‘Iconic landscapes’ – another exercise in wasting taxpayer’s money

Today I stumbled upon ‘Iconic Landscapes’.Quoting the home page: “A group of researchers representing the Sciences and Arts at the University of Sydney have been funded by the University’s Institute for Sustainability to conduct a study looking at how communities value the environment and understand local environmental challenges and their options to overcome them.They are combining scientific data with cultural observations by investigating three different landscapes – seawalls (Sydney Harbour), rangelands (Fowlers Gap) and arid dry-zones (Simpson Desert)It’s about:

  • Going beyond academic discussions.
  • Looking at how society values and perceives the environment.
  • Identifying the decision making process involved in environmental change. (Conservation costs money. Better incomes for family farmers instantly means they can implement more conservation measures. This means raising food prices and cutting middle-man profits.)
  • Listening to your stories.
  • Attaining a better understanding of the relationship between biological events and social values. (Hmm lost me there.)
  • Understanding how scientific research meets the real needs of the community. (?)
  • Presenting the findings in an innovative, non-traditional way: film, photography, oral storytelling or an art installation, for example. (This last point would have been a great help when applying for the research grant, you can’t beat ‘innovative’ presentation methods when it comes to attracting positive attention from grant-givers. FL)

WHY?

  • Australian envrionments (sic) are under increasing stress from droughts, feral animals and urban development. (I would add: And increasing stress due to the rabbitings on of uneducated* urbanites, thus steering public perception in a particular [incorrect] direction [‘oh those terrible farmers desecrating the landscape’; bit of a laugh coming from anyone living in Australia’s largest mass of cement & bitumen, Sydney] & resulting in poorly judged government action [eg the Wild Rivers legislation, locking up land that was fine as it is – largely unchanged since white settlement – and hindering the opportunities of local indigenous communities. Read Noel Pearson’s opinions on the subject]. *Uneducated in the sense that they have no genuine understanding of the life and environment in remote areas. They visit for a while, pre-conceived firmly rooted opinions firmly in hand – do studies, then return to comfy quarters in inner-city Sydney to write should-do reports. FL)
  • In addition to the traditional scientific findings linking distress with ecological resilience, we envisage identification of key societal values in the general public and the decision-making process involved in environmental change. (Unfortunately the vast majority of Australians wouldn’t know genuine conservation if they fell over it. They have backyards full of exotic species, pet cats that roam 24/7, do not think twice about chopping down any trees they want in their own backyard and few will pay the extra to purchase recycled paper, even if it’s toilet paper, yet there is an expectation food growers will produce ‘top quality’ ‘organic’ tucker with ‘low food miles’ at bottom drawer prices, by levitating it above the earth. Ummm, is it sensible to ask this lot, the majority, what conservation measures they think are important, what should be put in place, and act on that? I think not! It’ll be NIMBYism at it’s most extreme. If you want to ask what conservation measures are already in place and what else could be done in future, ask people who are already managing the land well. That rules out the vast majority of people living in suburbs and towns, all government departments and education institutions – except perhaps those working in agricultural fields who have genuine, long-term hands-on experience. FL)
  • Australia has the longest history, globally, of human manipulation of the environment.(I’m not sure what criteria they’re using here. Given that human beings have manipulated the environment since day dot, and that human beings didn’t first appear in Australia (Africa or Europe, last time I heard), then surely Australia does not have the longest history of human manipulation of the environment? I’d love to know what ye old England looked like before human beings popped up out of the mist, planting hedgerows and erecting stone monuments in honour of who-knows-who. The reference to ‘manipulation’ of the Australian environment presumably is a reference to the use of fire – well it could be argued that the tree clearing, planting of other species, hunting of native animals and harvesting of native plants, raising of domestic livestock and importation of other species and farming (monocultures), plus the early creation of towns and cities in parts of Europe has had a massive impact on the environment over thousands of years, to the point in which it’s absolutely impossible to know what it would have been like before human beings arrived. Who is to say that it is shorter term or of lesser significance than the use of fire by Australian aboriginals? Probably a fairly pointless argument, so why make this assertion at all? The reality is that the existence of human beings will impact on the environment to some unavoidable extent, regardless of whether they eat soy beans, wear vegan shoes, donate to the Australian Bush Heritage Fund and drive a Prius.)
  • It is important to develop a current understanding of the knowledge and practices of local people to help sustain their own environments. (Is this is a big brother statement or what? Sounds like they’re saying – we’ll ask them what they know and what they do, then tell them how to do it?)
  • The study aims to cut across traditional divides between arts and sciences and provide an integrated understanding of sustainable development in the landscapes that define modern Australia. (There’s a glaring omission here. Anyone notice the absence of the word AGRICULTURE amongst all this. From what I could see, agriculture hasn’t been included under the banner of ‘science’ – ‘science’ here means a truckload of people in conservation fields (checkout the Blogroll for clues. Apart from a Department of Agriculture and a Rangelands link, anyone spot anything other conservation mobs such as ‘Tree Hugger Blog’ and city mobs such as ‘Mosman Council’?). So yes that’s right, tucker-growing, that stuff that just miraculously appears in Coles & Woollies like a cut-and-come-again Magic Pudding, hasn’t got a mention here. Agriculture is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT LANDUSE IN THE WORLD. No agriculture, no people. You could turn the whole world into agricultural land and the human race could survive. Turn it into one big ‘Bush Heritage’ reserve, [complete with rampant feral animals & plants and Sydney uni scientists running around with survey sheets] and we’ll be out the back door in no time.

The thing is, I might have believed this was a genuinely objective study, intent on accurately recording views that didn’t tally with the subjective preconceptions of the surveyers, if I hadn’t stumbled upon this ‘Iconic Landscapes’ video this morning. The preamble in front of it says:Brian Mooney, Tourism and Development Manager at Diamantina Shire, takes us through some of this thoughts on visitors and Bush Heritage.Bedourie, the administrative centre of the Diamantina Shire (twice the size of Denmark), lies in the area known as the Channel Country in southwestern Queensland. With 14 cattle stations in the Shire, which is roughly 95,000 square kilometres, beef production Isa major industry driving services in these remote parts of the country.In this short video, Brian talks about the local community’s reception to Bush Heritage Reserves in the area. One such property, Cravens Peak, had been run as a pastoral holding managed for beef production since 1975. When Bush Heritage purchased the land in 2005 all cattle were removed in a bid to help conserve the Mulligan River catchment area. This meant less land for the pastoralists. (Well actually, it means less land for food producing. It means less money in what is already a small town, and fewer people living in what is already a sparsely populated area. Depopulation and service reduction becomes a rapidly descending spiral. Clearly, these social intricacies must be way beyond the understanding of whoever wrote ‘this meant less land for the pastoralists’.) Some, as Brian hints at (like Mark and Nella Lithgow in a previous video), say it is a waste not to run cattle. (Well surely it could be argued that if land that had run cattle for 100 years was in sufficiently good condition to be worth purchasing as a reserve, then running cattle for another 100 years is an entirely reasonable prospect?)In any story, there is two sides. This one is no different. (Listen to the video interview and see if you think this is actually presenting the ‘other’ side (i.e. the argument against locking up the land). For the interviewer to completely believe Brian’s statement that ‘deep down’ the pastoralists ‘know it is a good thing’ is hilarious. Talk about ‘telling someone exactly what they want to hear’! Brian is a tourism officer and he’d be perfectly well aware of the preconceived ideas of the interviewer. If the interviewer really wants to know what the pastoralists think, then ask them, not the local tourism officer! It is very significant that the interviewer thinks this presents ‘both sides of the story’.The second very telling interview is with Mark & Nella Lithgow, caretakers of Bush Heritage Australia’s Cravens Peak and Ethabuka stations. Interesting to hear their comments on being surrounded by cattle properties, with whom they say they are not popular/viewed with suspicion. The Lithgows mentioned the ‘old fashioned’ views of the surrounding cattle producers, overgrazing of the land, and ‘the cattle people think this whole country is theirs’ And ‘as soon as a green shoot comes out a cow comes along and chomps it off’; ‘the gidyea trees have been trampled by cattle for the last 25-30 years’; and ‘they are a lot better at resting paddocks now….that’s how they make their money’. (Well actually, the cattle producers on the surrounding properties are growing the food that keeps the human race alive, and earning the export income that would have paid for the clothes that the Cravens Peak Station caretakers would be wearing, and for the car they drive – and everything else they depend on in the course of their daily life. Hmm I wonder why their cattle producing neighbours aren’t fond of them? I don’t suppose it is because they don’t like being cricitised as being old fashioned, environmental vandals, one-eyed and parochial, by patronising blow-ins? And that they would view Bush Heritage Australia as helping to depopulate the countryside, thus having a detrimental effect on the social fabric of the local region, very significantly affecting the whole lives of those who have chosen to live there full-time and long term? Apparently this aspect is completely lost on the Lithgows. Mark and Nella have just a three year contract and even if they stay on after that – are they going to invest their whole lives, their heart, soul and livelihood into that country, as their neighbours have done? Obviously not. Perhaps that’s the biggest issue. Managers who are there for just a few years and scientists and researches who just blow in and blow out – tell the locals what they have done wrong, what they should be doing, how they should be living, how they should think, then they head back to their homes in fashionable and temperate locations, working relatively short hours for very good and reliable incomes, in very comfortable circumstances – all the while viewing their short-term neighbours as yokels who just enjoy greenie-bashing. Then they have the temerity to criticise their neighbours for not being fond of them! This interview illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding and a particular type of blind arrogance, and sums up exactly why the vast majority of conservationists are so very unpopular with bush residents. Imagine rural residents descending on the fancier parts of Sydney’s eastern or northern suburbs, or the trendy parts of Byron Bay, and telling their neighbours what they have been doing wrong, how they should think, and how they should manage their land. Because yes, everyone who owns land is a land manager – pastoralists just have bigger slabs of it (and less money per square inch). It’s a classic case of NIMBY. I wonder why there is no interviews with pastoralists on the ‘Iconic Landscapes’ website?The ultimate question is; if Craven’s Peak Station really was was so ‘denuded and rundown, it looked like a moonscape’ when Bush Heritage Australia bought it in 2005, where were the lands department staff, whose job it is to keep an eye on pastoral leases? And how come there is 65 reptile species and 30 mammals on Cravens Peak- did this multitude walk in from the neighbours cattle stations over the last 5 years, once the station was destocked? And I suppose all the frogs they talk about hopped over from the neighbours cattle stations too?All very depressing. The Lithgows talk about cattle station owners as having an ‘old fashioned’ view of greenies as having rastafarian dreadlocks and chaining themselves to bulldozers. I think pastoralists actually have a view of academic conservationists as being close to the truth – people who work in comfortable coastal circumstances, receiving a good income with relatively short working hours, who often apply for taxpayer funded grants for yet more studies rather than action. People who look down on those who work in agricultural industries, viewing them as old-fashioned, parochial peasants, though they grow food for town and city residents, love and care for their land, and create export income that keeps Australia ticking over. And who spend other people’s hard-earned money on planting and documenting the progress of sealife in flowerpots on the Cremorne seawall (reminds me of the story of The Emporers New Clothes, can those involved not see what a poncy, self-indulgent waste of time a project such as this would seem, to someone who spends a self-sufficient, hardworking life growing food?). The reality is that academic conservationists have a more bigoted view of rural residents than the reverse.I’ll give ‘Iconic Landscapes’ a couple of suggestions that will get immediate results:

  • ditch all the grant money provided for this ‘research’ (excuse to trip around the inland with a video camera), and instead direct it towards getting immediate results. The time could be far more usefully invested in local native vegetation regeneration projects, to encourage an increase in native wildlife (there’s enough rubbish and weeds in Sydney to keep the uni students busy for life. I recommend starting with the lantana and mother-of-millions thriving in the bush on the hill overlooking The Spit). The money can instead be spent on:
  • – maintaining the current national parks and reserves that are sorely neglected under Federal and State governments, by increasing staff levels & the number of on-site rangers, and allocating sufficient money annually to genuinely tackle feral animals and weeds.
  • – by increasing supervision of all Australian land – urban and rural – and prosecuting people who clearly mismanage land under their care, with sizeable fines and confiscations. This ranges from developers who clearfell urban land to a handful of rural landowners who fail to maintain assets and overgraze to the extent of creating a local drought (one that is unmistakable, because it always stops on the boundary fence). There aren’t many, but rural residents know who these latter people are, and are appalled. I could name three major environmental vandals right now – yet nothing ever seems to be done to them. Don’t take land off good land managers and let it sit idle, with feral plants and animals taking over. Keep it in the hands of those who love it and who willingly spend a lifetime living on it and looking after it, and help them look after their country the way they already know how to (but who rarely have sufficient income to manage to do as much as they would like, and they’re already working hours that would make the average public servant keel over).

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