Rights of Land


Advocating the inclusion of the rights of Land into environmental protection legislation is radical, as a central premise on which it rests is that of treating Land in terms of a relationship, rather than as an object that supplies natural resources to be traded in a market economy.

But then I’m reminded of Tim Winton’s recent observation in ‘Island Home: A Landscape Memoir’ that

  • In my lifetime, the environment has started to make the kind of claims upon us that perhaps only a family can

  • Twenty first century governments continue to make decisions based on the assumptions of the nineteenth century

Of course, people may resist or disagree with this approach. For example:

  • A person of faith might argue that humanity has a special place in Creation, being uniquely created in the image of God.

  • A scientist might ridicule the anthropomorphic conceptualisation of Land.

  • A business person might assert that Land is already protected enough.

  • An economist might claim assigning a dollar value to Land is sufficient.

  • A lawyer might question how Rights of Land can be represented in law.

  • A politician might challenge anyone claiming to speak on behalf of Land.

I discuss each of these matters in my book, and find a common thread runs through all: a view that humanity is at the centre of the reality within which we live, and policy debate revolves around matters relating to human utility. It reminds me of the controversy that raged at the time of Galileo about whether the Earth was at the centre of the Universe, with the stars rotating around it.

Are we any different in principle to those religious and scientific conservatives in the Middle Ages who located humanity at the centre of their universe?

Here again personal experience shaped my thoughts. Profoundly shaken by my wife’s diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, I let that experience inform my understanding of how Land might feel about CSG mining:

And now the time of Job is here

arriving as a thief at night,

stealing dreams of love and joy,

replacing them with fear and grief.

I howl in predawn sleeplessness,

lonely terror fills my soul;

in agony I voice my hate

of a world that hosts such pain.

“Would that I had not been born”,

I echo Job’s despair of old:

a witness to heart-breaking truth,

that loss takes root in love.

And you, O Land, do you cry out

in pain and grief at all you’ve lost?

And do you curse the day that brought

you forth from living breath?

What Dreaming, Land, now fills your mind

where shadows of the anthropocene

with colonising guile invade,

demanding that you give up more?

And do you howl with fear and grief

about our energetic lust for more,

a cancer of our souls and lives

metastasising in your womb?

For mortal nature claims you, too,

companion on this finite road,

where thieves can strike in lonely place,

half dead you’re left to suffer.

Creation’s pains no boundaries know,

from human heart to nature raw,

but in that cacophonic mix

rebounding love and joy are found.

Yes, you and I are so alike,

with tooth and claw we leave a mark,

but in our common gift of life

the one, the other can embrace.

Image courtesy Michael Leunig

If Land is our companion on life’s journey, I think, why do we deny Land rights in legislation whilst we so vigorously pursue our own legal rights? It clearly suits us to see ourselves as different to the world around us, but does this deliver justice to Land? Leunig confronts the issue very well: It is the loveliest of sights, a living thing that has no rights.

It’s an issue that is now appearing in the public square. In March 2017 the New Zealand Parliament granted legal status to the Whanganui River in the North Island. So, as I state in my book, it’s time we started a conversation in Australia about the rights of Land.

#MichaelLeunig #RIghtsofNature #TImWInton #ChrisDalton #TerraNullius

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