Thursday, 25 October 2007

Pinging off

In a fine piece of academic work coached in language we can all understand, the University of Queensland’s Dr. Toni Johnson-Woods has drawn similarities between colonial exploitation of Australia and the potential excesses of space exploration.

Dr. Johnson-Woods argues that there is a belief that other planets are there to be exploited for the benefit of humankind.

“The focus is on exploitation of the minerals. Basically, it’s just Australia all over again…You go out like the British did to Australia, you take everything you bloody can out of a place, and then you ping off.”

I wonder if that is the attitude held by early migrants: that they were coming to Australia for what they could get. On the other hand, unlike British colonisers, most were here to stay so they did have a vested interest in caring for their environment.

Looking at a photograph of early sugar cane farming in Marburg, I was reminded of Johnson-Woods’ comments. The hills are covered in heavy scrub, but the plains are totally cleared and planted with sugar cane. You can only imagine the labour required to do this, and the total refashioning of the ecosystem from dense forest to cleared farmland. Trees were felled, stumps were burnt and grubbed out. Such land-clearing practices as Sir Joh’s (former Queensland premier and advocate of nature serving man) favourite chain between pairs of bulldozers would have aroused envy.

It’s easy to look back and criticise, but I also have to remember that migrants were bound by law to clear a certain percentage of their land in order to retain their land grants. And that Queensland was built on exploitation of natural resources. For me it is about whether we see the natural world existing to serve humans or if we are merely a part of that world with certain duties of care.

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