We’ve Been Here Longer, We Still Know Best

Evelyn Corr on Land Management.

At last Friday’s Controversial Conversation: Freedom Not Frustration held here at the University of Sydney, it was remarked that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are probably the most researched communities on earth. There has been a wealth of literature and studies published on everything from our spirituality to our land management practices, not that our self-appointed Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Tony “nothing but bush” Abbott has ever read any of them (or possibly anything). And what with Australia emitting carbon like we’re all bathing in fossilised dinosaurs, it’s around about time our government starts to think about land management in particular.

There is a direct, and undeniable correlation between traditional land management practices and Australia’s most environmentally intact regions which calls for investment in research, training, infrastructure, and organisation. “The work is being done on a shoestring and many of the successful outcomes so far are small miracles”, writes Dan Gillespie in the forward to the brilliant anthology of essays on Aboriginal land management People on Country: Vital Landscapes Indigenous Futures. As Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner noted last Friday, in the terrible mess of Aboriginal affairs, the only failures have been the results of non-Aboriginal initiatives.

In 2012, Stanford University published a paper on Aboriginal hunting practices as a mode of trophic facilitation, particularly focusing on environment management through what is commonly referred to as “fire-stick farming.” The practice is part of a systemic approach to land management and hunting which encourages healthy and sustainable environments and helps prevent disastrous bushfires. These practices, which were being implemented long before white people turned up, also fly in the face of claims that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples were strictly hunter gatherers without agricultural development. The conclusion of the report suggested the very opposite of the usual logic that human intervention is to blame for declining wildlife populations. Anthropologist Doug Bird, who spent twelve years researching the Martu people of the Western Desert, says “The moral of the story is we really really need folks to know what they’re doing and how to manage resources out there . . . without support for these communities we will be losing a critical component of global biodiversity.”

Apart from being just plain racist, our absolute walnut of a PM’s condemnation of Aboriginal “lifestyle choices” as unsustainable is ignorant in the face of the overwhelming research linking Aboriginal land management practices to increased environmental stability. This sort of stupidity is to be expected from a leader whose first act in government was to have coal sandwiches with Gina Rinehart (probably) as our planet hurtles towards irreversible and disastrous climate changes; such as temperature increases which mean the earth will only be able to sustain one seventh of its current population. Now, I look forward to a Miyazakian-like environmental apocalypse as much as the next person. Bring on the toxic jungle, I say — I’m itching to see Tony Abbott eaten by a giant mutant insect. There is, however, a less dramatic possibility available, which, to put it in simple terms, would be to stop fucking around with the communities that have been effectively managing the land for tens of thousands of years you dismal fucking onion man.