bayaamii entered the Bagiin and they collected flowers in huge bundles, enough to cover the land it seemed, but they kept at it until another giant buuli, a willy-willy, swept them and their precious cargo up, returning them to Earth, each to his own country.

Hakea near Menzies, WA —Courtesy Brooke Collins

Back on Earth, the women cried with joy to see the beauty the Bagiin had brought with them and dashed to and fro placing the flowers in great bunches all over the ground.

The children were amazed. Never before had they seen such colours, nor smelled such sweet scents. “It’s true,” they yelled, “what the Old Ones tell us must be true.” Filled with joy, the children leaped and danced and as they did so their feet kicked the bunches of flowers in all directions. So happy was the sound of the youngsters, that the South-East women caused the rain- bearing winds to blow steady and strong, bringing the warm, spring rains to the land. Wherever a particular flower lay, there its children grow to this day.

The dance of the children is remembered for what it returned to the land. Some people will tell you that if a grown-up has a pain in the binjii– a belly ache – it’s because they have been unkind to their children and Bayaamii’s wives are punishing them.

If you visit the sandstone country behind the Blue Mountains, there is a sacred mountain with huge steps cut in one side and with its summit flattened by Bayaamii’s Great Borraa. This is the place where the Bagiin were lifted into the sky.

In the same general area, there is a large rock overhang in which is painted a line of women, 15 or more metres long. Facing the viewer, they are holding hands and dancing with joy at the beauty of their world. Some of this country is in constant danger of disappearing into a great pit.

And last, but not least, all over Australia are old place names commemorating this great event. In the greater Sydney area and again near Tenterfield, NSW, there are localities named Girraween – the place where the flowers returned.

A Moral Verse for Quiet Australians

Hubble bubble, toil and trouble,
Turmoil in the Canberra bubble;
Angus Taylor, an MP,
Of note in Government Ministry,
Had pulled another little rort,
It seemed (at last) he had been caught.

But no, his tubby little frame,
Ablaze with Pentecostal flame,
The PM stood in Parliament,
His anger on the House to vent;
“This persecution has to stop,
“I’ve phoned my mate, New South’s top cop.

“And young Mick told me it’s a joke,
“That Angus is a bonzer bloke.
“And so, you Opposition jerks,
“Who claim he’s pulled a dozen perks,
“Ease up on Angus, that good man,
“Who likes his finger in the jam.”

How grand it is for us to be,
Living in democracy;
Where our national leader bold,
Has put our Parliament on hold;
And Coppers in another State,
Decide a Federal pollie’s fate.

So, whose culture is under attack in Australia?

“Ah white man, have you any sacred sites?”

Poems by Denis Kevans, Australia’s Poet Lorikeet. (1939–2005)

The announcement by the traditional owners and the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park Board that climbing Uluru (officially Uluru/Ayers Rock) will be officially prohibited from October 26th this year, has prompted a rush of tourists intent on climbing this globally recognised natural feature, sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu for at least 300 generations.

This isn’t surprising, given the wailing and gnashing of teeth rising from the ranks of Australians – latter day would-be Nazis among them – who are convinced that their “white culture” and “Christian beliefs” are under attack from everyone everywhere including, but not confined to, the United Nations, various halal certification boards, and a race of shape-shifting lizards of interplanetary origin who control the world financial system and appear to humans as Jews.

There have been reports of parents dragging small children with them as they attempted the climb – one couple even leaving an eight-year-old unattended at Uluru’s base while they did so – and rangers and others complain of people camping in prohibited areas and dumping rubbish and “black water” from campervan and caravan toilets and waste-water tanks all over the landscape.

Pauline Hanson, is vocal in her support of these culture warriors. And why wouldn’t she be? She has after all claimed that she is an Indigenous woman, having been born in Australia. Some might dispute her understanding of the term, but it is fairly obvious that dictionaries of any sort have never been high on her reading list. Her political party, such as it now is, has also expressed support, though thankfully its voice in our Parliaments is now more of a bleat than a loud croak.

As I said, none of this is surprising, but it is – or should be – a great source of shame to us as a nation; a shame amplified by the deafening silence emanating from the supposed leaders of the country. It would be a great thing if a Greta Thunberg, a Joan of the Rock, could rise to organise a sit-in at Uluru until the ban takes effect, or the nation comes to its senses. A thousand or so people assembled at the base of the climb chanting “shame, shame, shame” during daylight hours would be a wondrous thing, though it’s Sydney to the bush-On that the Northern Territory police would wade in. It was, you might remember, the NT government that boycotted the handback ceremony and vowed to rename the sacred feature “Ayers Rock” if and when the Territory attains statehood.

I’d probably be unable to attend such a sit-in – and I’m happy to explain why to anyone who cares – which distresses me a bit, but there is another great Australian tradition to which I can and will resort. In the days of our Colonial past, a swaggie named McQuade, for reasons now unknown, penned a curse on the Victorian town of Tallarook, and I’d like to invoke his spirit in the belief that being a self-professed Christian white person (usually male), doesn’t automatically endow some sort of Divine Right to trample on the beliefs and lives of others.

Over the ages, many cultures have developed forms of social punishment that don’t necessarily entail physical violence. The earliest Icelandic Althing (Parliament) once banished people from society for certain transgressions, cursing them as “far as an eagle may fly with a fair wind uplifting both wings” and “for as long as there are men to hunt wolves” according to one writer whose name now escapes me.

The English have long had transgressors “sent to Coventry“, imposing drastic social ostracism on individuals, a tradition so old that its origins are lost, and trade unionists’ hostility to scab labour sees the offenders and their families “blacked”, sometimes for generations. And there are some cultures that completely deny the existence of those who sin against them.

So, to all you sad, soul-less seekers of self-gratification, you arch-bastards who, through a misguided belief that your interests and personal ambitions including those as petty and meaningless as the need to upload a selfie, override all else, here’s a message:

When you come down from Uluru, that place which to you is just a rock put there for your enjoyment, think about what you have done. If you could hear, you might note the sound of distant weeping. If you could feel, you might sense the ancient earth, the red rust of mountains worn by time to sand and the keeping place for the bones of 2000 and more generations.

But you won’t hear or feel these things. There will never be a breeze gentle enough to cool you, nor a tree kind enough to shade you. No sunset will ever promise you a balmy night, no sunrise ever promise rain. The night skies will be dull to you and the glory of the universe closed to you. Birds will no longer sing for you; ravens and crows will not speak of you, and even Tjerit-tjerit, the Willy Wagtail, will spread no gossip of you.

The flowers will dull for you and no dew shall ever soften the summer grass through which you might wish to walk. The wind will never be at your back and all the paths before you will be stone.

You will exist only in your own mind and the world will have no memory of you, for you will never have been.

Photo credits
Top: Panorama of Uluru by Stuart Edwards/Wikipedia
People on Uluru: Uluru Climb by ennekapeapeon [Nathalie Kafurt]/Instagram

A reply to The Other Side

I write a column for the Molong Expresshttp://www.molongexpress.com.au, the newspaper serving Molong and the other villages in the Cabonne Shire of New South Wales. On May 2nd, 2019, we printed an article titled Politicians again show “Real Genius“, and given the subtitle “The view from The Other Side” by me. Sent as an email by a reader, it was harshly critical of governments past and present, and of institutions responsible for the research that often influences government policy.

Prompted by questions from another reader, I carried out some research on sources used in the submitted piece and found that at least some of the statements made were to be found in an online blog by a Joanne Nova, the ‘author of the “Skeptics Handbook”, blogger and “libertarian”,’ and a supporter of the IPA, an ultra-conservative right-wing think tank, with aims as dubious as its published philosophies. Though Ms Nova would appear to agree that there is some degree of global warming, she believes that it is not nearly as serious as the overwhelming majority of scientists argue and that the rise will only be in the vicinity of 0.5°C. In her blogs, she often puts forward the view that the push to renewable energy is nothing but a money grab on the part of governments and some corporations.

Lack of an apostrophe and US spelling aside, “The Skeptics Handbook” raised alarm bells. How can anyone of scientific background (Ms Nova has degrees in, among other things, microbiology) dispute the findings of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists? Some of her comments also suggest that she believes in conspiracy theories, though whether or not she follows those who accuse NASA, China, the UN and a cartel of Jewish bankers of spreading fear of climate change to aid them in their quest or world domination is not known.

To anyone who cares to think about such things, to deny the scientific evidence on climate change is akin to denying that vaccination has saved millions of lives and untold suffering or believing that the world is under the covert control of a race of lizards from outer space who appear to humans as Jews. Before you spit out your cornflakes over that last statement, one candidate in the forthcoming election believes that it is so.

So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to go back to that article and look at some of the points it raises. The first was in connection to the reference to the then Whitlam Labor government’s plan to build a vast network of pipelines to carry gas from the North-West Shelf to every major city in Australia. Obviously it was something Ms Nova doesn’t agree with, something she has in common with the Liberal Party then led by Malcolm Fraser and the English government of the day, though the latter’s objections may have been based more on the fact that Whitlam’s government had said it was going to use loans arranged by “a mysterious Pakistani” (Nova’s words) rather than from a British institution.

Having blasted Whitlam and his government for daring to have a grand plan for Australia, Nova goes on to harshly criticise successive governments for not having one. Of course, all the reasons for Whitlam’s dismissal by the Crown will never be known until the relevant documents are released by Buckingham Palace, but Nova’s view does seem contradictory.

Ms Nova then goes on to criticise renewable energy and the transmission network, delivering “piddling amounts” of power and funded by raising foreign debt, while coal- and nuclear-powered generation plants go unbuilt. Apart from the environmental damage wrought by coal-powered plants and the risks to future generations posed by both, the time involved in building both types of power plant is an important factor. Years, if not decades are involved, by which time the social fabric and economy could be dissolving into chaos unless governments all over the world stop sitting on their hands while Earth undergoes changes on a scale unprecedented in human history.

She also bemoans the fact that no hydro-electric schemes have been built in recent years, and argues for more and bigger dams to trap water that otherwise would go to “irrigate distant oceans”. This is always popular with the proponents of the Bradfield scheme* and the dam-everything school, but it ignores the fact that water flowing into the oceans is not wasted; it is vital for maintaining the health of estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Fisheries depend on these systems to replenish stocks and to maintain inshore populations of species. Equally important, this run off is vital to the survival of mangroves, the first line of defence against storm-surges. Mangroves will become even more important as sea levels rise.

Also ignored is greed-induced blindness, something seemingly hard-wired into politicians and their corporate backers. No matter how many dams are built, or how much water and land are “available”, it will never be enough. Over-allocation of water and the associated cronyism and corruption will lead us exactly to where we now find ourselves, but on a larger scale.

Environmental advocates and Indigenous peoples cop a bit of criticism in the first paragraphs, but more of that later. Ms Nova also blames “Canberra and the states” for the protests against gas exploration – presumably referring to the Lock the Gate movement among others – ignoring the fact that these are people-based protests, often made as a direct result of governments’ pro-mining-at-all-costs policies.

She goes on to criticise the CSIRO for contributing to climate change hysteria and science generally for promoting gender-equality issues and green activism. Not only is this utter rot, it conveniently ignores the fact that under Tony Abbott’s ultra-conservative, anti-science government, the CSIRO was gutted of both funding and staff (as was the Antarctic Division), severely curtailing many of its research programs, climate study among them, and flying in the face of global trends. Abbott then allocated funding to cancer research (presumably “believable science”), a noble initiative but I suspect more in the hope that his name would forever be associated with a “silver bullet cure-all” while at the same time allowing him to deliver a kick in the guts to those involved in what he believes is the “crap science” of climate studies.

Now to Ms Nova’s concluding paragraph: “As Australia’s first people discovered, if today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to use our great natural resources, more energetic people will take them off us.”

It’s hard to ignore the racism inherent in this statement, racism also apparent in her reference to uranium deposits “sterilised by the Giant Rainbow Serpent”. Okay, perhaps she’s not racist and just believes Australia’s Indigenous peoples are lazy beings who practice a primitive religion that deifies mythical creatures. What about the recent outpouring of grief in the “energetic” and sophisticated Western world over the loss of a building representing a religious sect whose adherents practice ritual cannibalism, believe virgins can give birth and that people can rise from the dead.

And who are these “more energetic people” poised to seize our coal and uranium? Let me guess…the Chinese? The Indonesians? Well they’d better get a move on; giant global corporations with no loyalty to any particular country are already in there getting our resources out of the ground as fast as governments will allow. There seems a philosophy present in the corporate world that urges its adherents to make as much money as they possibly can before it all hits the fan. Are the few “energetic” people hoping their money will save them and the rest of us will have to cope as best we can?

Perhaps Ms Nova could revisit that last paragraph and alter it to read something like “As Australia’s first people discovered, the land in which we live is capricious and finely balanced. If today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to properly care for it, nature will take it from us.”

*The “Bradfield Scheme” was put forward in 1938 as a means of irrigating and “drought-proofing” arid regions of the Queensland and South Australian interiors. Involving damning and “turning back” of northern rivers, calculations were faulty and projections based on European models were unrealistic. Politicians are fond of extolling its virtues, especially when elections are held during periods of drought, as is now the case.

The LNP coalition and Labor must go

Both the Liberal/National coalition and the Australian Labor Party have proved themselves unfit to govern Australia and steps should be taken to remove them both from their positions of power. How this might be achieved I don’t profess to know – perhaps by direct appeal to the Crown – and so leave that for others to ponder, but it is my firm belief that while between them they control the destiny of Australia, our future as a country is at stake.

Why? Well to put it bluntly they are incompetent and deliberately obtuse, or both, and a threat to the future of Australia as a continent and a nation. As I have written previously, none of our politicians or their advisers has any real knowledge of Australian history and are seemingly oblivious to events that have occurred in their own lifetimes. What they do know seems to have been gained not by rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, but plucked from corporate press releases and other politicians’ campaign speeches. These reasons alone should condemn them as unfit to govern.

So without professing to have statistics at my fingertips, and nothing much more to guide me other than folk knowledge and strong gut feelings, I’d like to set out my reasons for calling for their removal from the peoples’ [plural intended] Parliament.

Climate Change

Climate change should be the overarching concern of all sides of politics, yet in all the pontification by both groups over the implications of this or that budget measure or economic strategy, not a single phrase has been uttered that might suggest any allowance has been made for the effects it will have on Australia – let alone the planet and hence our trading partners.

Climate change will have a profound impact on every aspect of society, from social cohesion to health to the economy and everything in between, but listen to our politicians and it’s as if the effects will be perhaps a little bit inconvenient and a touch nasty, but will allow us to continue on our merry way. All we need do is use plenty of sunscreen and not drive on flooded roads or use too much water, and it will be business as usual. The only thing that the political protagonists have done is quarrel over when and how emissions should be cut, and by how much. They have created for the country a new Dark Age in which all they need do is burn enough witches – these days masquerading as scientists and environmentalists – and Eden will be restored.

Science

Australia’s peak scientific body, CSIRO and its sister organisation the Australian Antarctic Division (an arm of the Department of Environment) have both been eviscerated by the current government. And what is worse, they have done so with barely a whimper of protest from the Labor opposition; not once in any of its pronouncements about countermeasures to government misdeeds has the Labor Party said it will restore funding to what are among the two most important research bodies in the country. It is from these organisations and others like them – world renowned for innovation – that solutions to climate-induced problems will come.

The Prime Minister’s opinion of science was laid out for all to see when he cut funding to both these bodies and announced the creation of a medical research fund, no doubt hoping that during his term of office a cure for cancer will be found and he will be lauded, perhaps even beatified, as some sort of visionary. It has been pointed out by others better qualified than I that many of the great medical breakthroughs have come about as a side benefit of other research.

Health and society

Neither political camp has any sort of health policy that can by any stretch of the imagination be deemed realistic. What their attitudes do prove, however, is that neither they nor their advisers have done any reading on likely trends in illnesses and diseases other than that fed to them by purely commercial interests.

Because our major political parties consider maintaining a healthy population to be a burden on the economy, preventive medicine is poorly funded in comparison to reactionary measures. Money that would be better spent on social programs goes to drug companies who provide the chemicals to control the symptoms of modern living.

We are constantly reminded of the economic dangers of an aging population, yet not once do we hear of any research that might suggest climate change will probably have its greatest effect on the elderly and the very young.

Nor do politicians seem aware of the time bomb that is diabetes among the young population. In this century the prevalence of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes among young children and teenagers has increased alarmingly. Some medical scientists have actually postulated that children born today may be the first generation in 200 years that does not outlive its parents. Is either side of politics addressing that?

Taxation reform

The approach of both the Coalition and Labor to this sole source of national income is nothing short of ludicrous. Without taxation no country can exist and to continually use tax cuts as election bait is not only unethical, but stupid also.

So as not to upset global corporations and Chambers of Commerce, corporate taxes have been dropping for years. Why? If a company gains profit in a country – especially by utilising that country’s non-renewable resources – why shouldn’t it pay a reasonable amount of tax? If the country finds itself needing to raise revenue, then shouldn’t the business world also bear its share of the burden along with the population at large? In an age when companies employer fewer and fewer people, and make bigger and bigger profits, surely it stands to reason that those companies should pay more tax to compensate for income taxes lost as a consequence of productivity gains at the expense of jobs.

The current treasurer lauds an expanded GST as a means of increasing the revenue base but apparently can’t see that the accelerating use of robotics in industry and a rapidly falling demand for manual labour will make that a less lucrative source of income.

The mining industry is taking more of our resources yet employing fewer people – trucks, draglines and other operations are now in many cases unmanned vehicles controlled from a computer many hundreds of kilometres away, and I suggest that it won’t be long before even that operation will be shifted to overseas countries hoodwinked or bribed into providing tax havens, a move aided by communications satellites paid for by the people’s taxes.

It is apparent that the government and opposition aren’t mentioning the obvious: if spending is cut to offset lower tax income, then private health insurance will replace our highly regarded public health system. A Medicare levy of just a couple of per cent of taxable income will be replaced by five-figure annual insurance premiums. The top income earners won’t be affected by this of course, and as their numbers include politicians, and politicians control the forces of so-called law and order, the end result seems fairly obvious.

Miscellaneous myopia

The Export Economy: Back in the 60s and 70s when England’s entry into the then European Common Market saw once-guaranteed exports of wool and other agricultural produce crash, government looked for ways to prop up a failing economy. One mantra, oft-repeated by members of what was then the Country Party, went something like: “If everyone in China buys just one pair of woolen socks, the country will be back on its feet again.” It never eventuated of course (nobody noticed that the Chinese much prefer cotton socks) and it was innovations and research by scientists at CSIRO and other institutions that helped agriculture regain its feet and, in some cases, burgeon.

So when the next “sell everything to China” light bulb lit up, this time inspired by the demand for iron ore and coal, our cargo cult mentality swung into action. Politicians who for years had lectured us on the need for caution and chided us for being ignorant on matters of supply and demand, approved mining licenses by the giant yellow truck load, ensuring a massive oversupply of minerals on the world market with the consequences we see today.

But not to worry, Tasmania has approved, and been given funding for irrigation schemes that will allow a massive expansion of dairying based on our most valuable and scarcest resource, water; this despite the fact that irrigation has destroyed vast tracts of Australia’s agricultural landscape and taken much of it out of production. There is evidence, too, that the value of dairy exports to China is falling. Never mind, there’s always horticulture and when that fails we can try woolen socks again.

International Relations Beginning with the Howard government, Australia’s view of non-Western Europeans turned us back to the days of the White Australia Policy, a time when some politicians seriously considered approving only blue-eyed immigrants. “Boat people” were the enemy – back then the Yellow Hordes from South East Asia – and Labor, seeing that there might be a few votes in it, welcomed the idea with open arms. Pauline Hanson and her 19th Century ideals and ideas had a brief surge of popularity among people who didn’t think much about much but was quickly neutralised by Howard incorporating many of her ideas into LNP policy and by a very dubious legal action orchestrated by our current Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, himself an enthusiastic, xenophobic Europhile, is now accusing Australians of mass xenophobia because they are questioning some aspects of very secret, so-called free trade agreements being “negotiated” with our more powerful neighbours, the USA among them.

Tony Abbott’s LNP, with the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party, has again raised the spectre of being overrun by waves of invaders from the north; not the Asiatic Hordes this time, but Arabs and Pakistanis and Iranians and Persians from the Muslim Middle East. These people, we are told, are not really refugees, but freeloading economic migrants, wanting to steal Australian worker’s jobs and lower our standard of living. It is convenient to ignore the fact that many members of the Federal Cabinet – including the PM – along with the CEOs and other top brass in many of our institutions are economic immigrants at best, lifestyle immigrants at worst. It is also apparently easy to overlook the fact that under these free trade deals, foreign countries can bring in their own labour force.

Militarism Was it just coincidence, I wonder, that in the same week that the country was celebrating (when it should have been mourning) the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at Gallipoli, our-testosterone driven PM, with the cooperation of his conservative New Zealand counterpart, announced that a latter-day ANZAC force would be sent to Iraq. No doubt in a few very short years we will be remembering this day also, celebrating or mourning depending on whether you were doing “what seemed best at the time” or being shot at, or weeping over the consequences it had for your family.

When G W Bush, to the great excitement of John Howard, announced we were going to invade Iraq, some commentators warned that we were heading for another Vietnam. The armchair generals in a resurgently militaristic West derided them of course; ‘Peacenik’, ‘Bleeding Heart Lefties’ and other phrases from the Vietnam era were bandied about. And those doomsayers were wrong, sort of; it is now worse, far, far worse than Vietnam, and deteriorating by the day – by the hour. ‘Domino Theory and ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ have been replaced by ‘Islamist Death Cult’ and ‘Fanatical Jihadists’, but the aftermath will be the same: we told oppressed people in countries whose oppressors we for generations created or supported that we were invading them to bring democracy and freedom and instead gave them many good reasons to hate us for another 2000 years. Those who sought a do-it-yourself solution to their problems we labelled ‘of uncertain allegiance’ or ‘terrorists’ and so added fuel to an already out-of-control bonfire.

Indigenous matters More than 200 years have passed since England stole this “uninhabited” continent from the people who have been here for more than 60,000 years, yet we’ve still done very little to attempt to right the great wrong done them. Every good thing done by one government (and there are precious few) is wound back or watered down by the next. In many cases, pressure from the National party members of the Coalition or from mining and agribusiness interests sees policies altered before they even see the light of day.

Our current Prime Minister appointed himself a champion of the Indigenous population and vowed that every year he would venture off into a remote Indigenous community (this year it’s the Torres Strait “TS” and Cape York’s turn) where he could have a jolly British-style Boy Scout jape in the woods with lots of exotic people around him. Fair’s fair, at least he went there I suppose, but what has he achieved? Nothing, other than amply demonstrating his total lack of hand/eye coordination when laying bricks, planting trees and watering gardens.

He blew and blustered about his great Recognition Conference and then was miffed when some of the delegates disagreed with him. When Aboriginal and TS representatives announced they would hold a series of conferences to facilitate the formulation of an Indigenous policy on the wording the referendum should contain, an indignant Abbott complained that they were causing division, that this was a matter for “all Australians”. Apparently the people who will be most affected should once again have no say in matters of vital importance to them.

Then to top it off, the government again displayed its appalling lack of knowledge about the country it governs when it awarded TS veterans service medals for their efforts during WWII. Now I’m not knocking the TSIs, two of my childhood heroes were saltwater men and the islanders per capita had the highest rate of enlistment in the country, 100 per cent of eligible men (and many under- and over-age), but it must have rankled with a few Aboriginal veterans in the north. When it was proposed that Top End Aboriginals be formed into a Coast Watch/Homeland Defence Force, it was at first strongly opposed. Inspired perhaps by subconscious pangs of guilt, it was argued that Aboriginals had no reason to like white Australians and so might aid the Japanese.

They might have stopped to think that just a few short years before, Top End Aboriginals had been massacred by whites in retaliation for the killing of Japanese pearlers and trepang divers who had kidnapped and raped Aboriginal women.

And to cap it all off, this champion of the indigenous underdog recently said that Australia had been nothing but [presumably useless] bush before the English got here. And so it goes on.

A Pause There is more I could say, but I’ll leave it for another time. I’d just add that almost everything I’ve written here probably won’t matter in the end because climate change will have the final word. In a recent TV documentary dealing with the problems created by inequalities of wealth distribution, a multi-billionaire was troubled by the fact that although he had given many millions to charity, when it all hit the fan, as it will, the disgruntled masses would not distinguish between the charitable rich and the selfish: “They will come for all of us,” he said.

I believe that like the self-centred and complacent among the rich, our politicians and their corporate masters feel secure in the thought that they will be all right because they have money for private healthcare and retreats in the more habitable places and vast stocks of food, so they will still be in charge of their destiny.

They are wrong. Inequality has already ignited the kindling in many countries, the increasing accumulation of wealth by a very few is adding fuel and the effects of climate change will fan the flames.

I am tempted to say that something must be done now, but I fear it’s already too late.

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.

Endurance your name is Jeffrey Lee

The treatment meted out to Adam Goodes is one of the most shameful episodes of recent times and I have been moved almost to tears on several occasions when listening to some of the outrageous comments in defence of racism and mob bullying. Adam is a courageous man, but if I could speak to him for just fifteen minutes, I’d like to remind him of Jeffrey Lee in the hope that he would be uplifted again. Remember Jeffrey Lee?

Mr Lee is an elder of the Djok, the clan whose land, Koongarra, was given to them in the Dreaming and is therefore held by the people in sacred trust. Jeffrey is its senior custodian, keeping strong and alive the rituals and ceremony needed to ensure its well-being until the end of time beyond time as it turns within the great cycle of its Dreaming. However, Koongarra is close by Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, a region rich in the uranium so coveted by the modern world that governments often turn a blind eye to the methods mining companies will employ to gain rights over it.

For twenty-odd years Jeffrey Lee fought to have Koongarra – with its precious burial sites and priceless rock art, and home to his people for tens upon tens of thousands of years – listed with other sites of World Heritage import, and in February of 2013 he succeeded. Sacred Koongarra is now part of Kakadu in the white man’s eyes. To Jeffrey, of course it always was.

This little story would be to most of us remarkable enough, but to put it in terms that the bankers and economists of this world would understand, I’ll add just a little more. A mining company offered Jeffrey, and by extension the Djok, five billion Australian dollars – that’s $A5,000,000,000 – for the land the Creation ancestors bequeathed them. Jeffrey refused it. To paraphrase this wonderful man: Money, he comes and he goes. You can always replace money but you can’t replace your land.

Murujuga, Mosul and the new Vandals: who are the worst?

Upwards of a million petroglyphs in a landscape almost as old as time
Upwards of a million petroglyphs in a landscape almost as old as time

The understandable outcry and revulsion felt in the face of the mindless vandalism by lunatic jihadists against the beautiful and old – by European standards – artworks at Mosul, prompted me to resurrect this piece, written for a US site some years ago. Goose-stepping in formation with the lunacy prevailing in the Middle East, Australia still sanctions the ongoing destruction of art that was already ancient when the rest of the world was discovering agriculture.

Australia is an old place, so ancient that mountain ranges once as high as the Himalaya have been worn to nubs. At just under 7310 feet, Kosciuszko, the highest mainland peak, is a mere hillock by world standards, while on the other, older side of the continent, in Western Australia’s Pilbara where there are rocks almost as old as time, Mt Meharry reaches to a mere 4100 feet, flattened by the weight of millennia and slumped under a sun so fierce as to be unimaginable to most folks in the northern hemisphere.

Beautiful Mulga Downs - part of the Pilbara landscape
Beautiful Mulga Downs – part of the Pilbara landscape

Ancient also is the culture of the people who occupied Australia’s mainland 2000 or more generations give or take before Europeans were even aware of its existence – so long ago that their stories tell of climate change, generations of great cold, long ages of dreadful drought and the disappearance of species. Their folk-beliefs accurately describe the inappropriately named “Hobbits” whose skeletons have been excavated on the Indonesian island of Flores – the Yuurii is just one name for them.

The first Tasmanians – once believed to be of a different race – had reached the far south of the continent by at least 40,000 years ago, 32,000 years before rising sea levels separated them from relatives on the mainland.

Poems by Denis Kevans
Poems by Denis Kevans

So long have these people inhabited the old brown land that whenever a documentary on the human migration “out of Africa” is shown, their epic history is usually mentioned only briefly, relegated to the too-hard basket. Their still-living culture is as wonderful and mystifying as the Universe itself, embracing a complex philosophy and with a kinship system so complex that a prominent anthropologist once said that any European who claimed to understand it fully was “almost certainly lying”.

Their origins, they say in English, are in the Dreaming, a past, present and future governing everything existing in the Universe. A rock can represent an ancestor and/or the ancestor in person and/or the result of an action by an ancestor, and so must be sung appropriately to ensure the continued order of the cosmos and everything within it. The people are the country and the country is the people. Failure to sing the country at appropriate times results in chaos: the breakdown of social structure, the disintegration of complex ecosystems, the failure of rains or extreme weather events at inappropriate times. When an Aboriginal laments misfortune brought on by cultural breakdown he will cry “poor fella my country”, for he and his country are one and the same: “poor fella my country, poor bugger me”, ‘country’ and ‘me’ being two words for the same thing

These people are custodians of stone arrangements, earth mounds, bora grounds and artworks so old and with messages so fraught with meaning that they defy the European imagination. In the east are the paintings of giant Kwinkan beings; there are carved  trees – many of which were deliberately destroyed by opponents of Land Rights legislation; you can find giant river red gums that as saplings had limbs bound together so that they would grow into huge circles high in the branches, like openings in the sky, making the base of the trunk a safe and appropriate place for women to give birth.

In the west are the awe-inspiring Wandjina, who in the Dreaming established the weather patterns of the north-west then implanted themselves in the rock faces they inhabit today. It has been claimed that their “haloes” represent aliens’ space helmets, explaining why no mouths are to be seen on the figures, but the people whose job it is to sing them disagree. When asked about the absence of mouths, a custodian once replied: “What would they have to say to humans?”

Also in the west is what is now known as the Burrup Peninsula and its 88 sq km of ancient rock engravings or petroglyphs – up to possibly one million of them. Forming Earth’s largest collection of rock art, the most recent of which are at least 10,000 years old, they are now under threat of almost total destruction by the industry that brought you the disasters of Ok Tedi, Deepwater Horizon and almost numberless other acts of vandalism large and small.

Burrup is the site of huge, new industrial development including gas hubs to serve the North-West Shelf and other projects, and a fertilizer plant of huge proportions. What survives the construction process – and much has already been destroyed – will almost certainly be hugely affected by acid fall-out from these plants.

Of course the mining industry is not solely to blame. Equally complicit are State and Federal governments and the people who have allowed their elected representatives to transfer power to the miners. So cowed are the miners’ lickspittles that in the year I left Western Australia, siteworks were being permitted at Burrup while yet another “committee of inquiry” was sitting. There are other places for the factories and less intrusive alternatives, but why bother when they have governments to do their bidding?

In the face of huge protests, Amax Iron, and CRA in 1980 drilled on a sacred site at Noonkanbah, Western Australia,  after the State Government provided their oil-exploration rig with a police escort for its 1000-mile plus trip through the outback. The well was dry but that wasn’t the point. They showed they could fly in the face of public opinion, of legislation and of ethical and spiritual values and have the support of government while they did it.

Almost immediately after Shark Bay received World Heritage listing, the miners sought – and got – permission to “explore” for minerals on its very edge. The same at Ningaloo Reef, a whale-shark hotspot and fringing coral reef off the north-west coast. It’s listing for World Heritage has been opposed because local businesses claim it won’t help tourism. Apparently World Heritage listing should enable vested interests to make more money rather than protect natural wonders and great human works. I feel the hot breath of the miners here also. They told us a couple of years ago that they wanted to drill for oil on the edge of the reef and are so clever that they can do so with no ill-effects whatsoever.

Why? To prove their power, that’s why. Mining interests have opposed Aboriginal Land Rights legislation since it was introduced in the 1970s and through its toadies in governments continues to have it overridden in some cases and ignored in others. Environmental laws mean nothing to the miners. Why should they? Governments are only too happy to change them or adopt “temporary suspension” of protection measures to suit their interests

When Native Title was being argued in the courts, Western Mining, led by Hugh Morgan, published a map purporting to show how much of Australia would be closed to miners if Aboriginals were given land title. Some 30 years or so later, John Howard – who with Western Australia’s Court dynasty was among the mining industry’s greatest assets – was brandishing the same map to show us the extent of the “land grab” if he were not to alter legislation that had given the greedy Aboriginals title over some of their traditional lands.

It’s all very well to give the Indigenous peoples title over land we took from them in the first place as long as it really is of no use to us. But if there’s minerals on it, it’s a different story and the miners should be allowed to run seismic survey lines all over the place. Who cares if they turn into erosion gullies? It’s only worthless scrub anyway – only good for blackfellers. Unless it’s got minerals in it of course, then it’s a valuable natural resource and the government can’t allow a noisy minority – egged on in past times by Red agitators and now by white Greenies – to act against the best interests of the vast majority of decent, sensible Australians.

And so I return to Murujuga, as Burrup is properly known. Its destruction is up there with the destruction of the libraries at Constantinople and Alexandria, Mosul, and the giant Buddhas of Afghanistan. When it is gone then there can be an argument mounted in favor of almost any act of vandalism. Why not put a bulldozer through the Louvre or St Peter’s and replace them with theme parks? Monuments to human endeavor will count as nothing and the wonders of nature…well really? What wonders?

Perhaps some day – and one day soon I hope – the Wandjina, no longer able to remain silent, will leave the ancient Dreaming sanctuaries to visit a dreadful judgment on the destroyers of the ancient places and bring some sort of peace to the land as old as time. But I fear it may be too late.

9/11, Coniston and Maralinga revisited

In 2010, to commemorate the anniversary of the ghastly events in New York the Florida Pastor of a Loony Christian congregation proposed a Q’ran burning. In an introduction to a piece in LiketheDew, Michael J Solander wrote:

For a wacko preacher of a church with less than fifty members, the pastor of the Gainesville congregation Dove Outreach Center Terry Jones, has proven himself a master promoter and genius in generating worldwide press coverage that corporate marketers with zillion dollar budgets can only dream about. It seems going public with his intention to stage a Koran burning and weenie roast — now canceled — from the front porch of his sparsely attended church to celebrate the 9/11 anniversary got a few folks, from President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and General David Petraeus, worked up into more than a spot of bother.

Now read on.

I’m hopping bloody mad – well more frustrated, really – and given my mood I probably shouldn’t be putting fingers to keyboard, especially today of all days, but I just can’t let it go.

Oh, and before I do begin, let me say that nine years ago today I, along with 99.99 per cent of my fellow Australians, was absolutely horrified at what I was seeing on my TV screen. Our great ally and friend in time of need was in pain and we could only listen and watch, numb with shock. The anger came later. So, my dear American friends, be assured that my heart is with you, today and always.

Now I’m going to chuck a deepie.

What started me off was that self-styled pastor being given face-to-face recognition on the TV this morning. To think that this mug lair of a god-botherer would be given this sort of air time and recognition beggars belief, though it’s hardly surprising given the general quality of what now passes for news. If Joseph Mengele reappeared, it’s London to a housebrick on that networks would fight to the death to interview him about his theories of heredity.

Then I looked at my email and noticed that Michael Solander’s piece on this self-styled pastor and his Matchbox Ministry has attracted more responses – yes some are mine – than any other subject. Only one of them is from the anti-liberal right side of the road, which is a bit surprising though I’ll add that it makes a fair impact in its own way, bringing to mind stones and glass houses. But what I do find puzzling are some of the responses to this and other stories in the same vein made by people I like, though I’ve never met them and probably never will.

What is evident in all the discussion is that our own recent past – “our” being a generic term for the “Western” democracies – seems to totally escape us and that other peoples may be struggling to overcome what our not-so-distant forebears once endured is never mentioned.

I know that seeing the US flag burned by a mob in some foreign street saddens and angers you – I’d feel the same if the tens of thousands of Australian war graves on foreign soil were desecrated – but think about that mob for just a second. Those people don’t have the opportunities for education that we had and for the most part get only the news that the elite want them to see, if they get any news at all. Is it any wonder that agitators and political opportunists can so easily manipulate them? What about the direction being taken  by “The Media” in the West and the manipulation of our democratic processes by vested interests?

Nor must we forget that many of these people live in countries created for political reasons and under despotic rulers propped up in many cases by our own governments. The list of tyrants supported by the West is a long and depressing one; Amin, Pinochet and Sadam Hussein spring all too readily to mind. In my own lifetime, many of the countries where ghastly circuses of horrors are played out were colonies or “protectorates” of the Western powers and yet we, their teachers, criticize them for ignoring democracy and for their abuses of human rights.

Political correctness also cops a lot of flak. Corrupted it may have become, but at least it lessens opportunities for outright rudeness. The same dear old gentlemen who bemoan not knowing whether or not it is politically correct to hold the door for a woman probably never told their wives how much they earned.

history

Sharia law gets a lot of disapproval and rightly so, parts of it are pretty bloody nasty, but there are those in the West, many of them with power, influence and money – tautology if ever there was – who would have us ruled under Biblical law, which is no less nasty. These same people claim to be defenders of democracy, but Biblical law is hardly that.

Does it ever strike you as absurd that these cornflakes-box divines invoke the name of Jesus when they would have us all yoked under laws set out by the tribal leaders of the Old Testament, a document whose worst excesses I thought their bloke was trying to soften?

“I know all Muslims aren’t terrorists but I disagree with the way they treat women” gets a lot of use. Well stop and think about it girls. If you’re around my age you’ll remember that doctors often wouldn’t prescribe the pill to married women unless they had their husband’s permission and if you were single – forget it dearie! Ask one of your older relatives if she ever tried to get a bank loan in her own name. Got a woman relative aged over about 60 whose husband divorced her for her adultery? What sort of settlement did she get? Anyone know an older woman who, a victim of her husband’s violence, went to court and was told that a husband had the right to discipline his wife and/or kids? Whose mum/mom was given a housekeeping allowance by her spouse? And I’m not criticising your dads, it’s just the way it was a few short years ago.

How many years ago was it that the last black person was lynched or murdered in some other equally horrific way by a mob in the USA? Australians still shake their heads in disbelief over these atrocities, then round on me in anger when I point out that the last official massacre of Aboriginal people in Australia occurred in 1928 and that in the mid-1950s the idol of the right, former Prime Minister ‘Pig-iron Bob’ Menzies, authorised nuclear testing on land where Aboriginal people were known to be still living. Pig-iron opined that they’d “probably all been rounded up” before the tests. There are still a few Aboriginal survivors from that time who talk of the “black mist” sweeping into their camps. African Americans were emancipated – on paper anyway – a long time before Australia’s Aboriginal peoples.

Seems to me that one of the tragedies of losing our oral traditions is that a lot of very real history is too soon forgotten. Before we get too hot under our collective collar, let’s pause a while and think about our own turbulent past – it’s a lot closer than we would perhaps like to think.