Saturday, 2 September 2017

Close to the wild

So here’s a full page advertisement in the Fairfax ‘Good Weekend’ magazine, offering a journey with the Sami people of Lapland during their spring reindeer migration. A gorgeous photo shot from above, by a drone presumably, of a reindeer herd peeling around a human.

The relationship is symbiotic: the reindeer have come to depend on human assistance to survive through the winter, eating the lichens their humans uncover in the snows. Fourteen days in Lapland would be wondrous, but the realities beneath the gloss of tourism make me mad.

White people have only just finished taking Sami children from their families to rear them in 'white' families: now we’re good friends, soaking up a life lived close to the wild. A little bit of danger to ease our urban ennui.
In the fine print, I see that those of us who can afford it will be 'skiing between islands on frozen seas', and sleeping in ‘luxury domes specially shipped from Switzerland’. We'll be flying in from around the globe for this indulgence, the whole exercise accelerating the melting of the Arctic ice on which this way of life depends. Get it before it melts, and let's hope the Sami make a buck out of it too.

Can’t we do better than this? Not on the other side of the globe, but right here, in our own country? I’m working on the Country Plan for the Wotjabaluk Peoples, Wimmera mob. Yesterday, I located a photo for one of their special places, a place called Goyura, near Hopetoun in the north east Wimmera. The Barengi Gadjin Land Council holds title to a 2.02 hectare freehold property, and manage it on behalf of the Wotjobaluk Peoples, whose connection with this place goes back a very long time. There are woodlands with the grassy, saltbush understories that once graced this landscape, and remnant River Red Gums across half the property. Traditional food plants are plentiful and there’s evidence of gatherings and food collection near this property.  

Now here’s a place to get closer to the wild, camping out with the people from this Country, if they wanted that. Drive 3 hours from Riddells, set the stew cooking in the camp oven, sit around the fire. Talk. We might hear stories of this place, stories of dispossession and persistence, of families torn apart and knitting themselves together again. If we paid for the company of an ethno-botanist or an archaeologist, as these high-intensity tours do, perhaps we could contribute to piecing together a shared appreciation of Country. Yarning around a fire would go a some way to healing our relationship with Country.

We could do this, if we had the imagination. It would do as much to sharpen our care for this land, I mused to myself this week, as measuring its destruction. I had an email about a new analysis by Robert Costanza, an ecological economist at ANU. Costanza was one of the guiding hands behind the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2001 to 2005, which brought together the work of more than 1,300 experts to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being. A decade on, his latest study lets us choose our future from four different scenarios: depending on the scenario, the global value of ecosystem services will decline by USD $51 trillion/yr or increase by $30 trillion/yr. That’s handy to know, but only if it fuels our advocacy and a bit of local action.

Talking of local action, Alice Aird and Helen Scott from Newham and District Landcare came to our AGM and briefed us on what they've have been doing to protect roadside vegetation, that nondescript bush flicking past your car window.... until you stop the car, let your senses settle, and get down close to these remnant grasslands, tiny wildernesses Alice called them, a tightly knit association of grasses, lilies, mosses, ants, native bees, worked out over millennia. Right here, right now.

Feel the wonder and fragility of it, and send our prayers to the Sami.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare