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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Much Ado about “Bundy On Tap”

I have received the following report on the public meeting at Bundanoon from Virginia Falk who had been asked to offer the "Welcome to Country" at the Bundanoon on Tap meeting.

If I might be permitted a word of explanation to her commentary below, it is quite apparent that Virginia was asked to provide a purely symbolic "Welcome to Country", thus ignoring the fact that she is well qualified (in every sense) to speak authoritatively on the importance of water to the entire community.

Trouble is, Bundanoon did not want to hear anything from her other than a few "nice" words of welcome.
Following that Meeting, Virginia sent me the following report which I am honoured to publish.

Denis Wilson
Robertson NSW
Much Ado about “Bundy On Tap”

Our little village of Bundanoon created a media frenzy when community were to decide whether to ban water bottles or not. Contrary to the impression created by some media journalists, who were not present at the meeting, community residents attended with open-minds and were orderly during their attendance. However, many Bundanoon residents left the meeting in an angry mood.

Protests on environmental issues tend to carry some remnant of the unkempt hair, daggy t-shirt and shorts image, where "Greenie" activists study political science or philosophy. Wrong impressions were created by the Media. The Bundanoon Green Movement fell across various social categories, from business owners, retirees and young families and Indigenous. Hardly the rabid stereotype of Greenie, chaining themselves to bulldozers in Eucalypt forests or kayaking ‘con placard’ down the Franklin. So what was the monumental fuss?

Several committee representatives met with me prior to the Bundy On Tap community meeting, the invitation was put to me to address the Indigenous issues to water on the environment that haunted the Indigenous Environmental Movement. After four years of doctoral research on this topic there were more points to address than time frames allowed.

The Green message was restricted to banning of water bottles.

Debate was not wanted on the untenable level of water extraction; the social colonial witch-hunt on swamps over generations; or the lack of research commitment to a la “Peter Andrews hydrology” of restoring endemic Indigenous environments through alternative methodology. Words such as Climate Change were few.

The Government “Silo” approach to Indigenous policy on the effects of environmental sustainability is always focussed on grant-cycle riparian planting, redundant environmental tertiary certificates that have no pathways for Indigenous peoples and where terminated Indigenous government projects and organisations often ‘top-up’ consolidated government revenue. Every Indigenous Australian that has gathered to government conferences in hope of career networking or grandstanding personal opinion, the conference ‘junkies come away with Indigenous logos upon pencils, embossed t-shirts and numerous meaningless fact sheets.

This dark view of an Indigenous world is not a “Harry Potter-like” screenplay of good versus evil, it is by the slick use of captivating animation and the use of fantasy genre to deliver complex narration in memento of ‘useless things’. Bottled water themes when singled out from complex environmental subject matter are fantastic ventures into Enviro-space that deny an Indigenous existence in Australian Conservation and Climate Change fora. Attempting to forge the purist Green message while disabling Indigenous academic and community participation in research, debate and knowledge transference - is meaningless waffle. This is what came out from Bundanoon's experiment.

The official tally on the Bundy on Tap vote was 354 for a ban on bottled water, with 2 against, one of which was a representative of a city Water business. During the “Do Something” PowerPoint presentation, the representative progressed the down-side of plastic containers. Attempts by community members to inform the “peoples” debate were “cut-off” in midstream.

I was the only speaker who was timed by a gong after several minutes. Funny how this experience was more in keeping with a stint on a local talent show than in evidence-based discussion. The Shepherd’s Hook would have been less painful and less embarrassing.

Through the evening the presentation emphasised the pollution factor to plastic bottles, not the entire still and sparkling water business practice that should expose Australia’s well-documented over-extraction of groundwater and the significance of water holes, springs and the existence of Indigenous heritage sites to these water systems.
In recent water research, I was commissioned by government to develop an Indigenous water policy in Western Australia. The request for a “reserved water allocation” met with political stone-walling. The status quo for consumptive water being politically lobbied by a range of water interest groups is the Australian model. Indigenous ‘first occupant’ status is considered tantamount to sedition. Un-Australian?

After a media frenzy of putting “Bundanoon Village” on cyber-space for posterity, the media aftermath felt like the Melbourne and Sydney Water Summits, where water conferences are run by industry and government. The Indigenous environmental concerns were under the radar, uninvited and received no media coverage.
Radio and television interviews for “Bundy banned water bottles” were saturated by reporting in ‘stock Greenie’ questions and answers. The silence on Indigenous water issues was apparent. This social mistreatment for discrete numeric minorities is core business in Australia. There is a rhetoric argument in lines such as, “The Lucky Country” or “if we lived in an emerging market economy without human rights you would be in prison now for your opinion”. I would rather be bored by reruns of polluting plastic bottles.

Social commentary talk shows in Australia are full of Indigenous media personalities that operate out of their generalist area and media hosts still employ well-worn “Aborigines vs Us” material that is facile and ineffective. On 20 July 2009, on a non-commercial channel this question and answer “Stanner” format was deployed from a journalist enquiring on the “political sufferings” of Indigenous peoples and the guest did not flinch to the stereotype question format. That is, Australian ‘sofa-sitters’ solving the “Aboriginal Problem”, as quoted by Stanner in his essay. This inane chatter raises the same fate for Indigenous environmental concerns in Australia.

For other Indigenous peoples who share a common conscience and contribute to the collective knowledge in water and its use, the ‘conference t-shirt’ appeals now more than superficial programming. Perhaps even the commercial channels would be turned from a series titled, “Two men, a tinny and a slab of bottled water”.

During the Garma “Indigenous Water Conference” 2008 the Indigenous attendees were in consensus that ‘water is sacred’. Following these intense discussions on how Indigenous peoples will be engaged in their respective communities in water management and decision-making, inclusive on the interface of environmental policy, the government attendees and university representatives and Western Scientists were ‘stumm’. Like the Bundy Bottled Water event, the message was about creating more opportunities for non-Indigenous parties to direct and inform the water research debate, through more Commonwealth paid ‘cut and paste’ style reporting. Over the past week just count how many informed, Indigenous researchers on water issues were interviewed by the media. Times up. There is no need to count.

When the Human Rights Commission requested a contribution to the current Native Title Report 2008 I was enthusiastic that this would broaden the environmental concerns of Indigenous Australian’s to the rest of the Australian community. Not so. The current HREOC report has substance and progressive material than previous years, where a chapter on Indigenous water has not even raised a media eye-brow. The chapter on water in the recent “Indigenous Australians and the Law” (2nd edition) and other contributions in this book informs the state of Indigenous Affairs by many Indigenous authors. However, this didn’t create the media frenzy that “banning bottled water” did across the Global stage. Last weeks broadsheets ran the Intervention and similar expose, not water rights. Again the mix of abuse, petrol sniffing and income quarantine conflates the underlying issues that don’t sell news.

Climbing Uluru did attract the “One Australia” melting pot fanatics and the genuine protesters to address the racial insensitivity to Indigenous cultural landscapes that were ancestrally formed not “discovered”, as some naturalist theorists and contributors affirm. Genesis and other world beliefs are sacred, why are Indigenous beliefs “myths”. Any takers?

The entire “bottled water debate” has missed the proverbial boat to England. Where water is defined as a ‘natural resource’, any policy will fail. For instance, where land and water have now been separated under Commonwealth and State legislation in Australia to affect a market enterprise and property interest, the Indigenous and informed Environmental lobbyist has been cut loose. The commodification of water devalues the communal significance of water. Australian has now legislated private rights to water as the norm. Funny how Australia believes it has sufficient human rights protection. The right to water is an international article at law. Read through Australia’s legislation, it’s absent.

I remember a number of years ago, driving around NSW and making enquiries on the level of interest from Real Estates to the Commonwealth ‘new’ unbundled water rights. Local people would say that they had calls from ‘out-of-towners’ wanting to buy their water licences for sums of money that was unprecedented to modest rural owners. Today, the water price has risen well above the ‘cockies’ ability to buy back into the market. For Indigenous landowners wanting water, the words, the "horse has bolted and left the stadium" are ringing true. Indigenous peoples in Australian have an allocation after everyone else gets their newly packaged ‘bottled water’.

The Indigenous Land Corporation, as told to me, has held onto water licences that have not been restored to Indigenous landholders. The Indigenous ‘bushies’ should have staged a ban on water in their rural and remote communities and infused this debate with the ‘real’ policy issues. Perhaps “Do Something” could hire out some reps to create a new media frenzy “coming to a town near you”. No fellow Australians, “gammon”. Meaning ‘just kidding’.

Water is not just a natural resource, a commodity or a consumer product. It is sacred. We just haven’t been allowed to debate the facts and figures. That’s democracy.

Virginia Falk
Bundanoon, NSW.

LLM LLB Grad.Dip.Legal Prac. BA(Hons) BVocEd

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