Tony Bourke, one of the ministers of the current federal govt, got up today to announce that legislation had been passed to control the water flow of the Murray Darling Rivers system. He said the process which this piece of legislation finalised had been at work for a century.

He recounted the indigenous legend of a giant Murray cod which carved the river system moving inland. Several times during his press conference today, he personified the river system in a sensibility similar to the indigenous one.

Bourke recounted the process of negotiating with different groups, and remarked on which had been influential for him; one that had not was his meeting with the Griffith community, where people had raised a coffin behind the minister and chanted, “Put him in it!”

Griffith’s reputation is compounded of Italian mafia families growing marijuana, and the still unresolved mysterious death of Mr Mackay, who disappeared from the area, having campaigned against local drug farming and distribution. So the coffin dramatics should come as no surprise; there seem to be no local leaders with a clear vision of the future. Imagine a child growing up there a century from now, with this incident resurrected as part of recent history.

Perhaps this does not present a problem; country towns after all have a well developed pattern of convenient memory. In my case, the sugar growing hinterland near Mackay on coastal central Queensland, I grew up not learning much about the blackbirding or kidnapping of Pacific islanders, the “kanaks”, made to work on the canefields. When I repeated the word, having recently heard of the kanak liberation movement on French colonised islands, I was accused of racism by a Sydney friend.

During the Murray irrigation debate another town staged a mass burning of the booklet containing the legislation proposal, blithely oblivious of the Third Reich overtones of such an event. Towns, it seems, need historians and well as statescraft.

When that combination is infused into rural culture people might start to make intelligent innovative decisions. The two businessmen that opposition leader Tony Abbott lined up to reinforce his oft-repeated message that the carbon tax is ruining the economy might begin to explore environmental alternatives to coal power such as windmills and solar cells. From conservative and reactive they could morph into innovative and proactive: like the farmer in western NSW who did some online research and began to grow a particular grain used commonly in Indian cuisine; as an alternative to growing wheat it became a lucrative scenario. Food for thought.

About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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