Phantom menaces

6

I’ve been watching, at long last, the three Star Wars prequel movies (yes, yes, I know how truly awful the first two are NOW, but you didn’t warn me, did you?). Something struck me as I watched the endless computer graphics supplying background to the endless special effect fight scenes.

It has long been a commonplace that the representation of “alien races” in science fiction always gets it wrong. In brief, for this is totally irrelevant to the essay, natural selection will work exactly the same way wherever life appears in the universe. And we know that physics and chemistry is uniform. So alien body forms can’t be just random collections of unconnected exotic features, and bodies are limited by physical and chemical laws. So Wookies, possible, Jar Jar Binks, not so much.

Where was I? Oh yes. Aliens are wrong, but so, generally, are the planets they are portrayed as living on. Many Star Wars planets are portrayed as having surfaces totally covered by cities composed of huge skyscrapers and clearly intended to indicate populations of billions of beings. It is an old concept in science fiction. I guess based on the ideas of inevitable massive population growth, endless technological innovation, and cities as the ultimate expression of human evolution and civilisation.
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The War on Terra

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In these strange times we need, I think, a new paradigm, a new way of looking at the world, which can best come from new terminology, new phrases, new words. Change the language and you change the world, or, as George Lakoff famously almost put it “Think of an elephant” and as the other George famously put it “Mission almost accomplished”.

Let me point out the strangeness to you. Here we are, the year 2012. We are near the start of an unprecedented experiment – see how many people are left on the planet if you burn all the fossilised carbon under the earth and convert it into CO2. Or, if you prefer, just how hot can we make this mother? It is a brave endeavour, a courageous decision. I mean there probably are people in the universe who wouldn’t try this without a second equally livable planet nearby, just in case. But that’s never been the way of this particular branch of the ape family. “Live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself” has been the motto of the residents of this ancestral home.

So, here we are, planet in a pot on the stove, getting warmer, getting warmer, but is that enough for us? Hell NO! While the rest of us are busy burning as much carbon as we can in the shortest possible time (trying for a new record for “The Guiness Galactica Book of Records”) there are others hard at work in other directions. They have declared war on the planet and their mission is nearly accomplished.

But there is only so much whimsy a Polar can Bear. You get my drift. It has seemed, in the last fifty years, that the worse damage was done to the planet, the more people wanted to damage it. That instead of saying, “Oh, hang on, bit of a mess here, time we stopped the party, sent the guests home, and cleaned up the house before the Oldies get home” we have turned up the music, ordered more alcohol, and published the location of the party on the Australian Bikies Club Facebook Page.

Bulldozing and burning forests, polluting the seas, overfishing, coal fracking, oil drilling in Arctic, plastic waste, whaling, poisons, hunting, killing tigers and rhino for aphrodisiacs, killing elephants for ivory, chimps for meat, well the list is endless, feel free to add your own. And then the big one – climate change denial. We tend to see these actions as separate, each one to be fought by different groups of activists in different places. But just as the Global War on Terrorism brought together apparently disparate groups under one heading, so that authorities worldwide could more effectively cooperate and work together, so we need a new approach to planetary destruction by whatever means.

So I propose we call actions that damage the planet Terrarism, and that we declare a new Global War on Terrarism.

Any questions?

Making your brown eyes blue

8

When my mother, aged 85, had a fall and was taken to hospital, it quickly became clear that she would not be able, any longer, to manage living by herself, but would need to go into a nursing home and receive, for quite some time, if not indefinitely, extensive nursing care. So I had to try to arrange that, and it meant finding a Home with a room available, and one in which she could receive nursing care. Not easy, but I eventually found one with a vacant appropriate room in the total care area. The next step was to quickly (before the room was taken by someone else) get approval from the government Department of Aged Care, or Health, or Community Services or something, I forget. That is I had to fill in a form setting out her medical condition and so on to request that she get a total care package, and this had to be witnessed. Witnessed, easy. Her regular doctor (visiting her regularly in hospital as her GP) was required as one signatory, and there had to be a second witness of my signature. Second one? Well, let’s make sure there will be no question, get the Senior Nurse Manager, responsible for her care in the ward she was in to add her signature. Had to wait to catch both of them while visiting/on duty, but eventually, done and dusted. Off I set in my car for the some 2 hour drive to the head office of the Department concerned with nursing homes. Found it, walked confidently up to counter, stood in queue, anxious to get back before end of business hours in order to register at the Nursing Home. And reached the counter to find … well, let’s call him Mr B. B for …. let’s say Bureaucrat.

There were several reasons why Mr B was the boss of me now. First he was behind the counter in his familiar space with his gang, and I was outside. Rather like storming a castle really. Second, I had already had a couple of weeks of desperately trying to sort out my mother’s affairs, while staying on the other side of the continent from my own family. I was tired, anxious, and had driven two hours to get to these battlements, sorry, counter, desperate to get the nursing home arranged. He was warm, rested, well fed, at home, and had absolutely no emotional capital invested in my form or mother at all. And, finally, and most importantly, he had absolute power over me. I had to get his approval in order to move my mother into the nursing home. There was no other pathway, no other bridge over the ravine, and he was guarding the bridge. The power balance was really unbalance – he was all-powerful, I was vulnerable and totally dependent on him.

So he took my pitiful little form almost as if he was handling it with tongs and cast a gloomy eye over it. Page 1 ok, it seemed, his face gloomier, page 2 yeees, probably, page 3 and we were on the home straight, nothing could go wrong now, only page 4 with our signatures to go. And that was where he got me. ‘Ah, doctor, yes, but who is this other one?” Then he picked up his guide book, found the page, and began going through the list. All sorts of people were on there, all kinds of occupations, and if I had found, for example, a real estate agent who didn’t know my mother or anything about her but did have a pen I would have been home free. “No, he said, no ‘Senior Nurse Manager’”. “You are kidding” I said, “what do you mean?” “That isn’t one of the approved occupations for signing this form to witness your signature and your mother’s condition”. I went into the routine, told him the situation, begged him to reconsider. Big mistake, I was even more vulnerable now, and showing it. He went through his list again, his finger pausing at each one, saying the title, like a person who is not able to read very well. “No, ‘Senior Nurse Manager’ not there, can’t accept this form”, he said triumphantly, handing it back to me, “Next”.

And that was that. I drove back the two hours arriving too late to do anything else. Next morning got another copy of form, filled it in again, got the doctor to sign it again, and managed to find someone else on the approved list (a Pharmacist, if I remember correctly, who had no idea who any of us were). Headed back on the two hour drive, stood in queue, reached the counter, handed form to the same fellow, now triumphant and showing it. Thought of saying something but could see no point, and feared that he might find another t uncrossed, an i undotted. Back in car, his signature on the approval form, back two hours to the nursing home that had the vacancy the previous day. Rushed through door, waving form to the chap in charge. “Oh”, he said, “sorry, that vacancy has been filled, what a pity you didn’t come in yesterday.”

A couple of days later there was an unexpected vacancy at another, much less appealing home, and I got her in. She was very unhappy to be in this less attractive place with a not very good room, but I was helpless. It was what it was, we were where we were. Six months later she had died, suddenly, of pneumonia. Cause and effect? Who knows.

I tell this story at some length because it seems to me, in a microcosm, symptomatic of a much larger problem. Everywhere we look around the world, and throughout recorded history, we have tens of thousands of events which seem, at first sight, unconnected. Trials proceed in the Hague of people responsible for cruel massacres in Bosnia and Ruanda; in Australia the child victims, stolen from their parents, of terrible treatment in children’s homes (both government and religious based) demand and get apologies from governments and church groups; Abu Ghraib prison, a place once used for torture by Saddam Hussein, is used for torture by Americans; in South America, military coups see men and boys shot, or flung alive from helicopters into the ocean, babies stolen from women; in Africa hands and arms are chopped off innocent civilians of the wrong tribal group; the Gestapo torture and kill Resistance prisoners; the Catholic church (and some other churches) try to cover up pedophile priests who have been raping altar boys for decades; private security firms guarding asylum seekers in mandatory detention in Australia inflict all sorts of major and minor cruelties; in various countries police are captured on CCTV tasering or pepper-spraying restrained prisoners over and over, or beating them to death in prison cells; and so it goes – the Stasi, the Khmer Rouge, the Romans, the British (in India, Northern Ireland, Kenya etc), Aztecs, Indonesians, South Africans, Soviet Union, America (native Americans, Vietnamese, Filipinos and so on), China (harvesting organs from executed prisoners, Tiananmen Square), Japanese, Spanish Inquisition, Israel (Palestinians), Burmese, they, and many others, have been at it in various ways for thousands of years. In Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, supposedly civilised European countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, have all treated native populations with unspeakable cruelty in hearts of darkness.

Usually each incident is treated as quite separate, explained by particular circumstances, or particular national characteristics, or explained by some particularly vicious leader. But whether they are the small scale cruel treatment of girls in a children’s home, or large scale atrocities of thousands of men working the Burmese railway, or shot in Bosnian fields, or sent off to die in Gulag Archipelagos, the cause it seems to me is the same, and all comes back to my Mr B. For some reason, buried evolutionarily deep, I suspect, within our psyche (if the behaviour of say rams towards a wounded ram, or birds towards a sickly member of a flock are an indication that its origins lie well back in evolutionary time), is a psychological switch that turns on when another human being is within our power to some degree.

We actually have psychological experiments on this human flaw. The two famous (and so devastating in their effects that they were and are still controversial) experiments were the Brown eyes/Blue eyes in the classroom one, and the press button to inflict pain one. Jane Elliott was the teacher who, to give children some idea of what racism was about, following the Martin Luther King assassination, divided her class into blue eyed and brown eyed groups and gave the latter absolute power over the former, then later reversed the power status of the two groups. The effects on the subordinate group were devastating, as was the astonishing willingness of the group arbitrarily given superior status to treat their classmates very badly. The related Milgram experiment, conducted by Stanley Milgram, had students giving what they thought were greater and greater electric shocks, to the sound of screams, to another person who they were told had to be punished in order to learn some words. When told to go ahead by the instructor, students were willing generally to inflict more and more “pain” on the other person. You can read the details of both experiments on Wikipedia, but essentially both demonstrate that people are willing to treat people in their power with great cruelty, and are willing to be more and more cruel if told to be so by someone in authority over them.

It is not really, as Elliott and Milgram have shown us, really very far from my nasty little Mr B, to the bully in the school playground, to the Matron in the girl’s “reform school”, to the policeman with the taser, to the fellow who opens fire with an automatic rifle on a crowded cinema, to the Serbian general, to the commandant of Belsen. That is not to say we should just shrug our shoulders and say “human nature eh, what can you do?” It is to say that in establishing procedures, structures, hierarchies of power, we must do so with as many checks and balances as we can find, and then a few more (perhaps you lot could suggest some). No one should have absolute power, for it does indeed corrupt absolutely.

Upon this rock

5

Saw first part of a terrific tv documentary (How to grow a planet) on the history of plant life on Earth the other night. Struck me that the first episode should be compulsory viewing for every one of the seven billion people I share this planet with. It showed how this ball of sterile, and extremely inhospitable rock we call home was actually turned into a habitable place by plants. Habitable not just for us but for all the other animals we are related to. The first primitive one-celled plants began to generate oxygen, later ones helped to break down rocks, generate more oxygen, began to create an atmosphere protecting us from UV rays. First marine animals were able to eat plants as food. Plants coming on to land paved the way for first land animals. First advanced trees with roots began to break down rocks even further and create soil (there had been no soil). Their shading of the ground helped other plants to establish, shelter formed for animals. Their recycling of water formed clouds and resulted in rain. The deeper roots of trees brought up nutrients from far underground. And so on.

In short then, what we take for granted as a planet on which the living is easy is totally dependent for its benign environment on the plants that cover its surface, from the simple algae in the water to the complex giant trees, and all the plants in between. If a plague of some virus that killed all organisms with chlorophyll erupted, and plants disappeared, animals, including human animals, would be gone a very short time afterwards as the planet went back to being an inhospitable hot rock.

If a plague sounds a bit unlikely, what if one of the organisms, evolved quite recently on this benign planet, decided, inexplicably (the idea is crazy of course), to start large-scale clearing of plants? What if people were logging and clearing forests or sending in hunters and trail bikes? What if grasslands were overgrazed, over fertilised, monocultures, being damaged by fracking? What if “National Park” was merely a synonym for “Exploit Later”? What if marine vegetation was being damaged by run-off full of chemicals, and by rising sea temperatures? What if increasing CO2 levels and temperatures were beginning to damage all plant life?

All of the animals that were evolving in the last 5 million years or so alongside Humans did so in a world whose characteristics had been established by the plants that they lived on and among. Those characteristics of soil, water, temperature range, indeed the very air itself, essential to human and other animals, are not the result of some fixed aspect of this planet Earth, but have been developed over billions of years by plants. Damage extensively, remove completely, the ecosystems containing those plants, and we are sending the Earth back towards its natural status as a barren rock incapable of maintaining life.

Probably not the wisest choice, eh?

Slumming it

5

Whenever I hear a conservative attack environmentalists; sneer at all conservation measures; demand an end to “green tape”; spit on Rachel Carson’s grave; assert that there are no limits to growth; talk about scientific conspiracies; rant about new world governments; ask what importance the earless lizard has; demand to dump mine tailings on the Great Barrier Reef; cover up after massive ocean oil spills; demand endless population growth; promote uranium mining and nuclear power ….

…. I picture their home. The sewerage outlet has become blocked and toilet contents spill out of the bathroom; termites are eating through the walls; the roof is full of holes and water drips from ceiling; in the garage underneath a car is running, the fumes rising up; cockroaches infest the kitchen; cigarette butts are strewn all over floor and carpet is smouldering, smoke rising up; windows are broken and the wind howls through; and rats nest in cupboards.

I guess they are too busy making money to look after the place where they live. And our place.

Ready? Steady

2

The other day the Mayor of a rather nice town not a million miles from the main street of Yass, fronted the media to announce with great pride that his town was now the fastest growing in the state or the country or something. Beaming happily he spoke of the great expansion of the town, and how a satellite town might be needed soon. So far so good I guess – I can see, in the unlikely event (full forward for Carlton obviously more likely) that I was ever mayor of anything bigger than my own farm, that you would rather be the mayor of a growing town than a shrinking and dying one.

But then he lost me. I can’t remember the exact words, but the reporter asked him for a reason as to why Yass was growing so fast, and our Mayor said something like “Because it’s such a lovely town and people enjoy living here”. Now this proposition was also true – I go along with him 100%. Is a nice town, has been even nicer since the bypass. A pleasure to visit, and I imagine a great pleasure to live in. The trouble is that the two halves of the interview were completely contradictory.

If people like living in the town because it is the way it is, why would you want to see it, say, double in size, with suburban sprawl out along the highways and farmland being chewed up for housing developments and massive commercial developments in the CBD? Bit like saying I really love my small car, suits me perfectly, good fuel efficiency, safe, comfortable, but oh I wish it was a Hummer so I am going to trade it in.

It’s usually said, when this question is raised, that more people means more money for Council means better public facilities, and more people means more commercial development of shops and so on and more job opportunities. Fine, I get that, or at least some of it, but it doesn’t alter the proposition that people are being attracted to a town on the basis of qualities which might be swallowed up. I’m reminded of those new suburb advertisements where prospective buyers are shown a picture of rolling hills, wide open spaces, small birds playing happily in the sun. When you know that the complete suburb is going to be wall to wall houses with little space and certainly no natural environment. And as far as more money? Well, yes, but you need to supply more facilities just to keep up, and wear and tear on roads and bridges and demand for water supplies and sewerage is also going to grow, so where is the gain?

I think country towns instead of seeking endless growth might aim for stability. That new people coming in match others leaving. That every effort be made to keep the town in a sustainable state which retains all the good things people love about it but gradually improves the quality of infrastructure.

But I am just an old stick in the mud.

Little house on the prairie

I was reminded the other day by a television programme not only repeated but revisited and rewound of the architect Walter Segal and his “self-build” homes. In one of those moments of serendipity, I read, the day after the NSW election, the following “Mr O’Farrell says the state’s population is set to reach nine million in 25 years and he will fix the population pressures on Sydney by growing regional New South Wales. “Instead of Sydney, which is currently home to two thirds of this state’s population becoming home to three quarters, we are going to engage in whole of state growth,” he said “We are going to engage in a regional development act to decentralisation, to ease Sydney’s growth pains and offer to people in this state … the services that they have in the cities.”” Let us leave aside the moment the idea that we should just sit idly by as passive observers as more and more people are packed into the state, and accept the proposition that there are inevitably, whatever the exact figure, going to be more people. I am not sure how he is going to find the money to do so much regional development of services in the light of the other things he wants to spend money on like rail links within Sydney, but it seems to me that you might well attract people to regional centres by the prospect of decent but very affordable housing.

Which takes us back to Walter Segal. He designed a house that could be not only built cheaply from cheap materials, but that could be built by amateurs (with some level of supervision) who had never even used a hammer before. So ideal for a cooperative arrangement where families don’t have sufficient capital to buy a house but can compensate for that by donating their own labour. The houses have other advantages: the design means that the internal arrangements are very flexible so families can customise the arrangement of internal walls to suit their needs; the designs incorporate energy saving features in windows and roof; the cooperative approach to building (people work on each other’s houses as well as their own) means that a community is being established well before people move in; building your own house and those of your neighbours means there is little chance of people damaging or vandalising their own work later; people in the scheme are learning many skills which can potentially help with finding jobs later; the individual houses on pieces of land are much better for children and families than the giant tower blocks which are commonly used to provide community housing.

I don’t know that the Segal house, specifically designed for England, is exactly what we want here. For one thing it would need to be modified significantly to allow for bushfire protection, and to be even better equipped to save energy and water. I also think that the particular cooperative scheme featured on Grand Designs wasn’t perfect. The people involved took an awful long time, working a few hours per week in between paid employment, to finish their houses, and when they did they didn’t own them but simply rented them from the Coop. All of that could be improved with more professional help, and with a purchase not a rental scheme at the end. So a job for Australian architects to design an Australian easy-build house, and for economists to work out an equitable scheme for low income earners to be able to pay off the houses they build.

But in general the introduction of such ideas into the affordable housing question in NSW, and its adoption in country towns such as Yass as a way of attracting people from Sydney and giving them the chance to build a new stake in a community, would be well worth the new government looking into, rather than just following the well worn paths of the past. Paths littered with failures. In addition, as well as other low income earners, such schemes would be a way of attracting new migrants to regional areas, and helping them settle in and learn new skills.

Over to you Mr O’Farrell, time for a new start in public housing in the country?

Oh Maggie I wish …

1

When Maggie Thatcher announced her doctrine that there was no such thing as society, just millions of people selfishly doing their own thing and corporations ever expanding their profits, it would have been hard to imagine, like the shot heard around the world, her views ever being of relevance in the Yass River Valley. But she was listened to, first by the Hawke-Keating government and then by the Howard one, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Turns out that kind of thatcherite ideology, soon adopted everywhere, hurts everyone except the super rich, but hurts small rural communities the most. If Corporations are only required to make ever bigger profits (no society, remember); if all public services are privatised, turned into corporations; if all regulations are removed, or turned into “self-regulation”; if functions are outsourced overseas; if mergers are encouraged; then we will see happening what has been happening. The obvious place to make big profits – because of big markets, high volumes, short distances, available infrastructure, rich customers – is the city. The places where profits are low and costs are relatively high – those places where you would cut services in order to cut costs and raise profits – are small country towns and villages.

And so private companies cut services in country areas, as do newly-privatised once publicly-owned companies, as do publicly-owned companies next on some government’s list to be privatised, as do government entities starved of funds because of the endless thatcher-inspired reductions in tax revenues. Thatcher’s belief in there being no such thing as society was not so much a description as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the trend continues, and it seems likely to, then the public will own nothing at all. But that is the future. In the past and present we have seen banks closing branches in small country towns, railway stations and lines closed, Telstra reducing its presence and service in country areas, hospitals closing wards or all together, public schools closing, councils amalgamating.

And now it seems to be the turn of Australia Post. Well, has been for some time I think, as post offices began to look more like supermarkets than a government service, and as actual country post offices began to close and be replaced by the provision of post office facilities in general stores, matching what had long been the case in the smaller villages. And now in turn those facilities are beginning to close, apparently because the way that Australia Post pays for the provision of these services hasn’t kept pace with costs. Hasn’t kept pace with, makes no allowance for, increases in volume in some items, especially parcels. And all of this means, I am told, that the provision of this essential community service is being subsidised not by Australia Post (our public postal service) but by many of the small shopkeepers themselves. Who are, in many cases, already struggling to cope with competition from giant supermarket chains in regional centres. If the post office, such a central facility for every village, closes down, what is left of the community itself? Does it become just a place where people sleep at night, going elsewhere by car during the day to work, to school, to shop, seek medical treatment, to undertake postal and banking operations? Is that a community, and if it is then why would people want to move from towns to live in it? Once upon a time governments were anxious to encourage people to move from city to country – perhaps they still are, but the gradual loss of services will make this a forlorn hope.

I suspect that Australia Post may well be on a Gillard list for privatisation, and it is currently clearing the decks, improving the profitability, ready for that blessed event. If it isn’t it will certainly be high on the agenda of an Abbott government. Once it is privatised there is absolutely no doubt that the service provision will get even worse in the country as more cost cutting measures come in. All of this stuff keeps happening gradually (just as with climate change) and like the proverbial frog in gradually heating water we don’t notice until it is too late and we look around and say “whatever happened to this community?” If you have a post office in a local store have a chat to the store owner, see how he or she is going, ask whether you should protest and to whom. Like many such things, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone – get in first this time.

It’s a pity that the price of maintaining some fragment of services in country areas is eternal vigilance.

I blame Maggie – decisions of leaders whose eyes shine with the white hot heat of ideology, made in oak panelled rooms to the applause of corporate leaders, have a way of impacting on those communities and individuals who can least afford it half a world away.

Oldie but goodie

2

There was, you may remember, in one of the kerfuffles during the election campaign, yet another dust up over population growth in Australia. Dick Smith, bless him, had made a documentary pointing out that the “Big Australia” beloved of developers, house builders, mining magnates, John Elliott, and Kevin Rudd, might, just might, present one or two problems, not least of which was the ruining of the Australian quality of life. Those in favour of endlessly increasing our numbers always just keep muttering “infrastructure, infrastructure” as a charm to ward off the likes of Dick and me, as if building ever more freeways was going to make life that much better for the 100 million people crammed on the coastal strip of the Greater Gold Coast.

But as the clincher, when “infrastructure” fails to convince the doubters, the Biggies always start talking about the old people, with a kind of feigned concern as to how Australia’s elderly (which includes both Dick and me) were going to manage in the future unless each of us had a dozen or so young people to fan us with punkahs and feed us with grapes as we lolled on couches like so many aging Indian or Roman emperors. Questions as to who was going to bring gin and tonics to those 12 young people when they in turn reached the age of water cress sandwiches and a version of croquet played with soft rubber balls always remained unanswered.

Well, turns out, and I doubt you will be surprised by this, that according to a recent study us Oldies are so far managing ok. What with the benefits of school milk and clean living and rock and roll music we generally seem to have reached the age of sixty something with most of our faculties, if not our joints, intact. Are in fact capable of doing stuff, earning the odd dollar, contributing to our community, looking after grandchildren. When you read this I will be, once again, in the throes of lambing, and can probably manage another season or two of that worthwhile activity. As well as editing our community magazine, and of course, writing bits and pieces to entertain and enlighten the public, young and old alike.

All around me I see other sixty somethings who, while they may or may not want to go back to full time work, are nevertheless capable of making things and building things and repairing things and teaching about things. In fact there are seventy somethings and eighty somethings, joints willing, who are also keen to be active and contribute to the society in which they live. And for those who aren’t able to do much because of fading eyesight or hearing or bad backs or any of the other symptoms that give us all moments of realising that, like Mick Jagger, we aren’t, after all, quite as young as we once were, why then, the contributions they have made to fairly advancing Australia over the previous three quarters of a century should be worth the occasional supply of lotus for eating.

So you want an ever increasing population to make billions of dollars from building houses or freeways then fine, admit that, and we can take the discussion from there. But don’t use us Oldies as an alibi for your greed. Dick and I don’t like it. And we still have the mental facility to say so.

Grow and be

1

You have found this excellent little village on the coast. Love it to pieces. Quiet, picturesque, more nature than you could poke a stick at, terrific fish and chips available on the fisherman’s jetty, and a hundred year old pub with no poker machines. A house for sale, you buy it, get to know the neighbours, and eventually the rest of the few hundred residents. Nice community, nice people. But then one of them has to ruin it. Is sitting in the pub one night and thinks “What a great place this is, what a pity more people don’t know about it. More people should be able to enjoy it, oh, and just by a piece of serendipity, if more people enjoyed it, surely there would be a way I could make gazillions of dollars out of them”. Has a dream in fact.

So he gets to work. Sees a “For Sale” sign on a piece of farmland and snaps it up for a song. Acquires a few empty blocks on the main street that had been on sale forever. Buys up a couple of strategic corner blocks where the entrance road leaves the highway. Mentions to a TV holiday program what an unspoilt paradise it is. Calls a community association meeting, tells everyone that while this is indeed a paradise it would be better if they had a few more people, just a few, in order to get a few more facilities in town.

Television crew arrives. Oh and a national magazine reporter, with photographer, also arrives, having got an email. And is that a journalist from a current affairs program, cameraman in tow, having sensed a “small community to join twentieth century, will be tears before bedtime” story? The Dreamer, meanwhile, behind the scenes has been using a friendly councillor to quietly push development applications, under various company names, through a council. There will be a whole new suburb of dream homes, a caravan park, tourist resort with 9 hole golf course, two petrol stations, fast food outlets, and a number of new restaurants, cafes, clubs and gift shops on the main road. After a few years more Dreamers arrive and develop marinas, and adventure playgrounds, and supermarkets, and motels, flattening, in the process, trees and sand dunes, dredging out the river channel, removing mangroves. Each move justified by the need to “provide employment”, boost the local economy, add facilities.

And after a few years the original locals look around and wonder why the once paradise now looks just like every other coastal town or indeed city suburb. And why all the features that once made it such a nice place to live – the forests, the clean river water, the quiet beaches, the sense of community – are all gone. And they wonder whatever became of Mr Dreamer, long since moved on to another unspoilt paradise.

Don’t know what it was, but when Mr Switkowski said the other day that Australia needed to grow and develop to 100 million people, would be very good for us, I was reminded of our friend Mr Dreamer, and that long ago little village on the coast.