Right at this particular moment, I am proud to live in the Australian Capital Territory.

Since returning to Australia, I have often been puzzled, not to say annoyed, by the continual waffling of Australian politicians, as they try to avoid doing anything constructive about the environment.  Reams of paper have been devoted to all sorts of studies and surveys.  Experts have given advice.  Scientists have suddenly found themselves on national television, blinking in the unaccustomed light of public scrutiny, only to be shot down (figuratively, at this stage) by politicians spouting stuff where the words “feasibility”, “working families” (always a favourite with Labor) and the now rarer “not proven” are to be heard.

The scientists scurry back to the safety of their relative anonymity (they are often very well-known and respected in their own scientific circles) and politicians get back to more “serious” issues, like how much space should be allowed on footpaths for al fresco meals.  This last issue being important enough locally, to warrant quite a lot of Canberra journalists rushing out to interview a wide range of cafe and restaurant owners, and give them all a bit of free publicity in the local news.  Several days in a row.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the same Legislative Assembly which is so concerned about footpaths, in the places which actually have footpaths – we could do with a lot more of them – has been quietly setting up something wonderful in local schools.  We have yet to see how it will function, but the principle is something which, since returning Down Under, I have been screaming at my television set, every time that the word “environment” returns to the forefront in the news.

“Why on Earth don’t you work with our Aboriginal peoples?!”  I shout.  “It’s their speciality!  Their whole culture is about environmental conservation!  They have thousands of years of experience with Australia’s different environments!  Why are you all so stupid?!”  Sadly, the people inside the television set don’t hear me.  This must be the way that ghosts feel.  Ignored, as if they don’t exist.

Then, this wonderful thing happened.  On 24 May 2010, the ACT Government put out a media release, entitled AUSTRALIAN FIRST SEES ACT STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT ABORIGINAL LANDCARE.  Not a catchy title, but the contents of the release made me want to sing.  I didn’t, though.  I just shrieked “yes!” and forwarded the release on to other like-minded people, as we now say.  However, I did add a few gushing sentences.  No-one has yet answered, and today is 7 June.  They are obviously not as like-minded as I had thought.  “Alone, again.  Naturally.”

Simon Corbell, who is the ACT’s Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, announced that, for the first time in Australia (which saw European settlement in 1788) students will be taught about the traditional landcare practices of our local Aboriginal Elders, the Ngunnawal People.  Minister Corbell said:

“Aboriginal communities in the local region have a rich history of landcare and there is a lot we can learn to better our current practices and strategies in Canberra.

“Our younger generations are the environmental advocates of the future and giving school students this valuable knowledge can only have a positive impact on the local environment into the future.”  Commas are often rare in Government media releases.

The programme is called Understanding the Land through the Eyes of the Ngunnawal People – A Natural Resource Management Programme for ACT Schools.  Another not-very-catchy title.  Governments specialize in them.  The programme will be taught in ACT schools from Pre-School to Year 10.  The Minister also said:

“The information provided in this curriculum will help our children understand, respect and value special sites and areas around Canberra, places like Sandwash and Tidbinbilla.

“The programme will also support Aboriginal children with a continued sense of pride and give them an opportunity to teach fellow students some of the landcare practices of their elders.

“Schools will be given a range of resources supporting the programme, including specific information and photographs on local Aboriginal flora and fauna, audio interviews of local Aboriginal Elders, a booklet for teachers and a DVD.

“I am pleased to have the opportunity to launch such an important curriculum for ACT students and look forward to seeing some of the results in our local environment over coming years.” 

Nice one, Minister.  Now, may I draw your attention to the fact that, according to Jessica Good on WIN News, the ACT has just experienced its wettest Autumn in twenty years?  The Territory’s rooves, unaccustomed to so much rain, have been leaking to such an extent that my roofer is two months overdue in his running repairs to mine.

With all this water, could you possibly see your way clear to having another look at our Stage Three Water Restrictions status?  It would be nice to pop down for a visit to Stage Two for a while.

While we’re on the subject, should the ACT Government really be putting all that time and effort, not to mention taxpayers’ money, into advertising the joys of Living in Canberra, in the hope of encouraging people from overseas and interstate to move here, when we are still on Stage Three Water Restrictions?  Wouldn’t it be more intelligent to fix the water supply first?

In the meantime, congratulations to the ACT Government on this Australian First with the First Australians.  How long will it be before all of the States and Territories follow this example?  Five years?  Ten?  Twenty?  At least the ball is rolling.

And, right now, I am very proud to be living in the Australian Capital Territory.

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