A year and a half ago, driving through the beautiful bushy heart of our family property near Captains Flat, I discovered a gaping wound in the middle of a magnificent old growth forest. It had been logged.
I later discovered that it was an act of my grandparents, the chief decision-makers of the farm. I pleaded for reasons. After a year of silence I received the short answer that it was done to keep the farm in family hands in a time of severe drought.
Thanks to Hive
I then thought back through my short years to the changes that had occurred on our property: 400 head of sheep had been lost; most of the cattle and horses wasted away or gone uncontrollably wild; all the cattle dogs dead; the chook shed empty; barely a fish in the stream; ever more thistles and serrated tussock in the paddocks; and escalating stream erosion problems.
So like much of rural Australia, matters had clearly been getting worse on our farm. Maybe they did have reason to go the chop.
But unlike many other Australian farms ours is not worked full-time and all of us have external incomes and live in nearby Canberra. What’s more, there is still a considerable herd of cattle on the property, enough I’d imagine to equate to the cash from the logging if sold off.
I can therefore think of only one solid reason why they made the choice that they did: values.
To them, selling off the last herd of cattle would be like selling off their identity, their history, our history. To them, the drought will break one day sooner or later, ‘good times’ will return and we go about our old merry farming ways. They will not let go of the values that tell them we should farm cows and sheep and that anything less is un-Australian and shameful.
The truth is that our climate is changing: the drought will not break and the farm will never return to its former glory. Our maladapted European farming methods have failed and we have been cashing in our ecosystem services faster than they can be replaced. Things have changed forever.
Our old values are literally breaking our country – a microcosm of what is happening to Australia. We choose to continue pillaging the land in the name of the Australian rural way, leaving a dirty heap of problems for future generations.
It is time our family along with Australia jettisoned these destructive values and embraced new, ecologically sensitive ones. Our fragile land can simply not take it anymore.
This doesn’t mean we have to forget, regret or scorn our past. We will always and should always treasure what was and the way things used to be.
It does mean that we should stop grazing cattle in our fragile alpine highlands, that we should not heavily subsidise clearly unsustainable farms, that we should not grow the ultra water-intensive crops of rice and cotton in a semi-arid environment, that we should not still be chopping down native forests, and that we city slickers should not consume so bloody much, leading lifestyles hopelessly blind to the problems of the land that support us. These are the un-clever and short-sighted actions that have put us in this predicament in the first place.
But in jettisoning values we have the opportunity to take on new, exciting ones.
Values that allow us to direct large sums of money and support to help encourage sustainable farming practices, farm restoration, and programs to help farmers in tough situations develop alternate agricultural practices or bail them out altogether (if they so wish) rather than throwing money at them in the form of welfare year after year.
Values that put well-being, a healthy household and a healthy environment ahead of consumption and short-term economic growth.
Values that acknowledge our stewardship of Australian country, are open to suggestion and change and display to the world that we are a clever, sustainable society.
I, along with many other young Australians, have already chosen to take on such values. I challenge my grandparents along with all Australians, particularly our leaders, to do the same. Our future depends on it.
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