By Chris Thaxton
A reflection on power struggles and environmentalism during a semester in Australia.
Today, a man from a local indigenous group gave welcomed us to Australia. Traditionally tribes and nations would not intrude on the land of others without first being “welcomed,” so before all of us international students begin our adventure down here in Oz, the Uni thought it important that we be formally welcomed by the people the land belongs to. Although the lifeless faces around me suggested that most of my peers could not have cared less about this gesture, to me it was awesome. Never in America would you see a university invite a Native American to welcome you to use the land simply because we no longer recognize the land to belong to anyone but us. Although the Australian government obviously doesn’t admit that they are borrowing the land they have developed, this university and many of the people here do.
After all, are we all not just borrowing this land? Even the aborigines were just loaning the country from a higher power…they just left it in a much better condition than we have. Who says what belongs to me, or my parents, or my friends, or my government? What right do we have to call a piece of dirt ours…we did not create it did we? All the materials we use, to produce the goods that we sell, and create structures on the land that we develop does not truly belong to us. We have borrowed everything from Mother Earth, who I call God, and She is probably not happy with the way we are treating her things.
When I let a friend borrow a book, I expect them to return it a little bit worn, but still very usable. If they live up to my expectation of respect, then that same book can be passed between a tremendous number of friends before it is unreadable, and odds are by that time several more books have been published for me to read and begin to pass on. We should be treating our planet in the same way we should treat anything else we borrow, such as the metaphorical book. You don’t borrow a book and begin taking notes in the margins, crossing out things you disagree with, or ripping out your favorite pages for you alone to enjoy. You instead do your very best to keep the text in mint condition so that the next reader can get all of the thought and emotion out of the read that you did. I want my kids, and their kids, and their kids, and so on to be able to see, hear, and smell the same wonders that I have, so that they can draw their own emotions from this amazing planet.
Australia, like the rest of the world, has quite a few things to work on when it comes to carbon emissions, over development, and conservation. Regardless, at least this one university seems to understand that though we may call a place “ours,” we are only its temporary users, and we owe it to the original owners to leave it better than we found it.