Sunday, September 27, 2015

Judith Wright and 'the heave of the great corporations'

'Only those coral insects live
that work and endure under
the breaker's cold continual thunder.
They are the quick of the reef
that rots and crumbles in calmer water
Only those men survive
who dare to hold their love against the world;
who dare to live and doubt what they are told.
They are the quick of life;
their faith is insolence; joyful is their grief'
Judith Wright

Today I am thinking about Judith Wright, Australia's finest poet and long time campaigner and activist and her biographer, Veronica Brady. 

They were both warriors- of the imagination, of the spirit and against injustice.

Judith Wright died in 2000  and Veronica Brady died in Perth in August this year. They are both deeply missed.

But their lives and their writing stand as a testimony and reminder of their remarkable contribution.

At Fremantle Library today I found the new republished edition of Judith Wright's The Coral Battleground, a book published in 1977, that documents the campaign to protect the Great Barrier Reef from oil and gas exploration and mining.

The book was re-published in 2014 by Spinifex Press. In it Judith Wright wrote:
"The Reef's fate is a microcosm of the new battle within ourselves. So this is not just a story of one campaign. The human attitudes, the social and industrial forces, and the people who in one way or other take their part in the campaign, represent a much wider field, and one in which the future of the human race may finally be decided".

The Coral Battleground begins in 1963, when Judith Wright was involved in the formation of the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society. 
Between 1967-1971, the Society was instrumental in a campaign led by Judith Wright  and artist John Busst and environmentalist and scientist Len Webb to prevent the Queensland State Government, led by Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson, from opening up the Great Barrier Reef to mining.
At the time they were denounced as radicals, fanatics and cranks.
Judith Wright, John Busst and Len Webb mobilized an alliance of citizens, conservation groups and trade unions against plans by the development oriented (and corrupt) Bjelke- Peterson Government  to allow the Great Barrier Reef to be exploited by mining companies.

Their campaign eventually led to the Federal Government claiming Commonwealth sovereignty over the Great Barrier Reef. In 1975 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was established. The creation of the Great Barrier Marine Park was the first such national park in the world. The reef and its waters were listed as a world heritage site in 1981.
Wright once wrote:
 "If the Great Barrier Reef could think, it would fear us ... Slowly but surely we are destroying those great water-gardens, lovely indeed as cherry boughs and flowers under the once clear sea."
And now the reef is under threat again. 
In the Foreword to the 2014 edition of The Coral Battleground the conservationist and environmental activist Margaret Thorsborne documents a series of threat to the reef including: human induced climate change; loss of seagrass; shrinking populations of many dependent species; infestation of the crown of thorns starfish; development pressures; reduction in water quality; catchment run off; coastal and port developments and the Queensland mining boom which is driving the demand for bigger port facilities, more dredging, more reclamations, more sea dumping of dredge spoil and more and deeper channels to serve bigger ships.
The United Nations has warned Australia and the Queensland Governments that unless real improvement  are made to the deteriorating condition of the reef, it may be listed as a world heritage site in danger.
As Thorsborne notes, although Judith Wright's battle was won in the 1970's and 1980's, Australian's must face the harsh reality that the Barrier Reef is never safe while the real destroyers- industrial, financial and resource extractive capitalism- continue to declare war on the natural world.
Of course Judith Wright knew all this well.  In her poem For Today (from For a Pastoral Family) she wrote: 
We were always part of a process. It has expanded.
What swells over us now is a logical spread
from the small horizons we made-
the heave of the great corporations
whose bellies are never full.
Previous posts  on this blog about Judith Wright are here.

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