Good Reading : June 2007
20 goodreading ı JUNE 2007 categorical work in bringing the Australian bush alive for children, Judith Wright’s overt environmental activism, Patrick White’s contribution to an emerging Australian literature – and how these great writers contributed to the work of contempo- rary writers such as Winton and David Malouf. ‘They are the ecological pioneers of Australian literature,’ says Hill. Judith Wright also makes a strong appearance in the recently published Patriots: defending Australia’s natural heritage by William J Lines. Lines has spent parts of his life as a vagabond and much of his early life in the West Australian outdoors. Patriots documents the struggle to pre- serve Australia’s natural heritage, with the conflict zones ranging from Lake Pedder to the Barrier Reef, from the Snowy River to Ningaloo. ‘Without conserva- tion activists to stop the looting of wild places, aqueducts and powerlines would have strangled the Kosciuszko high country, dams would have flooded the Franklin, mines would have contami- nated and fragmented Kakadu, oil rigs and pipelines would have crisscrossed and polluted the Great Barrier Reef and clear-cuts would have ravaged every ancient forest on the continent,’ says Lines. Lines is a conservation purist, saying that the defence of Australia’s natural heritage pitted conservationists against governments that were ‘extreme, irra- tional, hysterical, dishonest, unscrupulous, abusive, cowardly, despotic and often corrupt’. But his conservation purity will not be to the taste of all readers. He criticises Bob Brown for his attach- ment to international social justice (at the expense of the environment) and writes about the myth of the ecological Aborigine, saying it elevated Aborigines to positions of moral and spiritual superiority while disparaging people of non-Aboriginal backgrounds. His rationale is that people need to identify with the land and become patriots in order to defend its natural heritage. Worth a thousand words Visual books are often overlooked in the environmental field, but some have had a major influence. Penelope Figgis, editor of Rainforests of Australia and Australia’s Wilderness Heritage and Vice-Chair, Australia and New Zealand, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, says that the role of visual communication is becoming more and more important, as illustrated by the recent impact of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. ‘Some of the “coffee table” books have been very important, such as The World of Olegas Truchanas, which con- tained his photographs of Lake Pedder in Tasmania,’ she says. ‘By bringing images of Lake Pedder to the eyes of many people, it made them more determined to win the battle for the Franklin. ‘Academic books are only going to reach a narrow audience, but visual books are very accessible. People still talk to me about Rainforests of Australia and tell how me they gave a copy to every member of their family. Books like that play a vital role in popularising the issues and helping people understand what is really at stake in these battles.’ Practical you-can-do-it books Hill, Mulligan and Lines are all docu- menting situations that have already taken place, but many environmental writers focus on the ‘how to’ aspects of environmental issues. How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change a Planet? by Friends of the Earth UK president Tony Juniper is published in Australia this month. Tony says that people feel powerless in the face of government failure to deal with environmental issues – and he urges them to take practical actions in a series of simple day- to-day steps that will save the planet. Believing that fundamental changes are needed in the collective worldview, Juniper presents 95 solutions (paralleling Luther’s 95 theses) to deal with the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and resource depletion. They range from ‘reduce the distance that food travels’ to ‘make emissions trading work’ and ‘protect the right to protest’, plus far more detailed suggestions such as ‘Put in place a global levy on interna- tional currency transactions (the Tobin tax) to generate resources for sustainable development’. Bringing about changes Environmental literature – in all its varia- tions – is an enormous field of study, and other than obvious bestsellers like The Weather Makers it is hard to pin down the most potent ma p Profound impacts may well have come from fiction – Tim Winton’s description of the coastline of Western Australia in Dirt Music may touch one reader, another may be moved by reading of the Blue Mountains in Delia Falconer’s In the Service of Clouds, a third might find the scientific processes described by Tim Flannery as the key to making personal changes. If the environmental problems facing us are even a fraction as serious and urgent as the leading writers of today are telling us, we will need all these different approaches to bring about the changes. ‘If we’re going to nderstand how to live into e future, then we’ve got create wellbeing and cological services.That oes a long way beyond ust conservation and pres- rvation,’ says Hill. ‘We need all of these ways of writing about the issues. We need the science of ecology, plus a healthy respect for the wisdom of the unknown.’ ‘We still don’t have a great understanding of how Australian ecological systems work, and there is an important role for writers to play in raising ecological literacy,’ says Martin Mulligan, co-author of Ecological Pioneers.