Asia, Australia, environment, geography, history, Indonesia, Personal comment

About the book ‘Seen and unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific’

cover

Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific’, is 29 short stories in the genre of creative non-fiction. Tracing Australian connections with Asia and the Pacific through three generations, it is published in 2015 by Glass House Books an imprint of Interactive Publications (IP) ISBN: 9781925231182. Also, in Kindle and as an Audio Book. (Pecha Kucha about the book)

Influencing this collection is an acceptance that interactions with people from our own culture are generally tangible and familiar. By contrast, when beyond our immediate culture meaning and understanding must often be negotiated in intangible, non-rational and unseen ways. Foucault’s notion of the third space has influenced this work. Another influence is the Balinese belief that reality is an interaction of Sekala (The Seen) and Niskala (The Unseen).

Precisely what comprises the unseen realm varies throughout the region. What might be understood as mere micro ecology, in the ‘developed world’, can have spiritual explanations in some Asian and Pacific cultures. In rational secular society people commonly eschew magic as mythology or superstition, yet in parts of Asia and the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.

The basic and enduring interplay of the seen and the unseen worlds is of great significance to those of us from Australia, the land that’s girt by sea. While we might choose not to see, to look inwards and to rejoice in the notion that our land abounds in nature’s gifts, regional and planetary systems are unfettered by such introspective cultural constructions.

A short biography 

‘Born in 1947 Russell Darnley had grandparents who were children when Australia achieved its independence, lived through World War I, and struggled as parents through the Great Depression of the 1930s.

His parents found their first paid employment as World War II broke out. Growing up in Sydney by the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and with a seafaring father, gave him an interest in what lay beyond. His childhood saw the birth of multicultural Australia, which he embraced, and ended with Conscription and the Vietnam War, both of which he resisted. As a young adult he travelled the world and discovered that his interests lay in South East Asia. Working respectively as teacher, administrator, researcher, director of an Indonesia based field study centre, consultant to the Australia Indonesia Institute, educational writer and digital education pioneer, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his voluntary work after the 2002 Bali Bombings.

Russell’s outlook is eclectic and interdisciplinary, passionately scientific yet profoundly spiritual.’

He has lived in Singapore since January 2014.

What the reviewers say

Associate Professor David Reeve, Visiting Fellow UNSW, School of Humanities and Languages

In launching the book, David had this to say: “This is partly creative fiction though it’s based on his own life and I think of it of keeping to a tradition of writing on Asia. I remember the excitement back in 1978 when Chris Koch published The Year of Living Dangerously then in 1980 Blanche D’Alpuget published Monkeys in the Dark and in 1981 Turtle Beach. Robert Drew in 1981 published A Cry in the Jungle Bar.

When I look at the similarity of those four novels in each of those Australians go forward full of high ideals and anticipation but in fact come home defeated, physically wounded or psychologically wounded or in the case of the hero of A Cry in the Jungle Bar actually dead.

So, I think this is a new and more mature and more realistic mood in Russell Darnley’s book. The Australian doesn’t go out with high hopes to Asia, gets defeated and returns partially destroyed, certainly damaged. In him it’s a much more complex engagement, it has of course it fears, it’s dangers, its sicknesses but it’s much more mature in its approach to the complexities of these enmeshments.”

T. D. Luong, author of The Refugee Wolf

Sometimes distance can help us recast our perceptions of the world. They can be based on unspoken and wrong assumptions about culture and identity. The Australian author, currently based in Singapore, but who is fluent in Indonesian because of having provided extensive cultural tours in his former career, is well positioned to recast such perceptions. He forces us to ask: is Australia’s relationship with Asia working well enough to bridge the cultural divide?

The opening and closing chapters are deftly written book-ends. They are set at Coogee beach and it is the author’s emotional connection to this place and relationship with his grandfather that helps us look outwards to inviting places like Bali, then inwards to ruminate upon the darkness and trauma that fell upon us after the 2002 bombings.

Darnley’s exceptional debut work reframes Australia’s relationship with Asia and Melanesia in a myriad of ways.

There are entertaining stories over 50 years, which traverse Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, PNG, just to name the main places. There’s a story set in Bali about adultery and told through the prism of magic; another one reflects upon Baby Boomers and their perception of the Japanese after WW2, and there’s a hilarious one about an activist uni student who dodges the Vietnam War draft.

The book also reframes Australia’s identity. Does Australia lean more towards being progressive or conservative or vacillate between both, and how might this impact on our relationship with Asia?

Through many personal journeys, observations and interesting characters, he illuminates and expands upon the notion, which is at the heart of the book. What we sometimes see in an empirical way is not necessarily what lies underneath. There are intangible structures such us cultural practice, memory, spirituality and power relationships which intersect, weave and give rise to more nuanced complexity than what we can fully rationalise or even articulate at a given point in time.

Seen and Unseen is an insightful, intelligent and very significant book which helps us learn more about the Asian region and ourselves as Australians.

With his hard-won insights and descriptive powers of observation, Russell Darnley is a cultural interpreter of the first rank.

Kim Patra, Author, In the Arms of Angels

It’s a very candid and wonderfully written account of the Bali Bombings. Pretty hard to read actually, emotionally, I guess the ghosts never really go away, do they?

Bill Dalton in Toko Buku, Bali Advertiser, (for Ubud Readers’ & Writers’ Festival) October 2016.

This entertaining and enlightening book of short stories spanning 100 years is a work of naked and unflinching honesty. The subject matter perfectly compliments the spirit of this year’s UWRF whose dictum is Tat Tvam Asi, translated as ‘I am you, you are me.” Darnley’s experiences help us understand the lives of others and recognize our common humanity. As the writer himself puts it, “Seeking meaning across cultures we each absorb a little of the other and enter a new cultural space where I am you and you are me.”

Emeritus Professor Stuart Campbell author of Cairo Mon Amour

‘Seen and unseen’: testimony of a man who kept faith with his vision for Australia in the world.

I bought Russell Darnley’s Seen and Unseen some months ago and tucked it into a corner of my Kindle, dipping into some of the ‘stories’ in the gaps between my backlog of novels-to-read.

With some holiday time on my hands, I decided to start at the beginning – and I couldn’t stop reading. I now saw that the ‘stories’ formed a coherent narrative woven from threads of spirituality, self-discovery, and an expression of one man’s understanding of Australia in the world.

The motif of the seen and the unseen, drawn from the Balinese notion of sekala and niskala, signifying the ubiquity of the spiritual world, is the strongest of these threads: How else to interpret the first and last sections of the book, when Darnley converses with his dead grandfather on the cliffs at Coogee.

But Seen and Unseen isn’t an extended navel gaze. There’s wonderfully powerful and evocative material about intellectual life in seventies Sydney, about student parties in inner city flats, about the study of Bahasa Indonesia in the brief period when the Australian Government was prepared to fund it generously.

In reading Darnley’s book, I realised that he and I had moved in intersecting circles in the seventies and eighties but had (perhaps) never met. As a university languages school head, I rode the crest of the Indonesian studies movement for a few years, but Darnley’s book brought back uncomfortable memories of my having to close an Indonesian program as funding tightened and the popularity of the language waned in the face of Japanese and Chinese. I was also reminded of the hopes for deep engagement with Indonesia during Gareth Evans’ tenure as Foreign Minister, and the dashing of those aspirations under his successor.

For a newish Australian (I arrived in 1977), Darnley’s account of a childhood in Coogee was fascinating; I’ve lived mostly on the north side of the Harbour Bridge, and Coogee is foreign territory for me. Indeed, the biographical thread running through Seen and Unseen is subtly and tenderly handled. While the ‘stories’ follow chronologically, there are gaps, but the reader is given to understand that each story tackles a new stage in the author’s progress through his professional, personal and spiritual life. The middle section of the book is set mostly in south-east Asia, from which I drew two main impressions: One was Darnley’s wonderful work in establishing and running an overseas study centre for Australian students; the other was his extensive knowledge of Indonesia, and especially Bali, based on his years of residence in the region.

But the core of the book – in my view at least – is the section dealing with the author’s voluntary work in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombings (for which he was awarded the OAM). The description of those days is the most harrowing and powerful writing I have encountered in a long time. I had the strong impression that Russell Darnley’s life up to that moment in 2002 was a preparation for the awful work that he volunteered to do, including searching body bags for identification evidence. Russell Darnley surely was the right man in the right place.

Ian Burnet author of ‘Where Australia Collides with Asia

Russell Darnley seeks to cover an extensive time span in his book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific.

I have read it as a memoir written as 29 stories, beginning when he was a boy growing up in Coogee in Sydney, Australia. Here, his stories begin with him exploring the headlands and rock pools around this beachside suburb with his grandfather.  They delve into the early years of the 20th century and then on to descriptions of his childhood, family and friends.

He tells stories of his student days at Sydney University and of his first travels through South East Asia in the 1970’s. I can identify with this period as we would have travelled around the same time to Singapore, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Years later in 1984, Russell is involved in setting up Asian Field Study Centres for Australian students in Bali. It is here that he first becomes aware of the interplay of the ‘Seen and the Unseen’ and begins to realise that it has always formed part of his life. Here, in Bali, he experiences just how the Balinese are immersed in both a physical and a spiritual world, and some practice ‘black magic’ as well.

In Indonesia in 1999 to deliver workshops for [Indonesian] teachers whose students are studying Australia meant he happened to be in Surabaya and Jakarta during the tremendous outburst of joy and energy of the nation’s youth, after 35 years of suppression under Suharto’s military dictatorship. He is present in the middle of the excited masses and vividly describes the political campaigning for the first democratic elections after this long period.

Russell’s description of his response to the 2002 Bali bombing in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy and his volunteer work in aiding the victims and their families at the Sanglah Hospital, must be highlight of his book (if that is the right word). Personally, I had to pause several times to recover my emotions while reading his descriptions of these traumatic events.

Seen and Unseen concludes where it starts with the now elder Russell in conversation with his long-departed grandfather around the headland of Coogee, while trying to understand his life experiences and the significance of the seen and unseen. The strength of Russell Darnley’s writing is his ability to position himself as an observant outsider. Central to his work is the idea that interactions with people from cultures other than our own, in particular those of Asia, allow us to challenge many of our own assumptions. His engaging memoir will be a ‘must read’ by all those who have an interest in Asia and wish to follow his footsteps.

Asia, Bali, environment, geography, Indonesia

Geomorphic reflections

One of the main reasons I’ve moved house was the absolute racket emanating from the building site next to my old place.

At first the disruption was modest preparation, over a month or so. It involved clearing a former parking lot, felling trees, building site huts, planning and constructing site drainage, installing generators, lighting and ground level sound barriers, Once complete cranes and boring equipment were moved on site and the slow task of sinking footing shafts begun.

The building site at Jiak Kim Road
The building site on a bend (once a slip-off slope) in the Singapore River, the heritage godown can be seen in the top left

The site was on what would have once been on a slip-off slope, a bend in the river. Although levelled and the river banks secured with stone walls, beneath the surface depositional layers remained much as they once were.

Close to the river the bores yielded alluvial deposits and then clay. On higher land and places further from the river it was thinner alluvial material, shale like dry clay and eventually a soft light gray rock. This was a moment of surprise an encounter with the familiar and the primal. 

Tuff, or paras as it’s called in Indonesian, was a stone I’d often seen hewn from Balinese river valleys. There the grey rock is used in carving a pantheon of religious objects, decorative landscaping features and tourist souvenirs. To a geologically trained eye it is instantly recognisable as tuff, a volcanic sandstone. In Bali swift rivers have carved a radial system of ridges and valleys, deep into its layers. Yet now its sighting yielded memories beyond such geomorphic reflections.

CIDH piles

Preparing the CIDH piles for a 36-story twin tower building required a lot of boring. Pile drillers equipped with soil augers were used first, as they bored deeper more robust rock augers were needed. As each load of debris was brought to the surface and the augur lifted from the hole its contents had to be spun off. This wasn’t a smooth rotation but a stop start action. At each jarring stop in the rotation the equipment generated a load percussive noise. With as many as three rigs going at once days were punctuated with this jarring cacophony. Retreating to the local mall was an easy option. 

Tuff is a volcanic sandstone, consolidated ash fall. A soft rock that can sometimes be scored with a fingernail. There it was below, and Krakatau immediately came to mind.

Krakatau

471px-Krakatoa_eruption_lithograph
An 1888 lithograph of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. Image published as Plate 1 in The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena. Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society (London, Trubner & Co., 1888). Creative Commons lic.

Krakatau’s cataclysmic eruption, in August 1883 blew the cinder cone off its small island in the Sunda Straits. In rushing sea water induced a massive explosion of rocks and superheated steam.  So loud was the explosion that stockmen driving cattle across Western Australia’s Hammersley Range thought it was artillery.

Reverberating from Bangkok to Manila, and from Saigon to Perth, tsunamis were recorded as far away as the West coast of the USA. In the now more connected world of the telegraph and undersea communications cables, reports of the eruption spread rapidly. Dutch authorities estimated the death toll 36,417 but with all such events, there can be no certain figure. Some suggest, more realistically, as many as 120,000 deaths.

Volcanic eruptions in historic times are well documented. Mt St Helens’ 1980 eruption in the Pacific Northwest is considered the most disastrous in US history. Extensively documented, it was a small geological event compared with Krakatua, yielding a mere 1.5 cubic km of tephra.  In comparison Krakatua ejected 18 cubic km. Such catastrophic events have an impacts far beyond their immediate regions. Krakatau produced tsunamis that swept through the Sunda Straits.  Yet none of these compared with the magnitude of the Tambora eruption.

Tambora

When Tambora erupted in 1815-16 it ejected 150 cubic km of tephra. At first its impact on a wider region was unnoticed but by the northern summer of 1816 Spanish records reveal a summer that never was. In Madrid, temperatures fell below 15ºC from July through to August. Rivers froze and peaks usually snow free bore white mantles. Tambora’s eruption was the largest in recorded history.

Mounds of tuff grew

Mounds of tuff grew beside the boring machines along with the realisation that these events were not likely responsible. One possibility remained shrouded in the uncertainties of prehistory.

tuff_rubble.jpg
Drilling rig beside a pile of what appears to be tuff, spun off the augur

Mount Toba

About 600 kilometres away on the island of Sumatra Mt Toba erupted in these prehistoric times. Somewhere about 75,000 ago it produced 1000 cubic km of tephra in the first nine days of its eruption, and over the course of this eruptive phase ejecting a total of from 2500-3000 km3.

Mapping the three volcanoes

Toba’s eruption

Toba’s eruption had planetary consequences triggering a volcanic winter, the Pleistocene Ice Age, and burying vast areas, along with their emerging megalithic cultures, under hundreds of metres of tephra.  Sea levels fell as much as 150 metres and island hopping through the Indonesian archipelagos enabled human passage first east, and then south to Australia.

Map of Sunda and Sahul showing lower Pleistocene sea levels with Wallace, Lydekker Line and Weber Lines. Map by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa). Republished under CC BY-SA 3.0

After the fall in sea level it was likely possible to walk from what is now Merauke to Darwin in about three weeks.  The biophysical continuity is still is obvious, the ancient land connection documented in the cave art of Kakadu.

Toba today

Now the Toba caldera contains a huge lake.  Visiting it some 20 years ago I captured these images.

This view is from the north of the lake looking over the village of Haranggoal, 500 metres below.
The nearby Sipisopiso waterfall tumbles over 300 metres high cliffs comprising tuff from the ancient eruption.

My friend Wayan Cemul

This post is born of research for a short story I’ve just written about my friend I Wayan Cemul.

Cemul with some of his work. Photo by Chris Hazzard. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

No longer with us, he was one of the best teachers and communicators I have ever met. Shortly I’ll post the audio version of the story, on this blog.

The following YouTube video was made while Cemul was still alive. I thank Hans and Fifi for this.

 

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.

Footnote

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

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

jambi_29_07.jpg
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, (rachelksutton@gmail.com) 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
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322750553_JAMBI_PERIZINAN_HOTSOT_2015

 

Asia, environment, geography, indigenous, Indonesia, Oil Palm Plantations, peatlands, Riau

Unregistered Plantation in Riau Encroaching on Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve

Figure 1: Clearing on the margins of an unregistered plantation in the Siak Kecil area of Riau Province

When I first saw this image it saddened me. I had already travelled through the region, not precisely this spot at 0° 59′ 54.9996′ N, 101° 53′ 3.0012′ E, but further to the north and west.  Travelling by helicopter afforded an excellent view of the numerous forms of natural habitat destruction that is such a feature of Riau Province.

Years earlier, Indonesian friends had insisted that Riau Province was the most corrupt province in the country. Now, this was a big claim and I took it on board as somewhat of an exaggeration but after visiting the place, I’m not so sure. Now back to the main point of this post.

Locating the image on Google Maps.

As a first step in delving deeper into this image I decided to locate it on Google Maps which meant converting the coordinates to the decimal scale 0.998611 N, 101.884167 E. This allowed me to plot the image’s location. There were several images taken from a location further south.

I’ve shaded the camera icons red so that they stand out on the map.

While attempting to locate the site on a map of Riau landholdings, I was fortunate to come across this map.

RIAU TGHK LANDHOLDER
Figure 2: Land holdings and land use in Riau

I’ve loaded it as full size so readers can examine this map in detail. It has latitude and longitude clearly marked. The area in question is a little hard to discern so I’ve also clipped the relevant section of the map.

map_segment
Figure 3: Segment of Land holdings and land use map

The cleared area, pictured in Figure 1, is on the border of the Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve, which is also the customary land of the Indigenous Sakai people. It appears to extend into the reserve. Such clearing opens up opportunities for illegal logging inside the reserve and leaves it prone to the danger of wildfire, particularly given the extent of forest debris visible in the image.

Also, note that the cleared area in Figure 1 is on the border of an Unregistered Plantation. Research conducted in 2014, found that occurrences of fire by land cover type, land management systems, landholders, and proximity to roads and canals showed that:

The registered companies implemented a zero-burning policy to obtain a sustainable management certification. This certificate is mandatory for all palm oil companies in Indonesia. In contrast, unregistered companies do not follow the policy” it is also evident that they are more likely to use fire to develop plantations. “Oil palm plantations by unregistered companies were more prone to fire (8.5%) than those by registered companies (3.3%) or smallholders (2.1%)

Figure 4 shows an isolated Sakai house deeper inside.

Figure 4: Sakai dwelling in the Giam Kecil Biosphere Reserve