RE-GENERATION—Pathways out of the morass

The Wild Mountain Collective is joining with friends and colleagues to kickstart an exciting new project—REGENERATION.

We envisage the project comprising a conference/symposium hosted by Charles Sturt University, Bathurst Campus, and a multi-arts event, hosted by Bathurst Regional Council. Leading the charge to establish the founding group are Dr Sarah Redshaw, Research Fellow, Charles Sturt University, and Barbara Lepani, Co-ordinator of the Wild Mountain Collective.  We are busy searching out and enrolling individuals from the Greater Blue Mountains and Regional Australia who share our passion for the development of a new narrative, a new pathway in response to the challenges of climate change and socio-economic trends impacting our community.

If you are interested in getting involved, contact Barbara:  barbara.lepani@gmail.com

Our Aboriginal Heritage

Australia’s 60,000 + year old indigenous cultures are founded in ecological consciousness, enshrined in the idea of ‘caring for country’ and embedded through the role of songlines and associated ceremonies involving dance, music, art and story telling. As documented by Bill Gammage,[i] Aboriginal agricultural practices involved the widespread use of fire to manage the Australian landscape to maximise its ecological sustainability for human wellbeing, supporting over 1 million people in 250 Aboriginal language groups, each with an intimate knowledge of their local ecosystems.[ii] The anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose has pointed out that this involved a detailed knowledge of soils, landforms, surface and underground water, and types of vegetation, as well as time of year, time of day and type of wind.[iii]

Bruce Pascoe creates a picture of pre-colonised Australia as a land of cultivated farming areas, of sowing and harvesting, granaries and surplus produce, productive fishing techniques, durable buildings of clay-coated wood, weirs and an understanding of the soil that kept it moist and fertile before the introduction of sheep and cattle (Steven Carroll, SMH)

[i] Gammage, Bill (2012) The Biggest Estate on Earth

[ii] Pascoe, B. (2014) Dark Emu, Magabala Books, and Massey, C. (2017) Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth, UQP

[iii] Bird-Rose, D. (1996) Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness, Australian Heritage Commission

Australia’s Bush Innovation and Communitarianism

This lived continuous eco-consciousness, together with the Australian settler tradition of ‘bush innovation’ and communities coming together in times of hardship, provides the foundation for a new narrative built around the idea of re-generation.

Agricultural Regeneration

Re-generation takes its inspiration from the regenerative agricultural movement, the response by a group of farmers to find an alternative agriculture to that of the industrialised extractive agriculture imported into Australia with European settlement without sufficient attention to the unique biota of the Australian environment. The Australian continent is one of the most arid on Earth (70-80% of landmass classified as arid) and is characterised by thin soils ‘leached of both macro-and micronutrients, the mega-catalysts for life, making them poor in structure and restrictive of water drainage and plant growth’ (Massey, 2017:16). Australia’s soils are also highly vulnerable to salination, and our agriculture is subject to ‘flood and drought’, extreme climate and rainfall variability.

The Problem with Jobs and Growth

The widespread burning of the Amazon rainforests in the dry season of 2019, which are reported to provide 20 per cent of the Earth’s lungs, and what this means for global warming, has brought into stark focus the limitations of each nation pursuing their own ‘jobs and growth’ strategy. The clearing of the Amazon, an area that is as large as the state of Western Australia, is a result of the Brazilian government embracing a ‘jobs and growth’ strategy of land clearing for palm oil plantations and cattle grazing. Similar reasons underpin the destruction of the world’s remaining rain forests occurring across Southeast Asia. Likewise, China’s increased contribution to carbon emissions is a direct result of their economic growth strategy emulating that of the advanced industrial nations. In response to air pollution and environmental degradation associated with its rapid economic growth, China has recently embraced the idea of ‘eco-civilisation’[i] with the aim of making civilisation, as a social formation, consistent with repair and ongoing renewal of the biosphere.[ii]

Despite the election of the Morrison Coalition Government on the theme of ‘Jobs and Growth’, there is evidence of a widespread concern among the population, and rural and regional Australia in particular, about the socio-economic effects of climate change and related water shortages, drought intensification, land degradation and species extinction and related debates over energy policies. At the same time there is increasing evidence of anxiety and depression in the population linked to the impact of technology via social media on questions of identity, community cohesion and trust and security, to new developments in artificial intelligence (AI) about the future of jobs, and to evidence of increasing wealth inequality, linked to wage stagnation set against wealth generation through asset investment and share market activity. This takes on an intergenerational dimension through the access of some young people to the ‘bank of mum and dad’ to fund their access to home ownership and avoid HECS debt on future earnings after graduation.

[i] This idea of an eco-civilization strategy was announced in 2018 in President Xi Jinping’s address to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

[ii] Mathews. F. Can China Lead the World to an Eco-Civilization: A Manifesto, and Do the Deepest Roots of a Future Ecological Civilization Lie in Chinese Soil, www.freyamathews.net. Mathews points to the influence of Daoism on traditional Chinese thought. “Daoists studied the behaviour of natural systems at a far more profound level than have contemporary adherents of biomimicry, and they explained them not in terms of fixed laws but in terms of open-ended underlying flows of energy, or qi. They observed that economies of energy in natural systems follow the twin pattern-principles of wu wei and yin-yang polarity, applied not only in martial arts but also in public engineering and agricultural systems, as well as the art of warfare, most famously written up in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: The Denma Translation (Shambala, 2001). However these ancient principles have been subverted by China’s recent embrace of its current philosophy of capitalism with Chinese characteristics.

Protest and Rebellion

One response to community concerns about climate change and environmental degradation has been the Extinction Rebellion movement, calling for a non-violent campaign of civil disobedience in the face of the failure of conventional approaches such as voting, lobbying, petitions and protest against vested powerful political and economic interests. Complementing this has been the now international school kids protest movement initiated by Greta Thunberg of Sweden. While protest movements demonstrate community concern to government and business, they lead to frustration and anger, as they provide no pathway forward.

The RE-GENERATION Conference/Symposium

Drawing on the intellectual strengths of Charles Sturt University and its commitment to Regional Australia as well as participation in leading international intellectual developments, the Regeneration Conference/Symposium could include the following range of topics.

  • Regenerating Australia’s multicultural identity—a response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart through constitutional enshrinement of the Voice, Truth Telling and Treaty and the development of ecological consciousness “mateship with the natural world”.
  • Regenerating economics—redefining the meaning of ‘jobs and growth’ by moving towards a circular zero-waste economy, increasing types of recycling, supporting community gardens and exchange systems, redefining work and leisure
  • Regenerating the Rule of Law—the development of a ‘rules-based’ legal system grounded in the laws of nature that govern the long term viability of Earth’s ability to support human habitation and other life forms
  • Regenerating agriculture—the principles and practices of regenerative agriculture as an alternative to large scale agri-business based on intensive irrigation, monoculture, farm size agglomeration, chemical inputs and complex value chains that penalise farmers
  • Re-generating conservation—caring for country and all its life forms based on stewardship, not control over, the natural world
  • Regenerating cultural vitality and spirit—how can we learn from the songlines tradition of Aboriginal culture in the role of the creative arts in our communities to embed eco-consciousness and community stewardship for country and people.

The Multi-Arts RE-GENERATION Event

Bathurst Regional Council has a vision for Bathurst to become the ‘premier inland centre of culture and creativity’, developed in collaboration with the Wiradjuri Aboriginal community (Bathurst Wiradjuri and Aboriginal Elders), who comprise one of the largest Aboriginal language groups in Australia (Bathurst Cultural Vision 2036). Its essential elements include:

  • Utilisation of Bathurst’s cultural institutions: library, performing arts centre, art gallery, museums and associated programs
  • Investment in public art and public spaces to celebrate art and culture
  • Cultural festivals and events
  • Development of a Wiradjuri Cultural Map to ensure that Wiradjuri culture and its association to country is recorded and shared with the broader community including residents and visitors.
  • Support the establishment of Bathurst as a Regional Centre of Excellence in Cultural Education

By 2036 the Vision’s strategies are designed to deliver to the people of the Bathurst region a range of world class “next” practice cultural facilities including a Library, Performing Arts Facility/Facilities, Art Gallery, Regional Collections Management and Storage Facility, Wiradjuri Cultural Centre and Keeping Place and a revitalised Town Square Precinct in which cultural aspirations will be paramount and that will establish Bathurst as the premier inland centre of culture and creativity.

The RE-GENERATION multi arts event that will sit alongside the RE-GENERATION Conference/Symposium will provide an opportunity for community arts organisations to create a range of activities in the visual arts, music, performing arts, film & video and artisan areas of arts practice that explore and express the theme of re-generation.

Such activities, with engagement from local, national and international participants, as well as local schools, might include:

  • Art Gallery exhibition(s)
  • Street sculpture and murals expo
  • Community choir, celebrating Wiradjyuri song and story, following the example of the Bulgamada Big Sing held at Blackheath on 24 August 2019. This event featured performances by Aboriginal musicians and story tellers as solo performances and in concert with a large community choir whose members were drawn from 20 different choirs in the Blue Mountains, Illawarra, Central Coast and Central West, supported by a concert band of local musicians
  • Theatre production
  • Dance performances