Can’t see the forest for the trees!

Sorry it has been so long since posting. A combination of no computor (still) and pressing commitments has kept me away from the keyboards.


I am presently writing an article for the “Green Magazine”, the journal of the Australian Green Party, about sustainability and development in Aboriginal communities. I will post the article here when it is finished. I have been very critical of the Greens in recent times, most particularly for their failure to campaign on Aboriginal issues in the recent Queensland state election.
There are key individuals in the Queensland Green party such As Drew Hutton and Dr. Libby Connors who have developed an understanding of the relationship between Green and Indigenous politics and become active themselves in various support activities for Aboriginal Australia, most notably Drew and Libby’s support for the Palm Island community. But these people are unfortunately freaks in a sea of green racism, both inside the Green party as well as amongst the general environment movement.

Many environmental campaigns seek some sort of tokenistic involvement of Aboriginal people in their campaigns but this is mainly just politically correct window dressing on non-indigenous campaign strategies, organisations, political philosophies and indeed subconscious psychological traits. Australian Green movements have adhered to colonial notions of the ecology and the role of the human species in it while remaining insulated from both the pain and perspective of Aboriginal people regarding this Aboriginal country.

It seems to me the primary colonial concept that environmrntalists need to transcend is the notion of protecting the environment from human impact. Conservation strategies have tended towards restricting human access to wilderness eco systems which of itself perpetuates the deterioration of those systems. For hundreds of thousands of years the human species has been an integral component of the Australian bush. Human society and physical ecology have evolved overtime as a connected whole, not the bush as a separate entity from human habitat. But modern colonial environmentalism seems content to assume that the natural habitat of humans is the city or village, seperate and detatched from the wilderness.

Around the globe wilderness and bush ecosystems are being destroyed, not just through over use by tourists or even by extrative industrial development allowed in them. The systems are eroding because they are not of themselves self sufficient. The strongest bush eco systems are still very vulnerable to human activity in other geographical areas such as toxicity in air, water and soil. They are vulnerable to climate change and acid rain.

The way we live in our cities and villages directly impacts on wilderness areas even if we stay on the human side of fences protecting nature reserves.

Aboriginal ecology is dependent on humans fulfilling their custodial obligations of burning, species culling to preserve balance, seed propogation, composting and a range of other fertility inducing by products of humans living in the bush.

Non-Aboriginal environmentalists have a lot to learn from indigenous understandings of how to live in the environment. it is unrealistic for anyone including Aboriginal people to live a traditional pre-colonial lifestyle but the logic, sensibilities and specific knowledges of Australian ecosystems that is inherent in contemporary Aboriginal social ecology will be a major building block of new management and custodial systems for the bush, which must include the phenomenon of people living permanantly in the bush in a symbiotic and mutually fertilising relationship.

Until the Australian Green movement can find a confluence of both action and philosophy with Aboriginal Australia they will remain as simply ignorant and impotent comentators on the tragic destuction of the environment.

As long as we focus on preventing human contact with the wilderness the wilderness will wither. When humans can start living in ways that impact positively on the wilderness then it has a chance of not just surviving but also increasing.
My own pipe dream is for the total reaforestation of Australia,especially in and around human habitats where food water and waste systems directly contribute to rather than drain from wilderness ecologies.



Filed under ecology

8 responses to “Can’t see the forest for the trees!

  1. Nice Piece John,

    I too pay my respects to Drew and Libby who both have a much wider political lens than the average t-shirt, ribbon wearing Green.

    Eco racism and just plain benign racism is rife in the Qld Greens. The people I feel sorry for are those who are committed to Indigenous issues but find their voices being drowned our by others shouting “We are a Green political party- not a black one”.

    Poor things, they just don’t get it.

    The Wilderness society mob are another bunch of eco fundamentalists who regularly infiltrate and hijack the Greens at elections.

  2. The following is from Jenny Stirling of the North Queensland Greens.

    I find your article to be interesting on a number of levels. First, as a Green candidate standing in Townsville for the recent QLD state election, I did campaign on the issue of Palm Island, black deaths in custody and police misuse of public nuisance laws, which affect Indigenous people most notably among targeted marginalised groups.

    In addition, there has been any number of letters published in the Townsville Bulletin, in the interim period from 2004 to 2006 lead up to the campaign, in support of the people of Palm. As the federal candidate for the seat of Herbert (Townsville, which takes in Palm Island) I campaigned against the sitting Lib MP, Peter Lindsay’s racially inspired remarks concerning curfews for young people.

    On behalf of the Greens, I was a speaker at the initial Palm Island Rally, in Townsville 2004 and recently have become a member of a steering committee on black deaths in custody which organised the second rally in late 2006.

    Along with many other Green supporters and members, I attended these meetings and marched in the Palm Island rallies. And on the fateful day when Street’s finding about Hurley were released Bob Brown, Drew Hutton and I were marching down the Townsville Strand with Aboriginal activists in their ‘Survival Day’ march. Bob’s speech was a big hit with the people there with speaker after speaker getting up and saying things like ‘go the greens’. You can see photos of Bob in the February issue of the Koorie Mail. The celebration continued later on Palm where we were invited to attend a community concert.

    The work continues with involvement in a community reference group for juvenile crime initiated by Gracelyn Smallwood; the Steering Committee for Justice (Black Deaths in Custody); supporting the Errol Wyles Justice Foundation. Now if this is what happens in the Greens in Townsville, I think it bodes well for Greens in other places. And the facts are that many people in the Greens are quietly involved with helping Aboriginal people on a day to day basis in their workplaces: for example schools, hospitals, welfare etc.

    So it is difficult to know what else to do, when one has been active in supporting this issue, in attendance at public meetings as well as being supportive of legal initiatives to build support for this issue and addressing racism in the wider community.

    I hope this gives you some food for thought and redresses somewhat the imbalance implied in your article that the Greens are racist. We are like any other party, which has its share of people who do not for one reason or another support Aboriginal people on their quest for self determination and justice. The difference is that we are doing something about it.

    Jenny Stirling
    NQ Green Spokesperson
    Townsville Greens

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  4. Hi Jenny,

    Have you seen this link before? An open letter to the Greens

    Also, have you seen this before?
    It was commissioned by the Greens (Drew) to campaign on housing in the state election – but it never happened.

    I used to be the national and Qld convener of the indigenous issues working groups of the Greens a few years ago, so I have some experience of the party, including a collusion between key members of the Townsville branch and members of the North Brisbane branch to scuttle all initiatives about indigenous issues a few years ago. This was part of an internal factional dispute whereby anything Drew, put up would be knocked down at the time, but I am sure this has long since blown away.

    But I was disgusted and left the party.

    I also wrote the Qld Greens recent indiginous policy that the party went to the state election on (and remains on the website as state policy). I was particularly concerned that this was ignored during the campaign. A number of branches, like yourselves, issued a local media releases but there was no state campaign on anything – despite the heat of stolen wages, the Palm Island death in custody and Mal Brough’s media hysteria about Aboriginal child abuse. But the Greens were unable to enter the debate during the state election, and I say, as a result Beattie was able to abolish DATSIP – the very first thing he did after the election.
    I was told that no issues other than water would be covered by the media so there was no point campaigning on indigenous issues. I have been similarly told that there is no room in the upcoming federal campaign for anything other than climate change.
    If the Greens don’t put indigenous issues into the public debate, who will? It may well be difficult to get any momentum or profile but if no effort is put into it indigenous issues will slip further under the carpet.
    I note that the hopeless and pathetic Democrats have managed to raise the profile and momentum of the stolen wages issue – if they can do it anyone can do it.

    There are 2 points that I (still) say the Greens are racist – but no more than other parties. The first is because of their adherence to colonial notions of the environment and secondly because indigenous issues are tackled tokenistically – as the subject of media releases to raise the profile of the party for its own objectives but not as part of a coherent strategy for change. The Greens are at a point where they can indeed apply pressure and achieve outcomes and can significantly influence state policy as I believe it has on water and climate change. But its minimalistic approach to indigenous issues means they are just commenting but not conspiring.

    You ask the question what else can you do? I guess I ask the question, what outcomes for Aboriginal people result from the Greens campaigning?

    I say what else the Greens could do is to promote indigenous issues to the status of climate change as a lead campaign during elections – put the issues on the agenda instead of keeping it a peripheral issue based on detatched commentary.

  5. Pingback: The environment movement and Aboriginal Australia - cont. « PARADIGM OZ

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  7. Frank


    Your writing has punch, but it is mostly ignorant garbage that does a disservice to accurate politics that might benefit everyone including Murris. Get a brain.


  8. Frank

    “Please explain”

    Can you explain what is innacurate, or is an abusive one-liner all you are capable of?

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