Too Little, Too late?

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Just over two hundred years ago aboriginal language was rife. Around one million people spoke over 250 different aboriginal languages (BBC News, 2011). Yet since the colonialization of Australia, aboriginal language has been suppressed by the ever overpowering English language. In 2009 the BBC reported that only 60 aboriginal languages – roughly, are still spoken from day-to-day amongst aboriginal communities. These languages can be lost within a generation and are the embodiment of the aboriginal lifestyle, way of being, thinking and seeing. To lose a language is to lose a precious source of history, not just Australian history but the history of language evolution, the history of land management and the history of colonial experience. It is essential that Aboriginal groups receive the justice deserved and their voices are heightened rather than squandered and killed.

Languages are declining at a record rate and not by choice (Mercer, 2008). It is believed that once a language dies, once the last speaker passes away, it is almost impossible to bring the language back to life. However, in Chifley College Dunheved Campus justice for aboriginals was acknowledged (Mercer, 2009). On point of principle rather than a source of indigenous knowledge, aboriginal lessons were organised and written records of the Dharug language were used to bring the language back to life. This attempt for justice was a complete success. Both Aboriginal school children and non-aboriginals partook in the lessons twice a week. Many of the aboriginal students spoke of how Dharug lessons had helped develop their aboriginal culture, identity and pride in a community where their aboriginal roots were frequently overlooked. For this school in New South Wales Dharug is now on their curriculum (Mercer, 2009).

Acknowledgement of the importance of aboriginal languages is vital, but its only one step. More than this has to be done to stop the death of anymore of these precious languages. As a geographer the knowledge contained within these capsules of language need to savoured and shared, but not just for reasons than some may believe. Undoubtedly it is massively important to maintain aboriginal culture, but aboriginal language also contains knowledge that may not have been shared. This knowledge needs to be respected. This knowledge needs to be understood. And under Aboriginal regulation this knowledge need to be utilised. This special community knows more about the environment, land management techniques and the evolution of their surrounding than any others. Why would anyone force this knowledge out of existence? We must use what aboriginals have already spent thousands of years developing to understand our environment, as well as maintain their fabulously rich culture.

However, there are 60 aboriginal languages spoken day to day, less than 300 years ago over four times this existed, any move from here on in, will it just be too little too late?

Anon, 2010. Borrowed terms. Australian geographic. 7th July 2010

Anon, 2011. Australian project hunts lost indigenous languages. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14503382

Barada, W. 2008. English will be the death of Aboriginal languages. Crikey.com.au http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20081120-The-fate-of-Aboriginal-languages.html

Crystal, D. 2000. What can be done? In Language death (pp.127-169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mercer, P.  2009. Lost Aboriginal language retrieved. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7992565.stm

Mercer, P. 2008. Aboriginal languages ‘dying out’. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7225570.stm

Photograph: http://religionandmediacourse.blogspot.com/2010/11/religious-representation-of-australian.html

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“We’re a human being, We’re not an animal!” – Woodside Energy’s empty promises?

What’s at stake? See for yourself…

The Kimberly is a very sparsely populated and vast region in the far north west of Western Australia; its uniqueness is prevailing and is thus thought to be one of the few global assets. This pocket of tranquillity is home to some of the most endangered marine animals, including the humpback whale that swims just off the shore, furthermore Kimberly’s ecosystem and landscape is as immense as its beauty. The indigenous foundations are strong amongst Kimberly’s identity, oozing with an ever present aboriginal culture. Yet amongst this tranquillity the world’s second largest gas extractor plans to be built. Woodside Energy Ltd, a transnational gas company submitted an application to build a gas extraction plant in the sea, as well as a terminal on the Dampier Peninsula cliffs. The land right in this area are legally owned by the local indigenous group and in 2010, after a long debated period of bullying and empty promises, the aboriginal group approved the project. But where is the justice? Was this choice truly theirs? And how will this impact upon their current and future lifestyles?

Australia is economically dependent on mineral resources extraction. By exporting commodities such as iron and uranium, Australia can afford to import manufactured goods. Although, the bi-product of this reliance on natural resource seems to be the widespread disputes amongst environmentalists, energy companies, government officials and aboriginal communities. For energy companies as well as government organisations, the economic benefits outweigh the disruption and further marginalisation of precious Australian sub cultures, as well as the environmental damage caused. But in the case of the Kimberly gas extractor, some voices will not be ignored.

Woodside Energy Ltd promised a number of benefits that the aboriginal groups would reap upon commencing the project. These included; better education for young indigenous people, training and employment, support systems, protection of cultural heritage, environmental reassurance and compensating native title claims. Figures as high as $30 billion are thought to be assigned to helping and protecting indigenous culture. Yet, before constructing has even begun, aboriginals feel like the rights, the voice and the empowerment they were so forcefully lead to believe they would have, are vanishing.

Socially the long term impacts of this development could ruin the aboriginal community. The affirmative decision to allow the project instantly divided many communities, and since, the attitude of gas worker and associates toward indigenous people has been degrading and racist. As well as this, from an environmental perspective greater pressure, on the already stressed housing in Kimberly would worsen, tourism rates would plummet and the impact of the toxic fumes would put further strain of the health services in Kimberly. The project promises jobs for indigenous groups, but after further examination it seems these would be both short term and have few long term benefits. In previous cases, the white invasion has caused dependence on alcohol and drugs for indigenous groups, as well as sexual corruption from the white workers. Environmentally the cost of this gas plant would be very high. Continuous polluting flares will degrade not just the environment, but the fragile ecosystem as a whole. But above all, I struggle to comprehend when indigenous voices are still not equal. Some women speak about how they are treated like dogs. “We’re a human being! We’re not an animal!” (Crombie, 2012). This should not be stood for.

To allow aboriginals the freedom and right the not only deserve, but are entitled to, this project needs supervisor at the roots. We need to protect the Kimberly, its residents and its wildlife, before it’s too late.

Who’s land is it anyway…?

When Australia is so frequently deemed to be the ‘Lucky Country’; why does a small but significant proportion of their population have a considerably lower quality of life? For aboriginals, their life expectancy is –at most, 17 years less than other Australians, as well as being much lower than many others in the underdeveloped world. Since initial involvement of Europeans in Aboriginal culture and society, it seems the vastly different ideals have clashed. The presence of Europeans, Australian officials and other external bodies has lead to the marginalisation and disempowerment of aboriginal groups. Whilst Australian officials are quick to show their dedication and prevalence in helping aboriginals the steps forward are shallow and small.

One of the biggest examples in which aboriginal groups and external parties come to blows is over the use of land. Firstly when Europeans first ‘found’ Australia they made drastic changes to the land use and management. By introducing flammable gases, the prominent grass type altered over time, causing a vicious cycle of uncontrollable fires due to the foreign grass being more susceptible.  As well as this, Europeans introduced large herbivores, such horses, pigs and cattle, which were poorly regulated and became feral and dangerous, as well as damaging the land. Thus, by 1930 the Australian tiger had become extinct as well as endangering many other traditional animals.

Furthermore, in Australia more than 80% of the minerals extracted in the northern territory come from mining on Aboriginal land, producing an income of more than $1 Billion per annum. The economics behind mining show the clear positives to this industry. But this point of view is blind the indigenous land rights that form the foundation mining issues. Under Land rights act aboriginals have the right to approve or reject mining and mineral exploitation on their land, however resent news highlights that perhaps companies do not respect these decisions. Dr Marsh speaks of recent studies into a divide and conquers approach in which individual members of the community are alienated and pressurised into agreeing to mining projects. As well as this, Australian Geographic talks about how some mining companies will only converse with those supporting their projects, furthering the marginalisation of some members of society.

Whilst mining, to aboriginals is deemed disrespectful of their culture, in which the environment and culture is one and the same, mining companies also show complete disregard to other aspects of aboriginal culture. In 2011 there was outrage from aboriginals when a sacred stone, that is thought to cause death when looked at, was being sold on eBay by external bodies as memorabilia.

It is clear that a current method of intertwining aboriginals with the rest of Australia’s population is not working. Aboriginals are not getting the respect they deserve. But dealing with this problem is difficult.  It is important to not just ride in on our white horse and save the day for these disempowered Australians. Let’s educate ourselves in their precious knowledge and understanding of the environment, and then perhaps, with the caution and respect that the Australian officials fail to provide, Aboriginal Australians can work with the rest of Australia, in finding their own management methods, like they are so very capable of doing so. We must pull the focus away from trying to fix aboriginals or help them adapt the modern ways, and rather, focus on fixing ourselves.

 

A. Yengoyan, 1978 Economy, Society, and Myth in Aboriginal Australia. Annual Review of Anthropology.  Vol 8.

 

D. Bowman, 2011. Australia’s deeply trouble ecology demands fresh thinking. The Guardian.

 

D. Bowman, 2010. Australia plans referendum on aboriginal recognition. The Guardian.

 

L. Martin. 2011. Is mining trampling on Aboriginal culture. Australian Geographic.

 

Australian Geographic

 http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/mining-companies-disrespecting-aboriginal-culture-expert-says.htm

 

Oxfam, Close the gap campaign.

http://www.oxfam.org.au/explore/indigenous-australia/close-the-gap

 

National Geographic, 2010. The last Speakers.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O89PkSNTtbg

 

Rethink the wilderness

For far too many people the ‘wilderness’ is seen as a fragile, delicate pocket of land, free from the plague of people, noise and pollution. An island of tranquillity amongst the sea of urban-industrial modernity, (Cronon, 1995) and an area we can turn to for refuge from our modern over commoditisation, materialism and industrialisation. This romanticism of wilderness has, of course, called for people, with the best intentions, to savour these segments, as a foundation to saving the planet.
But think critically. Viewing wilderness in this way, it is not shallow and artificial, should we not consider the deeper, truer histories of the land? In the 18th century the words tied with the concept of wilderness were those of ‘untamed’, ‘unkept’, ‘dangerous’, ‘savage’ and ‘inhospitable’. It was not until the nineteenth century that the wilderness became a positive concept, and pivoted in its framework by becoming desirable. By this time tourism had flourished into one of the most prosperous global economies, with no sign of stopping or slowing, and thus the hanker to ‘discover’ more remote, extreme areas was paramount. The use of language by many companies, societies and the like, has allowed for indigenous groups to be marginalised from their own land. As the first world hunts for the untouched, indigenous people are campaigning and highlighting, that in actually fact, this seek for wilderness leads to a dead end, because this is their land, their ‘dangerous’ ‘savage’ wilderness, that under strict management is being maintained, inhabited and sustained.
As a geographer I urge you to consider; is this land truly uninhabited or are we, the first world, making the most important people in this debate, obscured from view, or even, totally invisible. Increasingly there has been more consideration to the idea that some areas perceived as wild, are actually not at all, and rather inhabited by indigenous groups. Not only in regards to their land rights but also in the management methods of their wilderness, which often differ to how outsiders ideas. However the concept of wilderness has allowed for reinforcement of colonial roots, and thus, over centuries of misrepresentation, racism and stereotyping is frequently prominent for these small societies. This coupled with a magnitude environmental campaigns, that seek to treasure the remaining wilderness have lead to indigenous groups being marginalised from society and their land.
So how do we solve this pressing issue? Whilst the UN has resolves to ensure no indigenous people are forcibly removed from their land, any changes have been very slow and small. Under aboriginal Australian understanding, it is believed the environment and culture are one and the same, and thus can not be separated. By adapting this understanding, the first world may begin to be educated in their ignorance of these issues. As it stands environment preservation is prioritised above indigenous rights, but why can a content medium be reached between the two? Understanding and acknowledgement of indigenous groups could not mean defeat, but should rather be a celebration of beautiful land and cultures.
The time is now, to raise awareness of the wilderness, the lack of it and its misconception. Not only geographers but holiday makers and the like, I call, to rethink your current understanding, consider its history, and who you might be uprooting as you touch down in their wilderness.
William Cronon 1995 – http://www.williamcronon.net/writing/Trouble_with_Wilderness_Main.html
Jenny Pickerill – Finding Common Ground?