First, a note about my capacity to deal with comments. The treatment I am on causes fatigue, and means also that everything else I do that might once have taken ten minutes now takes twenty. So I’m progressing slowly with responses to comments, and also writing a new piece every few days, not to mention completing a new book. I seem to slip behind everywhere. Where I think I ought to comment I’ll do so in time.

Waste 

The ABC seems to be hammering me, and all other viewers and listeners, about its ‘war on waste’. The last episode was Tuesday night. Why we need one, or at least why I need one, isn’t immediately obvious. Where I live the municipal services have closed our tips and aren’t opening new ones, there are no free plastic bags with which to line my under-bench garbage bin, and green-bin options for garden waste seem to be coming in. Other areas already have them. It all looks pretty good to me, if recycling and obvious waste is what concerns you.

But the ABC seems to want a war on plastic straws as well. I don’t use them, so I won’t be part of the war, or perhaps I defeated the straws in an earlier battle. A great global fuss is occurring about plastic straws, but Australia is hardly one of the countries whose streams (or some of them at least) are absolutely clogged with plastic materials. They are indeed gothic shots, the ones you see on television. If we wanted to deal with plastic straws as a global issue, then it would seem best to help Indonesia and other poorer countries in Asia work out ways of clearing their rivers. It’s their problem, really, not ours, but we could help. But Australia? Where is the problem? It’s certainly not an obvious one. Ah, but it’s coming, the ABC says, if we go on as we are doing. Maybe.

Waste and dealing with it must start on the domestic front. I don’t think there’s anything special about what my wife and I do. We were brought up to be conservers of what had been made. Use it again. Reuse till it collapses, that was the family motto. My Dad straightened nails, I remember, during the war. The two of us now have a worm farm for all fruit and vegetable peelings, and would have a compost area if we had more space in our small backyard. We put little garbage for collection. I’m sure I’ve made these points in earlier essays.

There has been a sea-change over the last half-century in what humanity produces. Foods, materials, clothing, consumer products, vehicles, aeroplanes — you name it, there’s more about than there ever was. And what do we do with the bits no one wants? Volvo and Mercedes Benz, and maybe some other car companies, are pointing to the almost completely recyclable car by 2020. There is a vast aerodrome in Arizona filled with un-needed airliners. They won’t rot in the sun. We in Australia still have car dumps all over the place, but in time they will disappear (as many already have done). A year or so ago we in Canberra were invited to put old TVs and computers into a scrap area, and we did, in their thousands. Other councils have clean-up days a couple of times a year where you can put out at the roadside anything you have no use for. And there are places like Revolve (a Canberra outlet) where you can leave stuff that others might acquire for a dollar or two, and reuse. Sally and Vinny take and resell a vast amount of clothing and objets d’art that, because of the passage of time and human beings, are now just objects, not objets. But somebody might like them. A lot gets reused right now. Australia is good at it.

I’m probably labouring the point. But I see no need for the ABC’s war on waste. Australia may not lead the world in recycling and dealing with the downside of the productive boom, but there’s no sign it is a laggard. Which make me wonder why the ABC thinks it is. And why is the public broadcaster, of all entities, employing its diminishing coin in enjoining us to enter the war on waste as private soldiers? I tried to find out from the website, but I didn’t get very far. But you will see there a lot of people who have enjoyed telling one another how they helped.

And as always, when you get into a new program of some kind, there is the hard question: how will we know whether or not we’ve been successful? When will waste run up the white flag, and surrender? I’ll be gentle in my closing thought on this one. There may well be a large number of people who just throw things away, making messes for others to clean up. And maybe it’s useful for somebody, at some time, to remind people that in our highly urban environment doing something constructive about where all the wrapping paper, boxes, bottles and the like will finish up is a useful corrective. Municipally, as far as I can see, we’re on top of that. I really doubt that ABC listeners and viewers are the proper target audience, that’s all. If they are, then things are crook in Tallarook!

Water Not

 Eastern Australia is going through a longish drought. It’s not the worst we’ve had, but it hasn’t finished. In any case, measuring the incidence of drought is a game anyone can play. Two hundred or so years of rainfall data in the Murray-Darling basin tell us that droughts and floods follow one another with some regularity, droughts in 1900, 1940 and 2000, all of them about ten years long, with some humungous floods afterwards. In fact, droughts often end with a hell of a lot of rain.

My interest here is the effort being made by another media source, this time Channel 9, to involve us all in saving farmers from the drought. Pictures tell more than words and much more at the emotional level; the images are pretty bad. My own recent driving in our part of the world showed a barren, grey and eaten-out pastoral landscape. It was not at all pretty, but I’ve seen it like that before. Channel 9 seemed to me to be picturing what I would call the rural version of ‘little Aussie battlers’. There is some truth in it, but there is a most significant difference.

Farming is a business. Yes, it’s very often a family business, with everyone in the family lending a hand. They love the farm, and it’s the only life they know. But it’s a business for all that. It has to be well-run, and well-planned. How is farmer X dealing with the high probability that one of the coming years will be a disaster? Even fifty years ago it was becoming axiomatic that another income stream (the wife’s being a school-teacher, nurse, or public servant) took a huge burden off the farming side of things.

In the 1960s and 1970s the politics of farming and farmers was my central intellectual occupation. I wrote books, chapters and articles about it, and one of the themes that left its mark was what I called ‘countrymindedness’. Here farmers were the true backbone of Australian society. What they did was good and virtuous. They did the real work. In a way, everything that everyone else did hung off the prior productivity of the agricultural and pastoral community. It wasn’t really accurate, but it was appealing both in the countryside and in the city. In those years most Australians in the cities had rellies in the country, or had even grown up on farms. The history of Australia’s countryside for the last 150 years is one of continual population decline. Our farms no  longer support large numbers of sons and daughters. Land-holdings have grown and grown in size. You need capital in big quantities to make a real living out of wheat and sheep. And quality, rather than quantity, is the new benchmark. The successes are fantastic, and the quality of some of our produce now is wonderful.

But for all the successes there are the many failures, and droughts and floods bring them out, remorselessly. Some of the people involved have been hoping, not planning. In any seven-year period, in wheat/sheep country, and more so in sheep/cattle country, you are going to have some kind of catastrophe: no income, severe stock losses, degraded land, the works. A couple of those years may be really quite good, and you make a lot of money. Every twenty years ago conditions may be so good you make enormous money. It’ll be fluke, wonderful monsoonal rain falling ad falling and staying around in central Australia, fattening everything. What do you do with the money?

In most of inland Australia you cannot store water in quantity. You need hills and mountains to do that. Much of our agricultural land is marginal. Here you really depend on the right amount of rain at the right time. Without it, nothing happens. The economic history of rural Australia has been well-researched, and well-written too. Yet we seem to go on with the notion that it’s little Aussie battlers facing the dreaded adversary of drought (flood, fire, put in your own option). I won’t buy it, and though the Prime Minister, at least in public, has to buy it, what his or any other government offers is always a simple money package, well described by the sufferers as ‘too little, too late’.

The real solution, that a lot of the farming shouldn’t take place in these areas at all, cannot be mentioned.

 

 

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Ian MAcCulloch says:

    A sobering article but true and has been true ever since the cessation of the Soldier Settler’s Schemes aimed at putting families onto the land. While there was some success after WWII they ultimately failed because even in the 1950’s the holdings were too small on average. You only have to remember the disaster at Kentucky, NSW with the apple orchards. Similar attempts were made in Central VIctroria.

    I made the decision not to stay on the land back in early 1960 as it was obvious then that operating off a small capital base to build a business was tantamount to failure. Families with significant holdings (on the NW slopes anything above 1,500 ha) stood a chance to go on. The agricultural industry has become more corporatised since that time as you have pointed out. However, when it does not rain it does not rain. Further rationalisation will take place. The most obvious feature of the backdrop to all the camera work on all the news outlets is that there was not a younger farmer/grazier amongst them. A world wide trend.

    Good luck with the health – age is a terrible thing at times.

  • Mike Burston says:

    Thanks for the timely thoughts Don. I was also appreciative of respondent Ian McCullochs remarks on Soldier Settlers. A romantic perception of living off the land is hard to shake. Perhaps we never will. By way of illustration the Weekly Times poses as a country newspaper but sells more copy in Melbourne. At least that was so some years ago.

  • Aert Driessen says:

    Don, I think that you didn’t carry your piece far enough. Sure, graziers etc should now run their properties like businesses much more so now than in the 50s and 60s. I went to a boarding school where 90% of the intake came off the land, so I’m familiar with the culture. But considering the importance of this sector in our economy, why haven’t governments assisted with infrastructure, particularly dams. Even Dr Bradfield was saying this in the 30s at the time of building his bridges in Sydney and Brisbane. The answer? Our politicians, with few exceptions, have no vision beyond re-election in 3 years time, have no imagination nor leadership qualities, and are simply dumb. Most are even so stupid that they think that 400 ppm CO2 in our atmosphere drives Earth’s climate system (sorry to raise it). As for waste, Australia doesn’t produce a lot. Old open-cut mine sites are the most obvious repositories for waste. Collex (spelling?) is probably making more money filling the Woodlawn open cut than Woodlawn Mines did mining the Cu/Pb/Zn ore. Look forward to seeing you back at some lunches.

  • Brian Austen says:

    Well said. So can we really become the food bowl of the world. And how many people can the country support or is it just a matter of turning the rivers round.

    And as for waste, I listened hard for a comment on the virtues of being conservative in what we buy and use. Alas I didn’t hear one. Did someone question the wisdom of buying all this cheap stuff made in China that lasts for a day?

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    I am a single man, living alone. I do not consume much, and in the days of the ‘single-use’ plastic bags used them as bin-liners, or returned them to the supermarkets to be recycled. I now buy bin-liners twice as large as I need, and have to throw them out when they are half full, because no more rubbish will fit in the bin. So, I am now wasting about twice as much plastic as I did previously. I also carry a roll of bin-liners in the car, so I always have plastic bags available if I need them, so what exactly was the point? Production of plastic bags has not stopped, and is not likely to stop.

  • JimboR says:

    “How is farmer X dealing with the high probability that one of the coming years will be a disaster?”

    Seems quite a few of them are taking advantage of the Farm Management Deposit Scheme, which had 6.62 billion dollars in it on 30/6/18.

  • spangled drongo says:

    I well remember hand-milking cows and manually turning the separator to produce govt subsidised cream for the butter factory at a price that was at least twice what you paid for the equivalent in a pound of butter you bought . So you never made your own butter.

    This was to enable people to make a living on small farms and if you worked all day and ploughed your paddocks at night, you could make a living. But it was tough and as Don says, if you got a couple of good seasons under your belt that always helped.

    Here is a modern version of govt subsidies to farmers which is even sillier and hopefully will soon be terminated:

    “EPA Released A Long-Delayed Report Showing Ethanol Hurts The Environment”

    http://dailycaller.com/2018/08/04/epa-ethanol-mandate-environment/

  • Rick says:

    This may be seen as callous, but it is not intended to be.

    I was raised on a small farm and worked alongside agriculture for decades, so I am not an urban dweller who thinks milk comes from bottles. But what repeatedly strikes me is the number of farms that are still so small and clearly unviable. The longer a region has been developed for agriculture, the greater the proportion of farms that are sized according to the days of 50 hp tractors and little PTO headers, or dairy cattle herds of less than 100 milkers.

    I can appreciate the difficulty of bad seasons and I recall friends of mine (who remain viable family wheatbelt farmers) becoming slightly emotional when they recalled a season many years before where they had to shoot most of their sheep. Reloading their rifles so many times had left a permanent mark on them. So it can be very traumatic when the cost of trucking your stock away is greater than the value of the animals.

    But from what I see on the TV, so many of the current battlers appear to be feeding their stock small bales of hay off the back of a ute. They are earnest and hard-working, but if you are not at a scale of feeding large bales out in large amounts, or feeding sheep grain trailed out from a bulk trailer, you are just hanging on until everything is gone. I assume most of these folks are working off farm, because 100 cattle or 500 sheep just aren’t going to cut it.

    I wonder if the public funds being used to help farmers could be partially directed towards helping people leave agriculture and consolidate the land holdings. Agriculture is profitable, but 80% of the produce is coming from 20% of the farms. The sugar industry has tackled this, apparently successfully. Is it time to address the issue on the western slopes of the Dividing Range? It’s hard to watch this recurring problem, so it must be terrible to live it.

  • Tezza says:

    Best wishes for your continuing recovery, Don.

    I share your bewilderment with the quasi-religious fervour of the ABC’s war on waste, which I am inclined to write off as Green-left virtue signalling.

    Harder to explain is why the program, alone among all the ABC’s programs, is incessantly plugged on ABC’s classical music network. The ads are very grating, entirely inappropriate to the programs surrounding them, and feature the insufferably self-promoting Craig Reucassel signalling his virtuous insights with the volume and the oversimplifications turned to 11.

    Complaints to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs, pointing to the violation of ABC guidelines that advertising be limited and appropriate to context were spun away as always by the staff complaint rebutters.

  • JimboR says:

    “I’m probably labouring the point. ”

    Almost certainly.

    “But I see no need for the ABC’s war on waste. ”

    You could always do what I did, and not watch it.

    “I really doubt that ABC listeners and viewers are the proper target audience, that’s all.”

    Well 942,000 of them watched it, perhaps just to feel good about themselves.

    • tripitaka says:

      So true Jimbo, that the ABC viewers watch programs like the war on waste just to feel good about themselves. If only they had some other reasons to feel good about themselves like being rich and having made lots of money. Surely creating wealth is the only rational reason for doing things?

      You really gotta wonder how the lefties at the ABC and those who lap up this propaganda could be so stupid or so evil that they can’t see how they are being used by the global leftist conspiracy that wants to destroy western civlisation and return us to the dark ages or do you think they want us to go back to living in caves?

      • spangled drongo says:

        “Surely creating wealth is the only rational reason for doing things?”

        Not the only reason, tripluv, but it sure beats creating current endless, ever increasing debt, which is about the only thing you proggies know how to create.

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