Parthenon Marbles

Reflections on the imperative of reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

This is an audio-visual work I have produced in my role as International Liaison Officer,  and Vice Chair of the International Organising Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles (IOCARPM).

The work was completed with assistance from colleagues who form part of the global campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. Our motivation was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum, arguably the world’s best museum.

This piece begins with a contemplative mood built by means of static images yet conveying the impression of movement with pan and zoom techniques.

Revealing dynamic relations between the ancient monuments of Attica [1] and their biophysical environment, the work moves on into the Acropolis Museum. Here it exposes the museum’s creative use of this dynamism.

Cutting to the British Museum, the work becomes more disjointed, the music more discordant.  Then images of protest dominate.

The only voiced segment follows.

Marlen Godwin, Secretary of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM), reads a poem written by Mrs Eyvah T. Dafaranos.

Next, Dame Janet Suzman, Chair of BCRPM reads from an interview with the current Lord Elgin.

The work closes with a simple installation created by a Greek Australian.

Lina Palera’s beautiful music, Seikilos Epitaph With the Lyre of Apollo from the Lyre 20 Project [2], lifts this work blending flawlessly with the images. There is some beautiful lyre music throughout.

[1] See: British Museum Diminishes the meaning of the Parthenon Marbles

[2] Attribution Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)



The Last Rotting Props

The title is somewhat of a misnomer since this post represents the research base I wrote for what was to become a short story.

It was also written as an attempt to describe the political conditions operating around a project my company was undertaking for the Australian Indonesia Institute, a book entitled Geografi Australia. It was to be both a geography and history of Australia, written in Indonesian, and meeting the requirements of the Indonesian junior secondary high school curriculum. It too was published.

In the end I didn’t write a short story titled ‘The Last Rotting Props’, instead, I wrote several short stories that were published in my book Seen and unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific.

I first wrote Unspoken Realities, then used the research as part of the background for an additional three stories:

Young Partai Demokrasi Perjuangan (Democratic Party of Struggle) supporters about to join a campaign rally during Jakarta’s 1999 presidential election.

I’m moved to publish it now after the recent return of a Liberal National Party Government in Australia, and also the failure of Prabowo Subianto in the recent Indonesian Presidential race.

In that election, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo attracted 55.5% of votes, and Prabowo only 44.5%. Despite this Prabowo has launched a legal challenge against the result.

Here is my original piece

Some Australian’s imagine that we inhabit a land whose national borders confer such a manifest degree of separateness that with a judicious border protection policy in force we need make scant adaptation to the social and cultural realities of our regional neighbours. They see our regional relationships as primarily strategic. Such an outlook is most often grounded firmly in a Eurocentric sense of nationhood and in a tendency to overstate our significance as a global and regional power.

Although we are the land that’s girt by sea, this state of mind is at variance with biophysical and geopolitical realities. At best this sense of separateness expresses itself in an array of quarantine measures designed to protect our agricultural and pastoral base from harmful foreign organisms, at worst it’s a disposition that’s susceptible to fear, a search for security in rich and powerful ‘European’ friends, nationalism and triumphalism.

Eurocentrism and race

1996 was a time of change. A Liberal National Party coalition Government was returned in Australia and John Howard became Prime Minister. There were obvious reservations. These resided in Howard’s inherent Eurocentrism, his relative disinterest in the Asian region and his view that the previous government neglected the US Alliance. Given the propensity for conservative governments to mismanagement foreign policy in the past, there were profound reasons for concern.

Warning signs were clear. Domestically Howard had long played the race card. It dominated his political ideology. He challenged the very notion of multiculturalism. He was against those supporting economic sanctions against South African apartheid and ‘dog whistled’ up the pressure to reduce Asian immigration. (Colter, Dr. D. & Bolger, D. John Howard and the Race Question. Australian Political Studies Association Conference 6 – 9 July 2008 Hilton Hotel, Brisbane, Australia)

A precarious relationship

The relationship with Indonesia was precarious. Suharto’s New Order Regime was beginning to mire in increasing scandals and corruption. One of the latest was the exclusive licence granted to Tommy Suharto to produce a new car that went by the curious name of the Timor. Indonesians have a great love of acronyms and the standing joke around Jakarta was that Timor stood for Tommy itu memang orang rakus or put simply ‘That Tommy sure is greedy.’

Indonesians with any sort of aspiration for the development of a rational economic system spoke openly about KKN or Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotism as major breaks on development.

Anti-Chinese violence

Beginning in Thailand, the Asian economic crisis of 1997 dislodged the last rotting props supporting the Suharto regime. In the midst of the economic chaos that was quickly manifest, I was conducting a tour for a ‘university of the third age’ group through Java and Bali, while the company was also managing a three-week field placement in Yogyakarta, for MLC Melbourne. All ran as smoothly as it could but by 1998 violent scenes, not witnessed since the anti-Communist purges of 1965, erupted across Indonesia. Irregular units, akin the militia, that were so favoured as a political tool later in East Timor, rampaged through major centres. In their wake followed sustained outbreaks of looting, firebombing, and stoning of Chinese businesses along with the rape and murder of Chinese Indonesians.

Shops looted and goods burned on the streets in Jakarta, 14 May 1998

Large tracts of North and West Jakarta resembled a bombed-out war zone after the worst of this violence. Even sedate Solo failed to remain untouched with a substantial part of its commercial district destroyed.

Back in Sydney,  Geografi Australia complete, but my Indonesia based field study business in tatters, and teaching Geography at SCECGS Redlands, I felt a strong sense of connection with events in Indonesia. This was not merely because of a familiarity with the locations where so much violence was now erupting, but also because there was a large group of Chinese Indonesian students at Redlands that year. As students from wealthy urban middle-class families they were on the technological cutting edge. All had mobile phones, Internet connections and email accounts. Then at night I was often on the phone to Margaret Hulbert, a relative, who was still living in Jakarta, as well as my close friend Henky Kurniawan. By day I’d often compare notes with my Chinese Indonesian students. Events in Indonesia unfolded in real time, for all of us.

Henky, my old travelling companion, was from a Padang Buddhist family that had converted to Roman Catholicism. A Chinese Indonesian, one of just 3% of the Indonesian population, he ran a graphic design and photography business and did a lot of work for the Catholic Church and UNICEF. Henky was also Rukun Tetangga (RT) in his north eastern Jakarta neighbourhood. I rang him almost every day through the worst of the violence.

Each day the story was the same:

Aman, kami semua aman (Safe, we’re all safe.)

Then one night I rang, and the reply was simply:

Hancur! (Destruction!)

I could elicit nothing more.

Later I discovered that a team of thugs, perhaps Prabowo Subianto’s irregular forces, or so we thought, had burned the supermarket complex, at the back of Henky’s house, on the other side of a drainage canal.

Henky spent 24 hours standing guard outside his house with a baseball bat. He’d already warned me that this could happen. Now I encouraged him to migrate to Australia, but he said there was little point as he would have to start again, and English wasn’t his strength.

On another evening I spoke with Margaret, as she sat without electricity in a darkened house illuminated by the red glow of the nearby shopping centre, now in flames.

The Habibie interlude

Under Suharto’s successor and former Vice President, Habbie, there were some notable changes. Free elections were scheduled, and political prisoners were freed, including Xanna Gusmao.

It was difficult to know whether Habbie was trying to put as much distance between himself and the corruption and injustices of the Suharto years, or whether he had always been waiting his turn to make an impact. In this environment, he seemed far from the arrogant technocrat that I’d heard speaking at the Regent Hotel in Sydney some years before.

One major factor that Habbie couldn’t easily address was the dual function – dwifungsi – of the military. It had socio-political role that guaranteed military seats with within legislature. Another area beyond his effective control were the separatist movements in East Timor, Aceh, and Irian Jaya.

The Acehenese struggle was a long one that dated from the time of Dutch colonialism, the East Timorese struggle was a remarkable and enduring resistance to Indonesian annexation, while the OPM continued to call for unification with PNG. Both Falintil in East Timor and the GAM (Garisan Aceh Merdeka – the Free Aceh Movement), were anti-colonial movements, fighting for national liberation and self-determination. The OPM seemed to have less focus but the opposition of the West Papuans to rule from Jakarta and the ill ease of many transmigrants with the human rights situation was obvious to anyone visiting the area.

Howard Government returned

Against this background of dramatic political changes in Indonesia, the Howard government was returned to power again in October 1998. Under Howard’s leadership, the government began to shift its foreign policy mix. Much of this change in settings seemed to be for Australian domestic consumption, but its impacts in the Asia Pacific region were clear enough.

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Azmi Khalid acknowledged the validity of Australia’s peacekeeping mission in East Timor he argued that this role must not apply more widely. He said: ‘

We are actually fed up with their stance – that they are sitting in a white chair and supervising the colored chairs.

The Malaysian Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader described the Howard Doctrine as outmoded asserting that:

Asia does not want, nor has it recognized, the US as the policeman of the world, what’s more, one needing a deputy. Howard has drawn the wrong conclusion from Australia’s peacekeeping role in East Timor, which is a decision of the United Nations Security Council and not the arbitrary decision of the US.

Malaysia’s Sun daily, editorialised on Howard’s role in Asia in these terms:

We think it is folly. Indeed, it is more likely to create fissures in Asean-Australia ties than to ‘cement Australia’s place in the region’ as Howard claims it will.

A book launch

Now the book was ready to launch, but not before a teachers’ development conference program had been developed. These were exciting times. Australia was finally heading for a referendum on the monarchy and our company was finally ready to launch a publication, Geografi Australia, that had begun in 1994, survived three changes of President and an education minister there as well as a change of government in Australia.

If the postcolonial administrations had given Indonesia anything it was a bureaucracy. Departments were said to be wet or dry. This was nothing to do with their financial rectitude, as it could be interpreted from the standpoint of the increasingly deregulated market economies of the West, rather it related to how much they leaked funds. Fortunately, the Indonesian Department of Education and Culture (DEPDIKBUD) was relatively dry but like a lot of education departments, it had a well-developed hierarchy. So, we worked feverishly on the conference content, knowing that in this bureaucratised Indonesian way of doing things it would be necessary to leave lots of time up front for speeches.

The move towards democracy in Indonesia was far from smooth. Political violence and terrorism were increasing these strategies were not new. Bombings had long been a feature of the political landscape; it was the frequency and the intent that was at issue. Some attributed the recurrent bombings to military involvement, an attempt to frighten the Indonesian populace into resisting attempts to curb the military’s power in the face of a clear and imminent threat.

The greater prominence of some Islamic fringe groups such as Laskar Jihad and then Jemaah Islamiyah led others to conclude that it was these groups that were principally responsible for the bombings. Whatever the actual situation, there was confusion and uncertainty. In such a context the Howard Doctrine was at best unhelpful and at worst something that could be used by extremist groups as an example Western pressure that warranted strong measures in response.

Asia, environment, geography

Otters on the Singapore River

My posts are usually more serious than this one, but I’m enchanted by the otters that live along the Singapore River. Of course, they are wild animals despite their successful adaptation to urban life.

These days they’re experts at navigating the maze of drains and conduits developed here to help manage the equatorial downpours. They’re also quite territorial and will drive off other groups if they find their hunting areas infringed

I hope you enjoy this short video. The first part was shot on an iPhone 8 and the second part with a Sony Handycam (HDR-XR260).


It’s important to note that the otters haven’t shown this resilience all by themselves. There has been a concerted effort in Singapore to clean up the river.

When I first visited Singapore in 1972, the river was in a dreadful state, it had deteriorated since this image was taken in 1900.

A childhood remembered

In his post, The cleaning up of Singapore River and Kallang Basin (1977-1987), Singapore blogger Jerome Lim, describes the river of his childhood in these terms:

The Singapore River was a typically and sadly abused river, a dumping ground from the time people settled along its banks. The growth of modern Singapore amplified that pollution to such an extent that the river was pitch black in many parts. My ecology class always hears about this during the aquatic biomes lecture when I talk about nutrition states of water bodies because the memory of the filthy state of the river still haunts me!

Safe to drink

Now through commitment and a concerted clean-up, the water, with a little filtering and treatment, is fit to drink.  I’ve been drinking it for five years now.


For more on Singapore’s otters, check out the Facebook site Otter Watch

Parthenon Marbles

The Colourful Parthenon Frieze

For some 17 years now I’ve been engaged in the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

In that time I’ve often visited the British Museum and the outstanding new Acropolis Museum, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.  On my most recent visit, I encounter an audiovisual display exploring some of the unique features of the Parthenon Frieze.

I wasted no time in capturing a few moments of the display on my iPhone. Apologies for the poor quality images

Aboriginal, Australia, Dryland Irrigation, environment, geography, history, indigenous

In the land where the crow flies backwards

S.S. Nile on the bed of the Darling River south of Bourke, NSW, during a drought. The image was taken by the journalist C. E. W. Bean for the Sydney Morning Herald, circa 1909, (Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons, object no. 00017014).

This isn’t a long post just a footnote about the Darling River, it picks up on my post about the Darling River in March 2018.

I’m prompted to revisit this issue by a well-researched article, Shipwrecked at Brewarrina: Drought reveals historic Wandering Jew paddle steamer, from Jessie Davies.

Jessie’s article is about the Barwon River at Brewarrina and the remains of an important feature of European river history

For urban readers, the Murray Darling Basin Authority says this about the Barwon-Darling River system:

The Barwon–Darling river system is in north-western New South Wales. It takes in the Barwon River, from upstream of Mungindi at the confluence of the Macintyre and Weir rivers, to where the Barwon meets the Culgoa River. At this point the river channel becomes the Darling River and the Barwon–Darling system extends downstream to the Menindee Lakes.

In her article, Davies only makes brief reference to Indigenous occupance along the river system, yet this is an ancient presence. She observes, in reference to the wreck of the Wandering Jew, “Now, its rusted iron body lies for all to see in the river’s muddy waters just above the town’s iconic Aboriginal fish traps.”

Indigenous Occupance

Davies’ passing reference reminds me that the story of Indigenous settlement along the inland rivers is quite a remarkable one.  Paul Dutton, whom I follow on twitter, also drew attention to the antiquity and success of Indigenous settlement along Australia’s inland rivers, in a recent Tweet.

People learned to live with the irregularities of the continent’s climate and didn’t only survive but prospered. The Brewarrina region of NSW is home to Ngemba, Ualarai, Murrawarri and Wailwan people. Today they are custodians of an intricate series of stone fish traps across the Barwon River.

Fish traps at Brewarrina

This complex array of linked weirs and ponds extends for 500 metres along the river. There is flexibility in the design allowing people to adapt the system to varying levels of river flow. People use their extensive knowledge of different fish species and the variations in flow to ensure suitable catches.

This is just one story of sustainable environmental adaptation and management that was such a feature of Indigenous occupance.

Bill Gammage, in his book The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, provides numerous examples of Indigenous settlement along the inland rivers of Australia. I won’t cite many but just draw attention to the book. I consider this work essential reading for every non-Indigenous Australian.

Rules of Indigenous management

Gammage explains that three rules directed all management of Australia before 1788:

  • Ensure that all life flourishes
  • Make plants and animals abundant, convenient and predictable
  • Think universal, act local

The fish traps at Brewarrina are just one example of the principle that applied to the whole continent.

Brewarrina fish traps

The fish traps are known as Baiame’s Ngunnhu [pronounced By-ah-mee’s noon-oo]by the Ngemba people. These are arguably the oldest known human constructions. Apparently constructed on a large riffle, they were first described by a European in 1848 by William Colburn Mayne, the Commissioner of Crown Lands. Gammage references Mayne’s description:

In a broad but shallow part of . . . where there are numerous rocks, the Aborigines have formed several enclosures or Pens, if I may use the word, into which the fish are carried, or as it were decoyed by the current, are there retained. To form these must have been a work of no trifling labour, and no slight degree of ingenuity and skill must have been exercised in their construction, as I was informed by men who have passed several years in the vicinity, that not even the heaviest floods displace the stones forming these enclosures. The Aborigines catch immense quantities of fish in these and are also enabled to destroy great numbers of fishing Birds of various kinds that are attracted to them by their prey thus imprisoned; and from these two sources the Tribes in that locality derive a considerable portion of their subsistence.

Gammage also reports from another source which explains that in addition to the major stone traps, “Several hundred successively smaller traps caught dray loads of fish.”

Chris Graham the publisher and editor of New Matilda, and former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine, wrote further in this for his February 2019 article, OUTBACK TOUR: Australia Has One Of The Oldest Human-Made Structures On Earth. Meh?

He observes that:

Despite Aboriginal people being banished from Brewarrina, and shuffled multiple times between missions in western and far western NSW, the custodians of Baiame’s Ngunnhu stubbornly continued to tend to their fish traps, and preserve them for future generations.

This continued into the 1970s, when the NSW Government decided to dam the Barwon with a weir, to provide water for irrigation for the few dozen farmers in the region. They built it right at the head of the fish traps, creating a pool upstream that sometimes stretches, in wetter times, for over 100 kilometres.

Now a National Heritage Place.

The Baiame’s Ngunnhu are now registered as a National Heritage Place. In the citation, the Australian Government acknowledges that:

The Ngemba people of Brewarrina used their advanced knowledge of river hydrology and fish ecology to trap and catch large numbers of freshwater fish. The unusual and innovative fish traps, known as Ngunnhu, are still visible in the Darling River, and have strong social, cultural and spiritual association for Aboriginal people with connections to the area.

The National Heritage listing goes on to explain that, the Ngemba people are custodians of the fishery, but maintenance and use of the traps were shared nations in the area, including the Morowari, Paarkinji, Weilwan, Barabinja, Ualarai, and Kamilaroi.

Baiame allocated particular traps to each family group and made them responsible for their use and maintenance. Neighbouring tribes were invited to the fish traps to join corroborees, initiation ceremonies, and meetings for trade and barter.

Lessons for contemporary Australia

Intensive irrigation farming, particularly cotton, is wildly out of accord with the environmental limits and with the practices adopted by Indigenous Australians. Their approaches were not merely sustainable, but they delivered certainty and abundance. We have a lot of learning to do.

I’m reminded of the line in the song, ‘The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards’. Though the version I first heard was recorded by the late Gary Shearston, it was written by Dougie. I’m pleased I’ve found the original from Dougie Young.

The White Man took this country from me, he’s been fighting for it ever since.

Douglas Gary Young (1933-1991), was Aboriginal songwriter and singer, was born on 30 August 1933 at East Mitchell, Queensland, he was the sixth child of Queensland-born parents Frank Young, white labourer, and his wife Olive Kathleen, née McCarthy, a Gurnu woman. Read more about Dougie here in Indigenous Australia

Australia, Dryland Irrigation, environment, geography, National Party, Politics

Cubbie: An Uncle’s Tale

This is a story from Ronni Salt, @MsVeruca on Twitter. I’ve restructured it a little and added some supporting links, articles and active graphics.

“Back home at the farm,” she said, “uncle called and regaled us with a yarn about Cubbie Station, the largest private water holder in the southern hemisphere.” The gist of his story is this.

Cubbie is a series of holdings located near Dirranbandi and St George in South West Queensland. It’s total area is 930 sq kilometres containing 22 sq. kilometres of irrigated fields. These days it’s owned by a Chinese and Japanese consortium. It can suck up to 500,000 megalitres of water from . . .the Darling Riverine plains, starving the rivers, towns & floodplains downstream of water. (A megalitre is 1 million litres of water) To emphasise, Cubbie Station’s water allocation can leech the equivalent of an entire Sydney Harbour out of Australia’s waterways yearly.

Since uncle sat on several federal environmental committees back in the 90s, and 2000s, he was familiar with David Kemp,  Minister for Environment and Heritage from November 2001 to July 2004 and also Vice-President of the Executive Council from October 1998 to July 2004.

Uncle also met John Howard in those days, along with a new senator from Queensland, a man that always had ‘an aggressive interest in Cubbie Station.”

Buying Back Cubbie

In 2002-05 Cubbie Station wasn’t doing too well & was quietly on the market. The asking price was about $300 million & uncle says his fed govt committee contacted David Kemp & the Howard govt in 2004 urging them to purchase the property.

This committee was made up of scientists, academics, farmers & Indigenous reps & they all warned the federal govt that Cubbie Station’s massive water holdings were a disaster waiting to happen. The fed govt had the opportunity to put all those millions of litres of water back.

This move to buy back Cubbie and its water rights drew widespread support.

In 2006, WESTERN NSW mayors and irrigators are urging the Government to buy Australia’s biggest irrigated cotton farm, Cubbie Station, as the most effective means of returning water to the stressed Murray-Darling Basin.

The Federal government refused saying “the compulsory purchase of irrigation entitlements is not on its agenda.” 

Uncle continued, “It was environmental vandalism of a kind I’ve never seen before & the Queenslanders were the biggest vandals.”

So, the Howard Govt sought advice from the Nationals. The Nationals sought advice in particular from a young gun candidate who lived in the area that. They had up for the Senate in the 2004 election. The new guy had a large accounting practice in the Cubbie Station area & his clients also included many of the irrigators sucking the #MurrayDarling system dry.

Journalist Phil Dickie flags the problem as early as 2001.

What was now consolidating as a major problem had already been flagged by journalist Phil Dickie, back in May 2001. Phil’s investigative journalism was highly regarded and had already been instrumental in bringing on the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland.

In this instance Phil wrote;

Rogue elements of Queensland’s farming and fishing communities seem to have a fairly simple approach to natural resource management – use, grab or destroy as much of the resource as possible while tying the government up with an endless stream of demands for more and better consultation.

Down on the lower Balonne however, where Queensland’s one-third share of the Murray Darling Basin slips into New South Wales, the strategy has come suddenly unstuck.

The Queensland government, staggered at the scale of a two year dam building orgy that threatens to completely derail attempts to cap water usage on the river, last month slapped a ban on the bulldozers knocking up dam walls all along the river.

Years of lax interpretations of tax laws has meant that in rural Queensland an outdoor dunny can need more planning permission than a 50,000 mL dam with walls no more than 4.99 metres high.

Around St George and Dirranbandi, cotton growers and water hoarders now have about 40,000 hectares of dams at best four metres deep in an area where the annual evaporation rate is about two metres a year.

More than half of this storage has been shoved up in the last two years in such a way that extensive leakage of the water resource is going to be as much a factor as massive evaporation.

Around a third of all the storage is on just one property, Cubbie station, with enough capacity to more than swallow up Sydney Harbour. Cubbie holds licences which mean that in a good year, even more water than this can be taken from the river, for the total payment to the State of just $3700 a year.

“Effectively, their water is free,” said Queensland Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Mr Rod Welford.

For St George Irrigation Area cotton grower Ray Kidd the water is anything but free. He pays about $30,000 a year for his allocation of around 1000 mL from the government’s Beardmore Dam, and pays even when the government can’t supply the water.

Of course such commentary failed to stop the events uncle revealed in his story

The Sinkhole Exposed

Continuing he explained that Cubbie Group Ltd donated thousands & thousands of dollars to the young gun’s senate election campaign. According to uncle, the young gun was good friends with many in The Sinkhole – the nickname given to the powerful irrigators and National Party supporters of that area who take all the water meant for the rivers, floodplains and towns along the darling.

Further explaining the work of The Sinkhole on  29 August 2005 The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece under the heading, A National Party that is anything but. It’s lead paragraph confirms uncles view. It reads:

At the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club last Tuesday, 45 farmers confronted the Sinkhole. It is an uneven struggle. The Sinkhole is huge, wealthy and politically connected. It is a goldmine for the few and a disaster for the many. It also serves as the embodiment of the National Party’s drift towards becoming a collection of featherweights, opportunists and “states-rights” fundamentalists who call themselves “Nationals” yet are anything but.

National disgrace perhaps. This is a party that won 5.8 per cent of the national vote at last year’s federal election and is now in the process of blackmailing the 94.2 per cent who didn’t for vote it.

The Sinkhole, for example, breaks every rule of communal morality. It is better known as Cubbie Station, and it is an act of economic war by one state, Queensland, against another state, NSW. Cubbie is a source of rage for the former NSW premier, Bob Carr. Privately, he urged his fellow Labor Premier, Peter Beattie, to buy the station and take it out of production for the national good. Beattie was sympathetic, but Queensland is Queensland, the bulldozer is still king, and the Queensland Nats will die in a ditch to protect Cubbie Station.

Consequences of large scale Cotton Farming

These Aussie Fishermen Cradling Dead Fish 

One of the young gun’s prominent & vocal supporters in his race for the senate was a man named John Grabbe, who was also coincidentally the Managing Director of – Cubbie Station.

And the young gun senator from Queensland’s name? Barnaby Joyce.

Barnaby Joyce and the Shepparton Pub Talk

Still a militant advocate for the irrigators Barnaby Joyce has, according to journalist Phillip Coorey, confirmed that under Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership he effectively made Turnbull:

take water away from the environment portfolio and give it to him so he could protect upstream interests.

 Phillip Coorey’s assertion in an article from 27 July, 2017, is based on the recording of a speech made by Joyce in which he rubbished the ABC Four Corners report on the previous Thursday night while talking to irrigators in a Shepparton pub.

While the recording is available in the original article it is worth drawing out two paragraphs by way of conclusion:

He said:

We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show basically sending you out the back door, and that was a hard ask,” he said in the recording.

A couple of nights ago on Four Corners, you know what that’s all about? It’s about them trying to take more water off you, trying to create a calamity. A calamity for which the solution is to take more water off you, shut more of your towns down.

Asia, economics, environment, geography, Health, indigenous, Indonesia, Oil Palm Plantations, peatlands

Jambi Province Sumatra where 90% of fires are deliberately lite

Peatland fire near Rimau Baku Tuo village, Sadu local government area, Tanjung Jabung Timur Regency, Jambi Province, Indonesia. From: Prayoto via WhatsApp

Yesterday, I woke up and stepped out of my 19th-floor apartment, on the way to church. Passing the light well, its orientation one that scoops in sea breezes, the first thing I smelled was that familiar odour of distant fires. I realise now that it was probably blowing in from Sumatra’s Jambi Province, Desa Rimau Baku Tuo, Kecamatan Sadu, Kabupaten Tanjung Jabung Timur, to be precise. Checking the wind direction this seemed most likely.

Desa Rimau Baku Tuo. This area borders the Berbak National Park. Haphazard, clearing and the use of fire endanger national park forest margins.

Why burning now

It’s the dry season in Jambi so it’s the ideal time to burn off areas of peatland forest. Fire is used to clear land in preparation for development of palm oil or wood pulp plantations.  Many corporations in the palm oil and wood pulp industries regard the forest land as unproductive and ripe for ‘development’.

Peatland clearing moratorium

In December 2016, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo introduced a blanket ban prohibiting the draining and clearing peatland. The ban also applied to concessions already licensed to plantation companies.

The initiative was widely hailed as a step forward and a practical strategy for dealing with the disastrous fires plaguing Jambi and neighbouring provinces and the massive forest loss.

The fallacy of development

This so-called development imposes high costs. Present practices lead to:

  • destruction of forest ecosystems;
  • deaths of endangered animals;
  • dispossession of Indigenous peoples like the Orang Rimba;
  • the release vast amounts of carbon from carbon-rich peatland soils;
  • pollution of drainage systems with pesticides; and,
  • peatland shrinkage on cleared land facilitating potential ingress of seawater in coastal and estuarine settings.

In 2015 such was the scale of the problem that the fires caused massive air pollution, transboundary smoke haze, disruptions to air traffic, numerous respiratory and pulmonary health issues and made a major contribution to global warming.

Any attempt to calculate the externalities involved with this so-called development is difficult, but the scale of the ecological, human and planetary costs is significant.

While a country like Indonesia benefits from the export of palm oil, voices within are also expressing concern about the way the externalities might be approached.

There is a surprising lack of freely available research findings on the questions of externalities in the palm oil industry.  ‘Palm oil the hidden costs‘ by Rachel Goehring University of Nebraska – Lincoln, ( makes an effort to explore some of the externalities.  Clearly, more work is required.

Tragically, around 90% of the fires in Jambi are still deliberately lite and the burning of forest land is often done at night to avoid surveillance. Once started they spread quickly.

A footnote from Prayoto Tonoto

The function of peat land as the global climate regulator has been threatened by human activities through deforestation and plantation, including the peatlands in Jambi. Berbak National Park is covered by 110,000 hectares of peatlands. Most of the land changes is detected in August-October represent the temporal complexity affected by fires. Under the regulation, the farmer is allowed to use fire for land preparation under 2 hectares. However, fire utilization is prohibited for land preparation in concessionaries. The Result showed fire tend to occur in peatland every year. Land covers before fire occurrence mostly were bush and disturbed secondary forest. On average, 21% was converted into forest plantation and 27% was converted into palm oil plantation, the rest areas were community land.

Prayoto’s complete work is available at