*”Murri” is a term often used by Queensland Aboriginal people to describe themselves and is increasingly making its way into mainstream language (even on T.V.).
The following article is the draft that I have submitted to the Australian Greens “Green Magazine”. One of the editors, Drew Hutton, asked me for such a thing.
I wait anxiously to see what the tyrannical and defensive editorial team will do to it. In a laziness induced lapse of wisdom and under intimidation from Drew’s acedemic stature (and his constant whinging about obscure petty little gripes about proper punctuatio, spelling or grammer) I gave my permission for it to be edited.
Sustainability and Indigenous Policy
by John Tracey
That there should be a massive housing problem in an
affluent society is surely an immense and intolerable
Sustainable development in the affluent world is about replacing and upgrading dysfunctional systems with ecologically appropriate systems . For the global poor including Aboriginal Australia, sustainability is about developing essential systems such as housing, energy, water, sewage, transport and food production where inadequate or no systems presently exist.
The Australian environment movement has always struggled with its relationship with Aboriginal Australia. Most green organisations have some policy in support of justice for Aboriginal people and make some contact in the course of their campaigns. However the green movements have, in my opinion, failed to develop a cohesive ecological philosophy that incorporates traditional Aboriginal knowledge and land management systems. The movements have also failed in any realistic ways to contribute to Aboriginal struggles to combat poverty and disadvantage and have simply provided detatched commentary to the disaster..
The principles of biodiversity have made us aware of the devastating consequences to an eco system if a particular species is removed. . The balance of bio-diversity has become an accepted principle, yet how much have we considered the devastating consequences of removing the human species from wilderness eco-systems? For thousands of years human society and the natural eco systems evolved as one. Today we protect places in national parks and nature reserves and pretend that we are preserving their ancient integrity. . The removal of human beings from the bush in the last two hundred years has turned our wilderness areas into overgrown untended gardens.
Indigenous knowledge of ecology, including a social ecology woven amongst the landscape, is based on maximum human interaction with the wilderness. This stands in direct conflict with the dominant environmental mode of “protecting” the wilderness against human interaction.
The Permaculture movement seems to have gone as far as identifying a confluence of basic ecological principles and logic between indigenous and permaculture modes, thus confirming permaculture’s relevance to this continent and its traditional management systems. However, permaculture and organic gardening has primarily focused on the ecology of exotic foods and domestic micro systems with little reference to cultivating indigenous food and in particular opportunistically manageing the relationship between the home garden and the wider wilderness. The essential Permaculture principle of working with nature rather than fighting it has been contained to a backyard principle and not one that facilitates a deep ecological and mutually beneficial relationship between the human habitat (house and garden) with the wider eco-processes of the wilderness (the bush). Permaculture, like traditional European style agriculture has developed as a management system for isolated bubbles of human habitat within or around the environment rather than a system for managing the environment.(I am of course generalising here.
. Bill Mollison, the architect of “Permaculture” has articulated much about this but most practitioners of Permaculture have not echoed this aspect of his work.)
The Queensland Greens have been working with the Palm Island Aboriginal community for several years, focusing on the severe housing shortage on the Island as well as justice issues such as the 2004 death in custody and its aftermath. This connection allows the opportunity to re-evaluate green philosophy and develop new directions for sustainabiltiy with Aboriginal people. It also allows an opportunity for the depth of wisdom and technological know-how of the mainstream sustainability movement to co-create real and powerful solutions to Aboriginal disadvantage on Palm Island and indeed all Aboriginal communities.
The Palm Island Aboriginal community is the largest Aboriginal community in Australia .
Housing and town planning on Palm Island developed in an ad hoc manner to accommodate the needs of mission authorities including centralised management and surveillance of the community as well as minimising infrastructure development such as water, electricity, sewage, and roads. Houses were built very close to each other in grids similar to inner urban worker’s cottages. Much of the Island’s infrastructure is old and inadequate as it has not been properly maintained and upgraded properly over the years.
Palm Island has a population of over three thousand people living in approximately 320 houses, some with up to 27 people living in them. All of the houses are designed for nuclear families. With the exception of some vegetables grown through a work for the dole project, all the food on Palm Island is imported from the mainland with inflated prices to cover transport costs. Most people on Palm Island are receiving Centrelink benefits and cannot afford much good fresh food. Others struggle with addiction and their family’s budget and diet suffers to fuel the addiction.
Mainstream sustainable housing options are very relevant to the Palm Island housing shortage as present kit or home built housing options can be provided on Palm Island , (or any remote community) for considerably less than what the state government is currently paying for conventional public housing. (All present housing stock on Palm Island is public housing.) Decentralised water collection, sewage disposal and electricity generation allows for cheaper housing developments as there is no need for extending mains water sewer and power systems, reducing overheads considerably. Home overheads such as electricity bills are also reduced with decentralised systems. The principles of home food production that is inherent in sustainable housing notions is relevent to the poor nutrition of remote Aboriginal communities with little access to fresh food.
Appropriate secure housing and good nutrition are not ends in themselves but they are basic pre-requisites to successfully participate in any education, work, health, business, sport, culture and especially welfare and healing programs including family violence, mental health and addiction programs.
The Australian sustainability movement has focused on sustainable housing, organic local food production and decentralized electricity generation in mainstream Australian communities. The agenda that is intended to tone down the excesses of affluent society is also the solution to the immediate needs of Aboriginal communities such as Palm Island.