[-empyre-] inadvertent contaminate

melinda rackham melrack at icloud.com
Thu Nov 30 23:59:53 AEDT 2017

Hi all,

I’ve taken a rather circuitous pathway to get to eco-contamination in the Australian desert. I didn’t know it existed until I started visiting Communities in the Aboriginal controlled APY Lands, an area of more than 100,000 square km, in central Australia. My DNA is Irish/Scandinavian, not Indigenous, and I have a permit stay for 6 months each year.  

Even though we are in the center of a huge continental desert it’s heavy, humid, rainy season and electricity, phone and network connections are absent a lot of the time. I stay in touch via a community phone with solar satellite internet on Aeroplane homeland - magnificent country about 10 minutes’ drive from Pukatja (Ernabella) nestled into the Musgrave Ranges.
When I first visited Uluru (2.5 hour northwest of here) and later drove onto the Lands I was surprised that it looked more like South African savannah. Someone mentioned the kangaroos don’t come there anymore because they don’t like the grass. It seemed wrong. Other places like the Flinders Ranges are carpeted in spring by indigenous flora in intense pinks, whites, yellows, reds and greens. I have a set of painted 1950s place mats of Australian desert flowers in all seasons commissioned by contaminators BHP. It didn't look like that.

Then my partner who works with Indigenous families, told me the elders were lamenting the change in the land, how the flowers had gone and traditional food and medicinal plants, were harder and harder to find now. The lands are populated by introduced species - dogs, horses, donkeys, foxes, cats and camels leaving few traditional food sources like kangaroos, wallabies or goannas to hunt. You can buy frozen kangaroo tails at the one store in Pukatja - its a favourite sweet fatty meat cooked in coals - the KFC of the bush.   

I soon discovered that the grass I was seeing everywhere was Buffel Grass - Cenchrus ciliaris, a native of South Africa and Middle Asia, introduced inadvertently by seeds in Afghan Cameleers saddles around 1860 when camels were the main transporters of goods in the outback. It looked green and lush so Graziers and the Government started a propagation program across the desert to reduce dust and produce pasture for cattle in dry country. Its in it's green stage in the foreground of the pic below.

Of course you know the outcome - it’s an aggressive coloniser, not actually very good feed, strips the land of nutrients and displaces local flora. In Australian Indigenous bush management, burning is necessary for land rejuvenation and the reproduction of many plants, but Buffel thrives in fire and burns so hot (a  mini fission) that it destroys the trees and shrubs that should be regenerated. Buffel is also a biodiversity threat in southern Arizona, but there has been a decade of concerted effort to eradicate it with regular volunteer Weedwackers digging it out most weekends.

If Maralinga was a big bang this is a painful deepening burn. Politics play a major role – South Australia in which APY is sited has declared it a weed to be eradicated while the adjacent state government of Queensland calls it an important sown pasture, providing helpful growing tips. Because other varieties were introduced it has now produced hybrids which propagate where nothing has grown before.

While i agree with Catherine’s sentiment “we reject the narrative of "invasive / native,  we celebrate the narrative of "weeds" as resilient resistors of the monoculture”, In this instance the weeds are becoming the monoculture. Harking back to Catherine’s other posts on glyphosate’s residual contamination, the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center (SABCC) recommend “a 2% glyphosate solution works well to kill buffelgrass.”

Another impasse, complicated by this contamination falling not on privileged bodies but as Margaretha commented in Week 2  it falls on  “the poor and the black and brown are often closest to superfund sites and toxics”  Here on the Lands it is very visibly pitting indigenous lives and culture against agribusiness. In most Communities, like elsewhere on the planet, traditional food has not been replaced by what’s grown nearby but by uber processed sugary food and drink.

Organs fail, decontamination is needed at a cellular level. In a supposedly first world nation our Indigenous health statistics are appalling. The latest annual Women Law and Culture week gathering of women from across the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia provided portable dialysis units to enable allow many elders to attend at a remote location.

But as has been said many ways this month there is no solution in the anger of injustice or the sentiment of looking back, or in the folly of a happily ever after future.  Rather we can only be here in the present - with all its fuckedupness it's an incredible place. Maybe what we get is humility - as every action even the best intentioned such as the supposedly closed Lake Source Cooling system that Renate spoke of earlier, has unpredictable consequences. We can never compute the myriad of potential outcomes. Humanity is clearly not, and has never been, in charge.



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