To care for, honour, and respect the creation, we need to #StopAdani

Elizabeth and I attended the #StopAdani climate crisis rally outside the Federal Parliament this morning. The crowd present was estimated at around 5,000 people. There were people from churches, schoolchildren, union members, as well as members of many community organisations and climate change action groups participating.

Author Richard Flanagan addressed the crowd in his inimitable poetic manner, marking the issues and telling the truth:

“Jabbering ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ in a hi-vis shirt does not make you a leader”

“The Franklin was more than a river. Adani is more than a mine.”

“Was there hope with the Franklin!? Yes, there was. Is there hope with Adani? Yes, there is!”

Two young female school-age climate strikers stirred the crowd with pointed rhetoric and a call to action. “Change is never implemented by the oppressors. Change must always be demanded by the oppressed.”

Other speakers from various organisations urged the large crowd to hold fast, stand firm, and work for change. “We are on the right side of history. We will Stop Adani.”

Adrian Burragubba, an elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people of the Galilee Basin in central western Queensland, reminded the crowd that Adani does not have the consent of the First People of the area, whose ancestral lands, waters and culture would be destroyed by the mime if it went ahead.

Paul Kelly sang two song, including “My island home”, and then Bob Brown brought the rally to a climax with his clarion call: “There will be no divine intervention. The onus is on us. And we will take it.” He noted that there was “a bigger crowd here today, than Bill Shorten will have in Brisbane, than Scott Morrison will have, whenever he has his campaign launch.” Popular opinion is clearly against the development of this mine.

Why is it important to protest against this mine, and to petition our leaders to ensure that the Adani mine and associated works do not go ahead?

The Great Barrier Reef. The mine will see ships travelling through this unique World Heritage Area each year, risking ship groundings, coal and oil spills; and it requires further dredging within the World Heritage Area causing water contamination, destruction of dugong habitat, impacts on Green and Flatback turtle nests, and more.

The Great Artesian Basin is our greatest inland water resource, covering 22% of the Australian continent. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy. The mine will take at least 270 billion litres of groundwater over the life of the mine; put aquifers of the Basin at risk; and dump mine polluted wastewater into the Carmichael River.

It will threaten ancient springs and 160 wetlands that provide permanent water during drought, and leave behind 6 unfilled coal pits that will drain millions of litres of groundwater, forever. Adani’s associated water licence allows unlimited access to groundwater for 60 years for free. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy.

The Great Coal Swindle. Pollution from burning coal is the single biggest contributor to dangerous global warming, threatening our way of life. In Australia, ‘black lung’ disease has recently re-emerged among coal miners, with at least 19 workers in Qld identified with the disease. The coal from the Carmichael mine will be burnt in India where 115,000 people die from coal pollution every year. Developing renewable energy is more responsible for the environment and more energising for the economy.

The Great Employment Myth. There are 69,000 tourism jobs related to the Great Barrier Reef, which rely on a healthy Reef. There are thousands of farming jobs in the inland areas under threat. The Adani mine and associated works will pollute, despoil, and degrade both the land area and the associated offshore seas, impacting hugely on the Reef. Adani claims the mine will bring employment opportunities to the region, but in reality there will be far fewer jobs if the mine goes ahead. The mine will decimate local employment opportunities.

The Great Commercial Swindle. Adani companies are under investigation for tax evasion, corruption, fraud, and money laundering. Nine of the 20 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia are ultimately owned by an entity registered in the infamous Cayman Islands tax haven. That is beyond the regulatory reach of the Australian Government.

Adani Group companies have an appalling environmental track record with a documented history of destroying the environments and livelihoods of traditional communities in India, and failure to comply with regulations. They will do the same in Australia if the mine goes ahead.

There are other reasons—environmental, economic, political—that mean we should not go ahead with the mine.

And, for me, there is a fundamental theological principle undergirding this issue: God’s good creation is in our hands; we are called to act responsibly, to care for, honour, and respect that creation. That means that we act to lessen our carbon footprint, restructure our energy infrastructure to grow renewable sources, and refresh our national policies so that we prioritise the planet over personal preferences.

The Uniting Church has affirmed, “We seek the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures. We act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human induced climate change. Government, churches, businesses and the wider community work together for a sustainable future.” (See https://uniting.church/visionstatement2019/)

The Church has issued a Vision Statement which sets out the following desired Key Actions:

1. A national climate policy that drives down greenhouse gas pollution, including no new coal or gas mining in Australia and investment in renewable energy.

2. Just and sustainable transition for communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries for employment, towards more environmentally sustainable sources of income.

3. Equitable access to renewables for all Australians.

4. Policies which support people and nations that are most vulnerable to climate change.

There is No Planet B. We have no choice but to #StopAdani.

See also https://wanganjagalingou.com.au/our-fight/

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/stopadani/pages/1816/attachments/original/1497939723/factsheet20.06.17.pdf?1497939723

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/lockthegate/pages/5429/attachments/original/1521596433/Adani_Water_Factsheet.pdf?1521596433

https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/environment

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

A review of a book of sermons by Rev. Glenn Loughrey

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

Published by Coventry Press (2019)

https://coventrypress.com.au

I have recently read this book, a collection of six sermons by Anglican priest, Glenn Loughrey, in which he articulates a plea for his church to move towards being a more consciously Australian church.

I had known of the innovative ministry of Glenn for some time, and was fortunate to have met him in person at a recent seminar. He practices what he preaches. He extols the character of love which Jesus exemplifies, which he describes in this manner: “grumpy, rude, difficult, alternative, disruptive, contrary, and more” (p.50). He does all of this in a constructive and challenging way. This book is a fine contribution to the enterprise of sharing this kind of love in a wider way.

The central image of the book is a pot plant. The Anglican Church, says Glenn, is like the pot plant given to you by your favourite Aunt, which you have kept, all these years, in that beloved pot. The pot is still intact. The plant, however, is stunted and distorted. It has not grown to the full potential it has. It is still in the pot. It needs to be transplanted.

Thus, the book articulates a plea to the church: be transplanted into the soil of this continent. Find the place where you can send your roots down, deep into the country where you have been sitting, no longer protected and constrained by your pot. Draw on the age-old wisdom of the country. Be nourished by the spirit of the land.

Glenn can articulate this challenge with authenticity. He identifies as a Wiradjuri man, with connections deep into the people and the land of that nation. In his ministry, as well as in his creativity as an artist and his rhetoric as a speaker, he sets forth his response to this challenge on a regular basis. His words and his artwork both articulate this desire for contextualisation in our church life, for grounding our faith and our communal expressions of that faith in the realities of Australian society.

Grounding our faith expressions in the deep seated spirituality of this land, is a pressing and primary need.

Glenn outlines four ways in which this contextualisation could take place, arguing that we need to come to grips with four key factors:

the history of the church in this country

the ethos of the space we now inhabit

the language and spirituality of this context

the need to mature as a nation, and as a church.

These four factors read, to me, as eminently sensible and entirely central to the task that the church as a whole faces—not just the Anglican Church, but every Christian denomination in Australia. It will not be easy for us to grapple with these factors. But it is essential that we do so. There are multiple challenges for the churches in Australia in addressing these factors with care and responsibility.

The book is a series of sermon-reflections on a number of biblical passages, which Glenn correlates with these four factors. John 6 leads to a discussion of “breaking the sacred pot” and grappling with the church’s history in Australia. Ephesians 6 is the springboard to considering the ethos of the space we now inhabit. “We recognise that … through a process of living, we have come to this place [of belief]. In the midst of the diverse landscape that is modern Australia, we are to leave space for others to come to faith in the same way.”

Mark 7 and James 1-2 provoke insights into language and spirituality, flowing into possibilities for maturity. Placing a story from the ancient desert fathers alongside the scriptural texts, Glenn proposes that our spiritual ethos and language might be characterised by being “doers … fair dinkum … [giving] a fair go … in tune with nature … listen to land/country”, and then asks: “sound like what we say we believe as Australians?” Indeed; and the challenge for the church is to live this to the full!

In the encounter between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, he observes that “the woman and Jesus engage in such a transaction where both are visibly different as a result, but neither is diminished. Both grow in stature and in their understanding of who they are.” The bruising encounter which Jesus has with a person of his land models how the church in Australia needs to engage in intense encounters with the peoples of our land—and points to the transformation that ensues as a result.

The reflections conclude with Mark 8 offering a focus on transformation: “taking what you believe and planting it in the soil of relationships and community and watching it be shaken and broken by the winds of fear”.

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Way back—over forty years ago—when I was a theological student, preparing for ministry in the Uniting Church, I was being challenged and encouraged to develop “an authentically Australian theology”. I remember that we looked at pithy sayings, like cutting down tall poppies, going in to bat for the underdog, and having a fair go for all, as well as trends in society like mateship, sexism, and the colonial cringe. These were identified as aspects that could well figure in the development of such a theology.

The scourge of racism, issues of migration, and the existence of indigenous spirituality, were each noted, but the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land of this continent was not really canvassed at that time. Since then, an awareness of the importance of this has grown in Australian society. The voice of the First Peoples has been heard, most clearly, in the Statement from the Heart which was shaped at Uluru in 2017.

Now, the deep connection with the the land, and indeed the sovereignty of our First Peoples, are to the fore of our national conversation, and rightly call the churches to engage, listen, and be transformed through this conversation, and through undertaking work on the ground (as it were) with local indigenous communities.

This is a stimulating book, easy to read, consistently to the point, offering creative insights. I recommend it to my colleagues in ministry and to those exercising leadership in their local faith communities.

https://coventrypress.com.au/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=74

See also
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-sovereignty-of-the-first-peoples-of-australia/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

Learning from the land (4): Naiame’s Nghunnhu—fishtraps at Brewarrina

Last year, Elizabeth and I visited a site in southwest WA, where the remains of some ancient Aboriginal fishtraps could be seen. They were on the shoreline of Oyster Harbour, near the mouth of the Kalgan River just east of Albany. They were built and operated by the Menang people of the Noongar nation.

In 1790, three decades before the British established the Swan River Colony (on the site that is now  Perth), British explorer George Vancouver arrived on the southern coast of Western Australia. Despite naming King George Sound, various inlets and bays, and mapping the area, he did not encounter any Noongar. But he reported evidence that Noongar were there. 

Vancouver wrote that he found a “native village; fresh food remains near a well-constructed hut; a kangaroo that had apparently been killed with a blow to the head; a fish weir across what is now called the Kalgan River; and what appeared to be systematic firing of the land.” (This citation is sourced from https://www.noongarculture.org.au/wagyl-kaip-timeline/)

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The traps (one of which is pictured above, from our visit in 2018) were constructed by the Menang peoples and are dated at over 7,500 years old. As the tide moved out, the fish would be stranded inside the courses of the stones, which were topped with brush, then collected at low tide. They provided food for the regular gatherings of the peoples each year.

There are eight separate weirs shaped as crescents, each of which is believed to consist of thousands of stones. They are now protected under local indigenous oversight. They are an amazing testimony to the ancient skills of the Menang people.

These fishtraps are one part of the evidence which demonstrates that the Aboriginal people were not “primitive nomadic hunter-gatherers”, but rather, settled people, who cared for country and developed the technology which enabled them to build structures which assisted them in harvesting the natural resources of the land. 

Western society has done the same, and we congratulate ourselves on our technological capacities. This evidence indicates that Indigenous peoples had done this very thing, many thousands of years before “Western civilisation” had developed.

These fishtraps were obviously sustainable. They lasted over thousands and thousands of years, being used to catch regular harvests of fish. The Menang people came back each year to gather what they needed, and then allowed the fish to replenish. Would that our modern ways showed the same, respect to the land and its rivers, and that we farmed and harvested in a sustainable way.

We can learn from the land, by attending to features such as these, and reflecting on what they tell us about the First Peoples of this continent, who have lived here for millennia—and pondering how we, today, might relate respectfully to the land, care for the creation, and live in ways that are sustainable.

I recently read a fascinating account of Baiame’s Ngunnhu [pronounced By-ah-mee’s noon-oo]. These are stonewall fishtraps at Brewarrina in NSW, created by the Ngemba people. They are similar in technology and purpose to the ones we saw in WA. (See https://newmatilda.com/2019/02/05/australia-one-oldest-human-made-structures-earth-meh-nmfhpotae/)

These fishtraps are possibly the oldest known human-made structure on earth. The Australian Government’s National Heritage Register notes, “The structure of the Ngunnhu demonstrates the development of a very efficient method for catching fish involving a thorough understanding of dry-stone wall construction techniques, river hydrology and fish ecology.”

(See http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national/brewarrina)

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You can find a discussion of these fishtraps and many other such ancient Indigenous features, in Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture Or Accident? (Magabala Books, 2014), by Bruce Pascoe.

There is an excerpt from Dark Emu, with a description of how the fishtraps were worked, at https://www.foreground.com.au/environment/decolonising-agriculture-bruce-pascoes-dark-emu/, and there is a fascinating discussion of Pascoe’s book, some related works, and the implications for modern agricultural practices, at https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-dark-emu-and-the-blindness-of-australian-agriculture-97444 

Debate concerning the age of this particular construction, the Ngunnhu, is not settled; it may well be up to 40,000 years, which would make it more than 10 times older than Stonehenge!  That is certainly worth honouring, and protecting.

The National Heritage Register also notes that this location, in Brewarrina, was the place where people from the various indigenous groupings of the area could draw their own supply of fish on a regular basis, and where they would all meet together, on a regular basis, to celebrate, and to trade.

It notes: “While the Ngemba people are the custodians of the Ngunnhu, it was Baiame’s wish that other tribes in the region, including the Morowari, Paarkinji, Weilwan, Barabinja, Ualarai and Kamilaroi should use it in an organised way. He allocated particular traps to each family group and made them responsible under Aboriginal law for their use and maintenance. 

“Neighbouring tribes were invited to the Ngunnhu to join in great corroborees, initiation ceremonies, and meetings for trade and barter. The Ngunnhu were, and still are, a significant meeting place to those Aboriginal people with connections to the area and continue to be used.”

So, as well as a sustainable lifestyle, the Ngunnhu demonstrate how different groups can live together peaceably and co-operatively, sharing natural resources, and enjoying respectful relationships with each other. That, surely, is another lesson that we can learn!

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/learning-of-the-land-2-ngunnawal-namadgi-and-ngarigo/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/learning-of-the-land-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-sovereignty-of-the-first-peoples-of-australia/

Learning of the land (3): Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, and other Canberra place names

Living in Canberra, I am encountering a whole collection of indigenous words which are used as placenames. Why, Canberra itself is said to derive from an Aboriginal word. I have been exploring what these words mean, in my ongoing commitment to learn from the land on which I live and the people who have cared for it over the millennia.

The land on which we live is officially described as Ngunnawal country. However, this is contested; it seem there are a number of groups from the First People who are linked with this particular area. That makes sense, if it was, indeed, an ancient meeting place for various groups of people, who met each other on this land on regular occasions, perhaps at an annual festival gathering. Rather than there being just one nation for whom this was traditional land, it seems there were a number of nations which met here regularly.

Continue reading “Learning of the land (3): Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, and other Canberra place names”

So, change the date—to what?

Because it was “first”, the day of British settlement in New South Wales, 26 January, became the default date of choice for a national day (thank you, Lachlan Macquarie, Henry Parkes, and John Howard, amongst other white male elites). But what if we don’t just fall in with the “first in, best dressed” way of operating?

Continue reading “So, change the date—to what?”

“They are to be hanged up on trees … to strike the survivors with the greater terror.”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

It is not just about what happened 231 years ago on this day, 26 January. It is about what the events of that day began. Within a short space of time, mere months, and continuing for an extended period, well over a century, the impacts of the white invasion of the land were felt by the First Peoples who already inhabited the continent.

Continue reading ““They are to be hanged up on trees … to strike the survivors with the greater terror.””

On Remembering: Cook and Flinders (and Trim), Bungaree and Yemmerrawanne

The location of the grave of Matthew Finders (1774–1814) has been identified in Euston, England. Flinders was the first British person to circumnavigate the continent of Terra Australis, in the early 1800s, and he was the one who suggested the name Australia. His cat, Trim, is well-known for accompanying Flinders on this trip.

Trim even had a novel, written by Bryce Courtenay, named after him (Matthew Flinder’s Cat, 2002)—and there is a statue of Trim outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney, with an epitaph from Flinders himself, extolling: TRIM. The best and most illustrious of his race. The most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants,and best of creatures. So Matthew Flinders, and his cat, have significant places in contemporary Australian history.

Continue reading “On Remembering: Cook and Flinders (and Trim), Bungaree and Yemmerrawanne”