The Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian Devil

The coffee is slightly too sweet, the windows hang heavy with legs of cured meat, the central streets are choked with sunburnt tourists, and I have to watch out for pickpockets on my way to work. Barcelona’s cobblestones bring back a childish imagining of European cities: there is a richness to every step, like my days are soaked in olive oil and bravas sauce (and the scents of public urination). The museums and art galleries are inspirational, and I leave an exhibition curated to star Ramon Llull adoring the man’s thought patterns as he adored the stellar constellations.

When someone asks me what I miss the most about Tasmania, they are surprised when I say the vegetables and the dairy, and the air.

Why is it that we will protect human-made artefacts, but not those created by the natural world? We can lock up in museums the early tools, the paintings of the masters, but cannot reach consensus on the preservation of ancient natural sites. These false dichotomies between human and natural, male and female, black and white, us and them, are the ones that have destroyed people and place for as long as anyone can recall. In the same dining room where a mother plating-up dinner tells her daughter to sit like a lady, a female redback spider dissolves her willing mate with spurts of gastric juices.

Humankind’s punishment for failing to see itself as an element of the natural world will be capital and self-administered. If nature must be gendered feminine, then the oceans are Mother Nature’s womb, and Tasmania’s rainforests of the Tarkine – takayna – are her mossy-green cunt, cool and invigorating and rotten with life. To sell sites of ecological importance as “virgin” or “untouched” undermines their significance as places which have sustained cycles of birth and death for thousands of years, and which generations of First People have managed to touch without fisting.

Braddon, the Tasmanian electorate encompassing King Island, Burnie, Devonport and Latrobe, and stretching down the west coast to the Davey River, is home to the area that was conceptualised as the Tarkine coast by the Green movement. The name is derived from the Aboriginal name for this place of spiritual and cultural significance – takayna. The Tarkine is home to 56 endangered species, including the Tasmanian Devil, the Giant Freshwater Crayfish, the Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagle and the Blue-Winged Parrot. These species inhabit some of the world’s last tracts of Gondwanan temperate rainforest, moss-covered giants sitting beside a brutal coastline, cave systems and rivers running underneath.

The major primary industries in Braddon are forestry, fishing, aquaculture, kelp harvesting, dairying, beef cattle production, and vegetable, poppy and pyrethrum growing. Vegetable processing, cheese manufacture, sawmilling and woodchipping complement these activities. Mining and tourism are major industries. The median weekly household income is $864, 5.3 per cent of the population has a Bachelor’s degree, and 80.3 per cent have not completed Year 12. It is an electorate where the majority vote Liberal, and where the Greens attract only a tiny percentage more of the vote than the Recreational Hunters and Fishers Party. The gentrified, tourism-campaign narrative of Gondwanan beauty, fresh produce and clean air has several sub-plots, including low adult literacy rates, poverty and unemployment rates higher than the national average, and generations of locals watching unsustainable industry (namely mining and forestry) recede from towns such as Burnie, Zeehan and Queenstown, taking jobs with it.

The Franklin Dam Case of the 1980s, which propelled Tasmania’s west and the Greens, headed by Bob Brown, to national notoriety, became a culture war of red-neck versus greenie, bogan versus leftie. Years in the making, the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA) created the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. The IGA, signed by Labor Premier Lara Giddings, promised to transition forestry industries away from native logging, protect those areas of ecological and cultural significance, and finally throw ice on the venom of the debate. (People in the Upper-Derwent Valley still speak of a time when Kombis were keyed without prejudice.)

In 2014, a Liberal government was elected and began dismantling the IGA (Page not found, reads the Department of State Growth website) for the purpose of the “logging of speciality timbers”, those timbers including, of course, the very native species whose longest-standing members were supposed to be protected. And so the Tarkine becomes an election issue once more, and the culture wars are reignited, this time exacerbated by the tangible gentrification of Tasmania that started with the MONA-effect and has been snowballing ever since, presently culminating in a real-estate boom that is pricing locals out of entering the market.

If you have campaigned for legislation to protect nature, but never for legislation to empower those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, then you too have been tricked by these false dichotomies, whether it be masculine and feminine or forestry and World Heritage. In the same forest where a person will be heartbroken if they cannot do a job and be paid a wage in return, there is another person who will be heartbroken if this place, one that sits on the chest and vice-grips the heart, is cleared for logging.

Social, economic and environmental sustainability are not disparate and cannot be mutually exclusive. You cannot be angry at the forestry worker or the conservationist, both of whom want to support a form of life. You should be angry at the politicians and industry employers whose policies, mismanagement and political grandstanding have conditioned Tasmanians to so expect to be left falling, without a job, without a promise of retraining, without an income, without the protection of their environment or their sacred sites, that their hate and fear moves in the wrong direction, not upwards but sideways, to fellow citizens now Othered.

People will not fight for a World Heritage Area when they are fighting for their lives. You might think about using green bags, but do you think about funding for front-line services such as housing, health, education and employment services? See yourselves as an extension of nature, not its master or destroyer. See yourselves as an extension of each other.

Photos by Sally Brown-Price

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