Blowing in the wind


There was once, my older readers will remember, a Victorian premier called Henry Bolte. Remembered now only for ensuring that he would be the last state premier to order a hanging in Australia, and for his famous response to the growing concern about the environment in the 1960s. “Air pollution? The wind blows it away. Water pollution? The sea washes it away.”

He would have thoroughly approved of the work at the crippled nuclear reactors in Japan, as water rich in radioactivity was pumped out to sea. What could go wrong – radioactive fish? As indeed what could go wrong with pumping chemicals down into coal seams to extract gas in rich farming areas with deep alluvial soils? I mean, where could the chemicals finish up – in bore water? Or open slather import of foods (exploding watermelons anyone?) and toys (high lead levels anyone?) from other countries with poor safety and regulation records, no chance of any problem there for our children?

Look, maybe I am an extra bit sensitive at the moment, given circumstances, but I think we have all got a bit blase about chemicals in the environment. Concern in the 1960s eventually got smoothed over, wished away, regulations gradually relaxed in the interests, you understand, of increasing profits. But now I wince when I read about coal seam “fracking”, shudder when I see trucks spraying weeds along roadsides as I drive past, groan when I see a bunch of grapes in a supermarket labelled “exposed to SO2″, worry about the nuclear industry push in Australia. And each time I read a study showing an inexplicable increase in some childhood (or adult) medical condition once largely unknown I wonder whether the pollution Bolte so blithely waved goodbye to as it blew away from Victoria has gone around the globe and come back to bite us all.

And I don’t know what we can do about it. I was as careful as could be about what I ate and drank and used in the garden, on the farm, but if there are invisible tasteless chemicals, in the air we breathe in the city, or the food we buy in supermarkets, or the water we drink in the country, then careful doesn’t really cut it.

The environment needs the old Hippocratic oath applied to it – first do no harm. After that make all the profit you like. Henry Bolte believed in the reverse, but then he believed in hanging people too. Times are a changing, aren’t they?

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6 comments on “Blowing in the wind

  1. Barrie Collins says:

    This kind of careless polluting and exploitation has been going on for decades, centuries David. I’m currently reading South of My Days, the Judith Wright bio by Veronica Brady. Judith had the same thing to deal with nearly 50 years ago, the Bjelke Peterson era in Queensland where ‘development’ was the guiding star for short-sighted profiteering and to hell with the environment. We owe it to people like Judith that we still have the Great Barrier Reef with us today.

    I’ve been thinking of either buying or making a geiger counter to take with me to the shops, not just to test fish but Eastern European produce, esp dairy. I remember when Chernobyl happened, all our relatives in Europe wrote and asked us to send tinned food because the radioactive cloud from the blast had spread across a number of European countries and they couldn’t trust their local fresh produce to be radiation-free.

    Well what can we do, a class action? Petitions? But against what? Food security is vitally important, so is health, the environment. The internet is a powerful tool for rallying support around important issues. Your blog David is always raising important points around all manner of things.

    One of the most effective local agencies for change in recent years has been GetUp, they’ve done a magnificent job of raising awareness around some very important issues. And there are others, Amnesty International being one that has run campaigns and petitions with great success.

    As a ‘consumer’, read: ‘human being’, I have a right to my health and well-being and a right to freedom of speech and many other things guaranteed by the UN’s universal declaration of human rights. We in Australia don’t have a a bill of rights, this should be a priority, its a right of the people, for the people and not for a government to decide whether or not we should have one.

    An Australian Bill of Rights would be a good foundation for asserting our rights, in particular about the food that we eat and whether we are able to grow enough for our own consumption. The miners and developers will destroy a good deal of that ability and right if we let them.


    • David Horton says:

      Thanks Barrie. I agree about the return to the Bjelke -Peterson era as well. Those old conservative premiers, just prophets ahead of their time eh? I’m not one for seeing tabloid dangers in every waking moment of our lives, but on the other hand I have the strong feeling that chemicals are invisibly accumulating in many parts of the environment and food chain because of relaxing standards, and it is having an effect in the rise of particular kinds of illnesses.

      I have “bill of rights” on my list of future topics.


  2. Lyn says:

    Hi David

    (maybe I am an extra bit sensitive at the moment, given circumstances)
    I don’t think you are writing extra sensitive David, just another thoughtful genuine article, from your brilliant mind.

    Have you ever seen the dreadful destruction of the environment in Queenstown, Tasmania of course that is caused by mining. As Barrie said above (“The miners and developers will destroy a good deal of that ability and right if we let them”).

    You certainly seem as though you are much better David, best wishes to you and keep up your good work on your valuable enjoyable blog.



    • David Horton says:

      Thanks once again Lyn. Yes, have seen photos of Queenstown, and have been to some former mining sites. The requirements to repair such damage also seem to have been considerably relaxed in recent years.


  3. fred says:

    Nice comment at Deltoid David.
    Oh, and here too.


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