I was lucky enough to spend my childhood in the thick of nature on a small mountain in Victoria’s north-west.
My memories were made climbing big trees, picking wild berries and getting muddy tromping through the pine forest or knee deep in the creek. I grew up in awe of the environment – fascinated and grateful for the constant discovery it offered me.
For someone like me, the drive to protect something I feel so deeply connected to comes easily but the value of nature for so many of us has been usurped by a popular culture of material wealth and mass consumption.
We live in a society where the economy is valued over the environment, where stock markets and finance dominate our news, and where environmental issues are often seen as on the fringe, pertinent only to the ‘left’.
We live in a society where the economy is valued over the environment, where stock markets and finance dominate our news, and where environmental issues are often seen as on the fringe, pertinent only to the ‘left’
We spend up to forty hours a week in stark tiny cubicles under fluorescent lights, drowning in technology. The spaces we live in are getting smaller and more cramped. And between work and being absorbed in our various devices, most of us spend very little time in nature.
The intellectual capacity of humans has allowed us to do incredible things – create technology that can take us to space and cure cancer. But it has also meant that we have become so far removed from our place in nature – from the fact that we are still animals living in an ecosystem – that for many, our innate connection to it is latent or broken.
In September, at an Indigenous storytelling event, I was lucky enough to hear Ngarrindjeri Elder, Uncle Major Sumner tell a remarkable story about connection to country. In 2010, after almost a decade of drought, he grew tired of watching his ancestral home die and so he travelled the length of the great Murray River, uniting a group of Aboriginal River Nations on a pilgrimage to restore the river back to health. With an ancient Ringbalin ceremony, they danced the spirit back into the river and themselves. What followed was the wettest season in living memory with floods throughout the basin.
What resonated with me most however, was not this remarkable story, but the advice Uncle Major offered afterwards. He spoke of how all Australians, not just its Traditional Owners, are the caretakers of this country. He invited us to connect with country – to feel the dirt beneath our feet, to listen to it speak to us, and to look after it, as it looks after us. It was a beautiful moment. And it rang so true.
He invited us to connect with country – to feel the dirt beneath our feet, to listen to it speak to us, and to look after it, as it looks after us
Australians are lucky enough to live in a country with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. From the red rocks and waterfalls of the Kimberley to the magnificent old-growth forests of Tasmania, we are blessed with world-renowned natural heritage that is not only hugely ecologically significant but integral to who we are.
Our Great Barrier Reef, our national parks, our World Heritage sites are all written into the Australian identity.
When our key piece of national environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act – was created in 1999 and the requirement for federal approval and oversight enshrined in law, it was to give these special places, and the unique species that inhabit them, the highest level of protection.
It is disappointing paradox that the very people who have authority to protect them are the ones who are bent on destroying them.
In less than a year, we’ve seen federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt exploit the weaknesses in our current laws to push through huge environmentally destructive projects that should never be allowed. We’ve seen what will be one of the world’s biggest coalmines approved in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, a massive coal port expansion on our World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and a huge coal seam gas export facility on Curtis Island.
These injustices are stirring something in the Australian people. They are reawakening our innate connection to the natural world and driving our desire to protect it
These injustices are stirring something in the Australian people. They are reawakening our innate connection to the natural world and driving our desire to protect it.
People are beginning to understand that the survival of our species and the preservation of our way of life depends on a healthy environment. That the right to a healthy environment is a fundamental human right. That it is a crude injustice for polluters to be offered more rights than people.
All over the country, Australians are standing up to defend the places they love. Ninety-year-old grandmothers, rugby players and doctors are risking their lives and clean records, locking onto machinery to stop destructive mining and development projects. We are beginning to see the lengths everyday Australians will go to, to protect the places they love.
The first time our national environment law came under attack under the former Labor government, the Places You Love alliance was born. The alliance is the biggest ever collaboration of environment groups including ACF. It has been working together ever since to protect the laws that safeguard Australia’s unique and special places.
Now that our laws are again under attack, the Places You Love Alliance is one step ahead. The alliance works to stop the watering down of our key laws – it is bringing together the world’s best environmental law experts to create the next generation of environmental protections Australia needs, and it is laying the foundation for a much needed national conversation about how to best protect the places we love.
Nature needs our help. On top of an anti-environment government, biodiversity decline in Australia is the highest in the world and climate change, mining and other large-scale developments are putting more pressure on nature than it can take.
For all of us that appreciate the natural world, who understand that a healthy natural environment is essential for a healthy society, it’s time to reconnect and restart the conversation, to listen and discuss, and to agree on a shared vision for nature protection that unites all Australians, including government and business.
It may not be an ancient Ringbalin ceremony. But it’s the spark we need to reignite our connection to country and our drive to protect it. Together, we can shape the paradigm shift we need to transform our society into one that values and protects the places we love.