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Discordant Notes

Journal of Australian Studies 88
Bart Ziino Who Owns Gallipoli? Australia's Gallipoli Anxieties 1915-2005, Sue Lovell, 'Dew to the Soul': One Australian Artist's Response to War, Peter Kirkpatrick Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation, Felicity Plunkett 'You Make Me a Dot in the Nowhere': Textual Encounters in the Australian Immigration Story (the Fourth Chapter), Bridget Griffen-Foley From the Murrumbidgee to Mamma Lena: Foreign Language Broadcasting on Australian Commercial Radio, Part I, Emily Pollnitz ...
Friday, 1st August 2014
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Altitude BirdIssue 44
Features reviews by Kathleen Broderick, Linn Miller, Christine Choo, Bill Thorpe, David Ritter, Eve Vincent, Stephanie Bishop, Alison Miles, Richard Kay, Amanda Day, Bernard Whimpress, Mads Clausen, Marion May Campbell, Sylvia Alston, Catie Gilchrist, Eva Chapman, Lucy Dougan, Stephen Lawrence and Nathanael O'Reilly. Click here for more details.


Altitude

Altitude BirdPopular Music: Practices, Formations and Change - Australian Perspectives
The papers collected here in this special edition of Altitude offer a brief snapshot of popular music research broadly connected with Australia. The essays demonstrate the variety of theoretical and methodological approaches used by researchers in the fields of popular music studies and cultural studies to explore themes of popular music practice, formation and change in an Australian context. Click here for more details.



 
 
 
 

Quarterly Essay: Beautiful Lies. Population and Environment in Australia

By Tim Flannery, Melbourne: Black Inc, 2003, 120 pages, paperback, $11.95. Reviewed by Sue Bond in the October 2003 issue.

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When John Batman sailed into Hobson's Bay, he found a paradise, a temperate Kakadu whose waters thronged with waterfowl. Black swans dotted the bay in their countless thousands, while magpie geese and brolga bred along the banks of a limpid Yarra. Within a decade the Europeans had shot most of the waterbirds out of existence and turned the river into a slaughterhouse-lined sewer. (35)
This is one of the very sobering facts that Tim Flannery presents in this essay. The dominant message is that we cannot all remain complacent about the environment and hope that 'something will be done' to fix the problems. As he  points out, air pollution has already started to produce climate change such as decreased rainfall. There are many 'beautiful lies' (an expression used by Mark Twain to describe what he'd read of Australian history): terra nullius is the main one, but they also include false ideas about cultural diversity, boosterism and population. Flannery describes how the lie of terra nullius meant Europeans ignored the wisdom of Australia's indigenous peoples, and tried to make the country into another England, or another part of Europe. This led to the introduction of sheep, cattle, foxes and rabbits, to land clearing, and to big projects intended to 'water the deserts' (like the Snowy Mountains Scheme); that is, to a sort of Pollyanna way of thinking where any problem can be solved eventually by technology, more money, and more humanpower. In short, terra nullius led to a number of other lies which have allowed us to fool ourselves into a state of apathy and ignorance about the continent on which we live.

Flannery has received some criticism for his comments about the overall usefulness, or lack thereof, of continuing campaigns to save old growth forests, whales, kangaroos and so forth. He believes that, while it is commendable that people have spent great amounts of time and money protesting and saving these environmental and wildlife areas, some of that time and money would have been better spent addressing the basic issues of soil, water, air, land and biodiversity. Essentially, if the damage done to these elements of our earth is not stopped and if some attempt to repair them is not undertaken, then everything else will be for nought.

Flannery makes worthwhile points about the kangaroo industry, and animal welfare issues generally. He does not, however, acknowledge that animal welfare activists also condemn the farmers and meat producers who use cruel practices to raise animals for meat, as well as campaign against kangaroo killing. Even as a vegetarian and animal rights supporter, I do see the environmental sense in the kangaroo meat industry, and concede that it is more humane than traditional meat production. However, Flannery's arguments about the whales and their tiny brains, and his suggestion that perhaps the killing of minke whales has allowed the larger species to increase in number, does not convince me that we should support whaling: we need to consider the significant psychological impact on humanity of allowing the killing of such majestic creatures.

For the most part, Flannery has written something quite special in this essay. He has tried to address how we have ignored our own history, and constructed these 'beautiful lies', or myths, instead. We want to pretend that indigenous peoples were dispensable, that they did nothing useful with the land, and that we had nothing to learn from them. The indigenous way of hunting and looking after the land with fire was forbidden, and this was one of the first steps to degrading Australia's environment.

The First Fleeters, like Watkin Tench, Arthur Phillip and William Dawes, came to this land with an Enlightenment education, and viewed the Aborigines as fellow humans; they were ready to accept them as intelligent and wise people, who could indeed teach them about many things. When subsequent generations came along, either born here or migrants from the British Isles, we saw the results of inferior education and geographical isolation, producing people who were racist, insular, narrow-minded, and self-satisfied. During the late nineteenth century, Social Darwinism overtook any other way of thinking, and this led to 'a delusion that the English gentleman (or at least the educated British male) was the apogee of evolutionary achievement'. Federation was not as liberating as it should have been, as it enforced dispossession of non-whites at the same time that it cut the cord from England.

Flannery states the importance of a population policy, which we do not have at present. Without this, he worries that various lobby groups, such as from the business sector, will argue for an increase in immigration in order to boost the economy, without considering the long-term impact. There is still an assumption that technology and money will be able to solve environmental problems, and that the economy must always be considered above everything else. Australia cannot sustain a large population: if we want more people living here, we will have to accept a much lower rate of resource consumption by each of us (up to sixty per cent reduction, according to one expert).

Tim Flannery presents disturbing facts about the state of our soils and water; for example, 'within seventeen years Adelaide's water supply (drawn in large part from the Murray) will be too salty to drink on two days out of five'. This is alarming, but necessary information. He emphasises the complex ecology and hydrology of such areas, and explains that some ravages are going to be extremely expensive and time-consuming to correct, if they are correctable at all. His essay offers some hope that environmental problems can be addressed, but clearly we cannot resort anymore to brute force and ignorance.

Citation

  • Sue Bond. 'Review: Quarterly Essay: Beautiful Lies. Population and Environment in Australia by Tim Flannery' [online]. Network Review of Books (Perth, Australian Public Intellectual Network), October 2003. Availability: <please cite the web address here> ISSN 1833-0932. [accessed 01 August 2014].

Back Cover Blurb

  • In the first Quarterly Essay of 2003, Tim Flannery launches an attack on the various lies that we tell ourselves about our resources, our past and our future. The lie of terra nullius that made us ignore the Aborigines' knowledge of the environment. The lie of the Snowy Mountains Scheme that did untold damage to our river system for the sake of white immigration. The lie that rushing to preserve wildernesses will save endangered species. Tim Flannery is also sceptical about the myths of multiculturalism, and he argues that we cannot sustain a larger population given our resources. In conclusion, he asks how we can discharge our responsibility to the refugees who are the victims of American policies we collude with.

    'This essay is written as a thundering no to the characteristic Australian assumption that 'She'll be right' ... This is a Quarterly Essay written in the passionate belief that we need a coherent policy on population ... If we do not have one, we will never be in a position to do justice to ... the dispossessed people of the earth; indeed our children's children will ... think we have dishonoured their birthright.' - Peter Craven, Introduction

    'The refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol will almost certainly, in time, be remembered as the greatest failure of the Howard government - Tampa, detention camps and Iraq notwithstanding.' - Tim Flannery, Beautiful Lies

Visitors' Responses

  • Kangaroo Industry
    How can the kangaroo meat industry be more humane than traditional meat production?

    Kangaroos are shot without benefit of ante mortem inspection, a prerequisite for determining the health of animals killed for food; they lay in unhygienic conditions on the ground in the outback, amongst the dirt, flies, faeces of other animals, airborne bacteria, dust. Their 'worthless' in pouch joeys, the tragic little by-products of this wretched industry are 'dispatched' and the older but still dependent ex-pouch joeys flee in terror when their mothers are shot, to die from starvation, dehydration, hypothermia and psychic depravation.

Have You Also Read?

  • Quarterly Essay: Whitefella Jump Up

    imageGermaine Greer, Melbourne: Black Inc, 2003, 120 Pages, Paperback, $12.95
    Reviewed by Mitchell Rolls in the November 2003 issue.

    Greer writes her essay, so she tell us, not as a scholar, academic, or someone with specialist knowledge seeking career advancement, but as 'an elderly Australian laywoman' (pp 1-2) seeking to joggle discourse she finds wearisome on to new paths. This disingenuous aw-shucks modesty is significant for two reasons. Firstly, the essay reads as if it is indeed written by a layperson. Secondly, if Greer was not all those things she disavows for this essay it is difficult to imagine who if anyone would have published it. For the most part, the essay is nonsense. Where it does raise challenging and contentious current issues Greer does not appear to realise how provocative she is being. The ... read more.
     



 
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Black Inc

  • Black Inc. is an independent Melbourne-based publisher to the general trade, specialising in literary non-fiction and fiction books. Our list includes Quarterly Essay, Australia's leading current affairs journal. An imprint of Schwartz Publishing, Black Inc. was founded in 2000 and publishes between 20-25 books a year.

NRB October 2003

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