On entering this hall I’m immediately struck by a huge artwork, describing the naming of Australia in religious terms. Today we talk about the Great South-land of the Holy Spirit. Geoff Bullock has even written a song about it.
But on the opposite wall I read what early European explorers said about the land, who used terms such as ‘barren’, ‘desolate’, ‘god-forsaken’, ‘totally unsuited for occupation or habitation’ and ‘nothing at all of value’.
What a contrast! Which description is true for me, I wonder, a spirit-filled country or an empty wilderness? Then I recall reading about Protestantism encouraging the transformation of the environment according to colonists’ values and needs, who applied their religious beliefs to Australia in ways that tended to assist, legitimate or even necessitate the colonisation of the land (M. Lake, Protestantism, the Land and the Colonisation of Australia, 1788 – 1850, Sydney University, 2008).
This reminds me of the rhetoric that now surrounds the policy justification of CSG mining: it contributes to economic growth and development, and will generate export earnings, assist developing nations, provide jobs, meet Australia’s rising energy needs and fund the building of new schools, hospitals, roads and community facilities.
These are the values that now drive our neo-colonisation of the land. There is a religious fervour about it, that dares you to hold an alternative view – how can you argue against an initiative that will add to the nation’s prosperity? This is not neutral, objective, rational rhetoric, nor is the policy on which it is based. It appeals to your emotions and a narrow concept of the Common Good.
For Land is the forgotten party in all this championing of the benefits of natural resource development. So maybe it is our CSG policy that is godforsaken in its myopic focus on the human exploitation of Land. This brings me back to earth with a bump. Are we letting our embrace of the mantra of economic growth and development crowd out a broader perspective?
The next hall looks like it might have some answers. It invites me to ‘experience’ Land! I eagerly enter.