Australian dilemmas and the general global situation

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I made this map nine years ago and today it will be the first illustration for what I intend to deal with this time. A couple of days ago I was informed about new plans which seriously will affect the Great Barrier Reef, if they are carried through. The Australian mining industry has the plan to build the world’s largest coal mining complex and then a shipping lane to the port which will go through the Great Barrier Reef. That reef is one of the most precious pieces of treasures of life on Earth, a bit like the Earth’s “lungs”, the Amazon jungle in South America. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism on Earth and home to 25% of all species in the World’s oceans. The problem is that the reef slowly is dying. The last 30 years it has lost half of its corals and it’s increasing. This due to climate change and human pollution. If this mining project will be carried through the Great Barrier Reef will soon be dead for sure. The Australian mining industry now plans to build enormous new ports at a complex called Abbot Point in North Eastern Australia, just in the vicinity of the reef. The amount of coal ships each year, going to customers around the world, will be doubled, and the ships rip up ca three million cubic metres of material from the sea bed. If the coal from the planned mines will be burned it will tripple Australia’s current climate pollution. That will no doubt quite soon have led the area’s wild life and nature, – and the world – to a point of no return. The investors from Aurizon know all this, and they are now getting cold feet. This week they will meet discussing what to do. Also Australia’s Environment Minister will choose what to do in the coming two weeks. What decision will Prime Minister Kevin Rudd make?

Another aspect of today’s Australia is the one of immigration. In the post-World War Era it was talk of the Ten Pound Pom, and most immigrants were white people from United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. That has changed in recent years. The 2011 Census showed that over one in four of Australia’s 22 million inhabitants came from overseas. Between July 2008 and June 2009 immigrants from more than 200 countries came, 158, 021 of them. From New Zealand 16,2%, United Kingdom 13,6%, India 10,9%, China 10,0%, and South Africa 4,6%. But in 2011-2012 more arrived from India and China than from the UK. From India 29,018 people and from China 25,509. In 2011-2012 184,998 people arrived in Australia all together.

Australia resettles the third largest amount of refugees of any country on Earth. The Humanitarian Program 2011-2012 existed in 13,750 locations in the country, and 12% targetted for Women at Risk visas. 68% of Australia’s immigrants come under the so called “skilled migrant” category, which means that people with a desired skill and profession are more easily accepted. New Zealanders is the largest group, (45 000 in 2011-2012), but they come at will in accordance with the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement. Many of those who are immigrants are now mostly guest-workers. Earlier there were more permanent settlers, but that trend has shifted in recent years. At the same time as the guest-workers are “useful” for a short time, the authorities and the citizens fear them, but also the “boat-people” who arrive as refugees over the seas to seek their fortune and the “foreigner worker-card”. Earlier this year former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, (the Labour Party), held an infamous speech at Rooty Hill where she expressed her fears of the effects from the “boat people”. On June 27th 2013 Julia Gillard lost her post as Prime Minister to her party colleague Kevin Rudd with her 45 votes to his 57. How do we deal with these things such as migration? It is no easy matter, neither in Australia nor in other places on Earth. This last Friday a boat with refugees from Libya in North Africa arrived in Italy, but 31 of those aboard the small floating vessel had drowned on the way. Since this last Friday more than 500 people have been dragged up from the Mediterranean Sea after having tried to reach Europe from North Africa. We still have to remember that this is exactly how the first inhabitants of Australia came there in the first place, 50 000 or 60 000 years ago.

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They came from South East Asia about 60 000 years ago, over New Guinea on small vessels, rafts on the wild seas. Incidents like those in the Mediterranean Sea the other day must have been likely, or the boat refugees to Australia today, except that the distance was shorter then than it is today. The Newcomers arrived on Arnhem Land and the Cape York Peninsula. Over the coming thousands of years the different tribes of Australia were hunters and gatherers, picking berries, and hunting games like kangaroo and emu. In the dryer regions, such as in the deserts, they learned how to find edible plants and walk long distances in their search for food. Those who lived in the forests used to lit bush fires to clear the undergrowth to make hunting easier. The Aboriginal peoples divided the lands into sections using geographic boundaries such as rivers, mountains or lakes. Since the Aborigines didn’t mark those boundaries those borders were not understood and recognized by the white Europeans when they arrived.

All Aborigines had specific roles in the family, and the social control wasn’t performed by any government or authority, but instead by a well developed system of beliefs and traditions referred to as “The Dreaming”. That was a long tradition of legends about the past, chanted by the camp fires, accompanied by instruments like the wooden horn called didgeridoo and also clap-sticks. According to their beliefs everything was created by their spirit ancestors during “The Dreamtime” when the Earth was newly formed, and the humans arrived in Australia. All over the continent you might see cave paintings depicting the Dreamtime. The original inhabitants belonged to ca 500 different tribes, with 28 language groups containing originally about 700 languages when the Europeans arrived. Since then most of those languages have disappeared and now only 250 still remain. Today only about 40 000 – 50 000 Aborigines speak any of these languages. The vocabulary reflect what you see in the environment: animals, plants and culture. A few of those words have become part of many other languages outside Australia, such as “kangaroo”, “koala” and “boomerang”.

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The first European to lay eyes on Australia was the Spanish sailor Luis Vaez de Torres in 1606, and that same year also the Dutch seaman Willem Jansz explored the western parts of Australia and he and his men fought some Aborigines. In 1642-1644 the Dutch captain Abel Tasman sailed around Australia, and the southern island was then named after him: Tasmania. He also “discovered” New Zeeland which was named after the district Zeeland in the Netherlands.Β  On August 25th 1768 the British captain James Cook left Plymouth harbour in England on his ship The Endeavour. After a long journey they came to South East Australia and cast anchor in a large bay. Aboard were the botanist Joseph Banks from London and also the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander who was desciple of Carl von LinnΓ©/Carl Linnaeus. Banks and Solander found 1 300 new plants and Cook decided to name the place Botany Bay, now near Sidney. Cook and his crew continued north and once hit ground on the Great Barrier Reef. The Aborigines watched with interest the white men repairing the 30 meter long ship. On August 22d 1770 James Cook claimed Australia for the British king George III. It was called Australia after the Latin “Terra Australis”/ “The Southern Land”. In 1786 Great Britain chose Australia to become their new penal colony. Since the Americans revolted in 1777 and Great Britain lost control of what’s now USA they needed someplace else sending convicts to. On January 26th 1788 the first ship with convicts from England, Scotland and Ireland arrived in Port Jackson, today’s Sidney.

The tragedy has been that the Aborigines have been persecuted by the white men ever since then, all through the 19th century and up to the 1960’s. They were treated in a racist and cruel way: ended up in poor habitations, bad education, high unemployment and alcoholism. Even if they have regained some of their lands and honour they still fight a reluctant and slow Australian bureaucracy. In 1971 the artist Harold Thomas made the Aboriginal black and red flag with a yellow circle in the centre and named 1988 as a Year of Mourning, 200 years after the first landing of European soldiers and convicts. In 1999 there was a great assembly of Aboriginal people in Canberra working for Aboriginal Sovereignity. Because of all the persecutions and waves of new immigrants the Aborigines now only make up 2% of the population in Australia. In the far north there’s Arnhem Land which has been confirmed as their own territory. Also some ancient Aboriginal religious sites have been recognized by the government, like Uluru/Ayers Rock in central Australia.

The situation in Australia today both when it comes to attitudes to immigrants, and people as such is similar to what we see in most places here on our planet. There are variations of course, but many similarities on a general level. The question is how we deal with it in a way so that we manage to find acceptable bridges between us? The situation for the Great Barrier Reef though is severe, and if that marvellous natural treasure is lost, there’s no road back, and that together with so much else here on Earth WILL have an effect on us and the lives we lead. How can we co-operate in dignity?

Anders Moberg, July 30th 2013

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41 thoughts on “Australian dilemmas and the general global situation

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