Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Capability Brown landscapes

Springbrook's 'scientific' burn

The area was burned, the aftermath was photographed, and the complaint was lodged with the Minister. Sometimes one wonders why time is wasted writing to Ministers and large corporations to raise issues of concern. One already knows the response that will be given: and so it was. The burn off was all very 'scientific' and necessary. Didn't you understand this, (you silly boy!)?: see - . Apparently National Parks has a programme for burning as science demands: but how can science control a burn? The recent serious fires in Victoria all started with a 'controlled' burn. Locals just keep complaining as year after year as they suffer the disastrous impacts of 'controlled' burns. No one is interested in listening to them: 'science' reigns supreme, unchallenged, as some always like it to be. Folk forget that the core issue in real science is the question; doubt.

Occasionally one gets so frustrated with these irresponsibly 'deaf' replies that one actually writes the response and sends it off with the letter of complaint, just to highlight the rude nonsense involved; such is the predictability of government and big business. They are never wrong; ever. The response usually starts with thanking one for bringing this matter to their attention, with exuberant apologies that one had such a problem getting in touch, or about having been so wrongly concerned; etc., etc. It continues with endless justifications and detailed explanations on why one has been so badly misguided, how one has misunderstood, indeed, been so foolish, but never in such clear terms as these. The correspondence usually finishes with comments that offer help in the future, or anything else that might sound reasonable, for it seems that folk who seek to complain require such things as 'understanding' support. Sometimes booklets on policies are included with the return correspondence to enlighten the one who has been ignorant enough to complain - (the ABC does this): and so it was yet again. The letter - no policy document in this one - was eventually followed up by a telephone call asking if the National Parks could be of any further assistance. Cripes! Assistance!! “Would you like a meeting?” “What for; to argue about your fire policy that you do not intend to change?” It was a pointless question; and finally it was agreed that we would only, at best, agree to disagree. So there will not be a meeting; but we did agree to 'keep in touch.' There is sure to be another burn! This was not denied.

This is Springbrook, World Heritage place. Why is it treated in such an off-handed manner? If one looks at the Sydney Opera House web site, one will see a proud statement on it being listed as a World Heritage place: what a privilege! - see:
The gratifying declaration even parallels the listing with 'other universally treasured places' like Uluru, the Pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Great Barrier Reef. Springbrook is not mentioned, but it could be; it is a part of a World Heritage place too. Why is it not 'universally treasured'? Why is it neglected, just seen as a bit of bush to burn off and clean up from time to time? What is being burned? Does anyone know? The National Park's representative seemed bemused when I suggested this question. “Mmmm, yes; it might have been better to have studied the place prior to burning it off,” was the core of the response! The thought occurred: 'A bit late!' National Parks now smugly says that it is going to undertake 'plot regrowth studies' in the area using the services of a volunteer. It is possible nothing might have happened if Mr. MacDonald, previously of the Herbarium, had not offered his expertise and time free of charge. How will anyone know if a rare or undiscovered species did not recover? Gosh! Just think of that!

Why did the National Parks not do studies prior to the burn? Would anyone seriously consider sandblasting Uluru to 'clean it up,' without undertaking any research to check on unknown markings or artwork before such an activity? Would anyone think of 'scientifically' coating the Sydney Opera House with a unique synthetic bitumen to protect it, to make it more durable and waterproof – future-proof? Why is National Parks happy to 'scientifically' turn Springbrook World Heritage place into a burnt out blackened landscape, almost the equivalent of sandblasting it and painting it with bitumen? It simply beggars belief: see - and

Sadly Australia has always seen natural areas as just 'bush,' a rough, scrappy place available for the dumping of rubbish and bodies – animals, people and cars; to clear for 'useful' purposes; to remove in order to get rid of the 'vermin;' to 'redesign' in order to recreate the visions of the 'homeland.' The urge to make Capability Brown /Humphry Repton vistas across Australian hills and valleys has never been lost; neither has the ambition to create the cottage garden, the English Garden. Now we are getting a bit close to home. Springbrook has its 'English Gardens' cafe complete with the English garden for all to enjoy at the iconic terminus of Springbrook Road: well, it did have. Just what is happening to this business now remains unclear.

Capability Brown landscape

Typical English garden

Springbrook's Manor House

Typical bush track

But it is not alone, not in its apparent demise, but in its ambition to recreate an image of the 'old country.' Australia was originally colonised with convict stock and free settlers from Britain. In spite of either being forced to leave, or voluntarily choosing to farewell a home and loved ones, neither group wanted to forget its place of origin. So it is that, instead of eulogising the bush flora and the rude hut that accommodated the early settlers like those in the Springbrook region, we have not only English gardens being propagated, but also have a Manor House constructed, and have had a Tulip Farm planted to promote the grand European vision in cool, mountain Springbrook; a different place that could be envisaged as being like 'home,' a little like the New England tableland region. This was no unique whim in only a few of the population. The latter 'attraction,' the Tulip Farm, in its heyday drew such crowds when the tulips were in flower, that police were needed to manage the visitors. Few dare speak about the 'management' of native wildlife to protect the tulips! A great number of Australians still hark after things British in their homes, gardens and countryside, dreaming of quaint, thatched cottages, colourful arrays of blossoms with herbaceous borders, and open rolling green hills with copses of trees and one or two pavilions scattered around lakes reflecting a twee bridge. So it seems that, with preferences like these, the bush can be so easily disregarded, burned as trash. What else does one do with it but exercise the 'science' of fire? - that is all that it is good for.

'Ye olde' English cottage interior with its 'cosy' fireplace

But Springbrook is a part of a World Heritage listed region. Why is it so carelessly promoted, so ruthlessly, heedlessly managed? It seems that the only thing government and council want to do with the plateau is to develop it. Some still apparently drool at the thought of a cableway even though it has been rejected time and time again. Many push constantly for more business opportunities. Few fight for the benefit of sustaining the qualities of World Heritage areas, their diversity. Sadly, some who do fight for the maintenance of the World Heriatage qualities are mocked viciously, ridiculed, pilloried. This response is a serious indictment on our colonial, 'she's right, mate' culture. We have to be able to do better than this? We must!

Other countries look after their World Heritage places. They promote them, care for them, manage them with a knowing understanding. In Australia it seems that we are constantly on the knife's edge with World Heritage issues being strained by the pressures brought on by other interests. Look at the Great Barrier Reef: it is bordering on being de-listed because of its neglect. Gosh, Springbrook is much more carelessly managed. Will it be de-listed too? World Heritage listing gives governments obligations, but governments seem to not give a hoot about these. These obligations are treated as sundry items; mere asides – ha, ha. 'Who cares? What are you going to do about it?' seems to sum up the approach. Governments and councils just keep going on with everything as though Springbrook was just a sundry area of bushland scrub, like anywhere: there to burn; to clear; to trim; to develop. 'What use is bush if one cannot make money out of it?' seems to be the basis of their strategy.

It must always be remembered that the World Heritage listing of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia is for its unique diversity! Diversity needs special care and attention if it is to be maintained. Diversity is too easily disrupted and lost. One bulldozer can get rid of it all very quickly. We have many metaphoric bulldozers ripping Springbrook apart. No one seems to care. Some persons once did, enough to have this special region declared as a National Park; and subsequently as a World Heritage area. Why do we ignore this legacy?

There used to be a time when water quality in the streams, the springs and brooks of Springbrook, was monitored because folk were concerned about pollution. This seems to have been forgotten. The only thing that gets discussed, approved and implemented is the extraction of water from the mountain, from bores, to be flogged as 'spring' water with an 'olde worlde,' natural-sounding name: and no one knows where this water comes from, or if it will be/can be replenished, or when. Who cares? Why do we not worry about the health of this beautiful place? This is the core, its diversity, its health, its future. It is one of the most diverse places in the world with its astonishing flora and fauna. World Heritage listings are not flicked around lightly – but no one cares, not even it seems, our National Parks. Why should 'science' not be used to concentrate efforts on World Heritage characteristics, their maintenance and endurance? Why should National Parks continue to promote the 'burn and destroy bush' attitude that pervades our country, that appears to run in our veins? A justification is often raised using the 'aboriginal' card: they did it; they burned the country. Does this justify anything other than expose some cultural cringe?

We need to start protecting World Heritage 'bush,' by learning to love it, by expanding National Park areas so that World Heritage futures are ensured, enhanced. To do otherwise is just unthinkable, like sandblasting Uluru and painting the Sydney Opera House. Why is it that this cannot be seen? One needs to read the list of places on the World Heritage schedule in order to see how important Springbrook truly is. We need to treasure this place universally. This needs to become ingrained in opinions and attitudes and actions, so that the mystical visions of Brown/Repton's open 'green and pleasant' landscapes scattered with clumps of oaks, and English gardens filled with English flowers are erased in favour of things purely Australian. We need to start today, for it is nearly too late. It is National Parks' responsibility; every government's responsibility; every council's responsibility; every individual's responsibility too. We do not need the clever, smart retorts of our seemingly lazy, self-interested representatives who appear to prefer the belittling nuance of spin in favour of any true understanding of qualitative matters, or of responding sensibly, meaningfully to them.

Springbrook National Park

This understanding response must be achieved. Dumb justifications for supporting the early settlers' whimsically dreamed perceptions of home have to be seen for what they are, and get discarded in favour of listening, feeling and thinking, free from spin and the harking for elsewhere. This is Australia, not that Ozzie land of the football fan or the silly, hyped-up tourist, but a unique and special place in which Springbrook has been identified as being more so, by the whole world. We have to look after it. It is our responsibility to the world. This must never be ignored. World Heritage matters must remain the core of every action; every plan.

The dream of an English garden

Dear Minister,
Thank you for your considered response to my correspondence. One knows how busy you . . . etc', etc.

No this is much more serious than silly, cynical word games. The world knows this. Can Australia ever understand it? It is unbelievable how Australians hanker for things 'world class,' when they have it on their doorstep and ignore it.

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