THE CHALLENGES OF CHOICE AND CHANGE.
In this age of advertising hyperbole where everything is ‘amazing’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘fantastic’, prices slashed’, ‘great deal’ words begin to lose their meaning and value. I have a personal bugbear with the use of the word ‘unique’. For a word that has such a specific meaning (‘Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.’), it has been much banded around by lazy copy writers and over enthusiastic promoters with an abandon that has largely left the word almost meaningless. The word is not conditional you cannot be almost unique anymore than you can be slightly pregnant. On one level the word must be applied very carefully – it’s a big universe and our planet hosts multiple billions of people. On another level, strictly speaking, nothing is exactly like anything else – soeverything is ‘unique’ and the word loses it’s meaning altogether – even the most boringly mass-produced item will differ in some infinitesimal way from its fellows. It is also incorrectly used in a relative way, when something is described as ‘unique’ and what the writer really means is: ‘In my experience I have never heard of, or experienced, something like this before’. The common use of the word generally refers to something that is unusual or scarce and therefore significant – not the meaning of the word ‘unique’ at all. So why am I banging on about the meaning of words in The Mallacoota Mouth? The word ‘unique’ is often coupled with the name ‘Mallacoota’ in journalistic or promotional material. On the broadest sense Mallacoota is ‘unique’ because everything is (see above), but this is not helpful. When the word ‘unique’ is applied to our area you can be fairly sure that the word ‘pristine’ (‘Remaining in a pure state; uncorrupted by civilization.‘) will be lurking around somewhere – lying in wait for the uncritical reader. Now if Mallacoota and it’s surrounds were ‘pristine’ then they would certainly be ‘unique’ when describing coastal estuarine environments anywhere in the world and certainly on Australia’s East or South Coasts. However I can’t help but notice a whole lot of houses around the place and each new build increasing in size and magnificence. There are lots of big cabin cruisers out there leaking oil into the waters and empty stubbies, soft drink cans, coffee containers and wrappers everywhere. ‘Pristine’ like ‘unique’ is not a conditional word. Something is either ‘pristine’ or it is not. Mallacoota is a long way from most places and it is it’s isolation that has made it possible for the epithets ‘unique’ and ‘pristine’ to be applied (however inaccurately) to it. From the Mallacoota perspective everywhere else is very far away, but – we can see it getting closer. With improved highways, improved cars and most importantly unsystematic, unsympathetic profit driven development causing the environmental and social ruination of comparable locations closer to the major cities. People are looking farther way for a ‘sea-change’ and because of lack of vision and pure greed they are inevitably followed by the unsuitable development of these formally beautiful, integrated, safe and functioning communities. The very things ‘sea changers’ are trying to escape very quickly catches up with them. The wave of the homogeneously noisy, polluted, violent and expensive life style many people came here to get away from is like tsunami washing both from Sydney and Melbourne towards Mallacoota. Mallacoota will be neither ‘unique’ or ‘pristine’ and we will have missed a wonderful opportunity. Does this have to be the case? I was fishing around on the internet a while ago and I found an interview on the subject of the much discussed Mallacoota Boat Ramp and it contained this exchange. (http://australianetwork.com/englishbites/stories/s1608177.htm) It was this that gave me the initial idea for this article. REPORTER: Dawn on Victoria’s Wilderness Coast. It’s aptly named. There’s no development along the beach for almost 200 kilometres. No housing, no jetties, no breakwaters, nothing. ………. INTERVIEWEE: A lot of people resist change. But we believe that change is inevitable. Of course the interviewee is absolutely correct – change is inevitable. Our culture is driven by change and it always has been. There has not been a static Eurasian culture since before the development of agriculture. Only in isolated Australia and the depths of the Amazon and New Guinea jungles have cultures been static until relatively recently. Change is driven mostly by increase in population, technological innovation and climate change. Currently all three of these drivers are active at the moment in our culture. In the past change has happened to cultures in the same sense as natural disasters happen to cities. There was not the knowledge or communication technologies to predict or modify the effects of a technological or cultural modifier. Neither was their awareness of the fact that we are allparticipants in the social process. Even up to the relatively recent past the will of the rich, powerful and inevitably violent impressed their wills on the greater community who complied with their wishes or died. In those more primitive times, those that dominated their populations neither knew or cared what would be the long term or broad effect of their actions on their society or environment. We have learnt, often painfully, what change without forethought, or change driven by the dollar can do to a community. Large numbers of people will die and substantial areas of land will remain uninhabitable for an indefinite period in Japan because technologies were implemented before they became mature enough to deal effectively with their own waste-products and satisfactorily control vital industrial processes under all foreseeable situations. What has all this got to do with Mallacoota or the word ‘unique’? We can make choices that will make Mallacoota ‘unique’ at least amongst Australian coastal communities and embrace change with both hands. If we follow the conventional developmental scenario exemplified by communities like Merimbula and Lakes Entrance with high rise developments, high density urban landscapes, marinas, marine farming and the resource gobbling dependency on fossil fuels then the two tsunamis will have met right here. There will be no opportunities for, or exemplars of, sensitive creative approaches to development left on this coast. There are many opportunities for change in this community that will have minimum impact on our natural environment and preserve the quality of our community life. They have to be approached with an open mind and social generosity. If all of us keep our eye firmly on the bottom line in pursuit of personal profit then Mallacoota will go the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Much ink has been spilt about environmental tourism and is often cited in opposition to mass tourism. In one sense it must because conventional mass tourism inevitably degrades the environment while environmental tourism seeks to minimize human impact. What about a planned environmental mass tourism approach? Place a cap on the number of people who can experience our wilderness areas at any one time. Sell Mallacoota as the last place to experience real wilderness. Provide guided tours and overnight campouts through the bush and on the water headed up by experienced guides. This could happen 52 weeks a year. You are selling Mallacoota as – yes – a ‘unique’ place. Our communities natural resource is our (relatively unspoilt) wilderness and nowhere else could tourists come to experience real estuarine wilderness for 1,000 km up and down the coast. All the rest have been ruined by uncontrolled development. Then there is environmental education. We already play host to Marshmead. What about searching out educational institutions who would be interested in participating in the establishment of an environmental education campus where students could study the marine and littoral environments directly – think of the amount of varied employment that would create for our older and younger people alike. Think of the boost it would give our own school in educational spin offs. Then there is the internet. One of the beauties of internet based enterprises is that it doesn’t matter where you are when you work. There are many Australian small scale but highly successful internet based businesses. I am betting a not inconsiderable percentage of them would, if given the right incentives, love to work from Mallacoota or Genoa full time or as a working holiday. We have in our community quite a number of motel and cabin style accommodation places. How about a conversion into an internet enterprise village? Supply living accommodation and an office work area, a big broadband pipe and possibly room service and you could fill up your facility all the year round and charge a premium rate. More opportunities for local employment. So there are few ideas that have been suggested, many more will doubtless occur to you. We could be ‘unique’ if not ‘pristine’. We would need a community based organization that can explore and foster these sort of low impact initiatives that protects our major natural resource (the wilderness) while fostering significant economic development and much needed varied employment opportunities. The Shire is advertising for a facilitator to work with community members and community organizations to come up with a plan. This is a huge opportunity to embark on a sustainable, economically viable journey into the future. To become ‘unique’ and to survive into the 21st Century our community must show a great deal of faith and courage. Let us hope we will find a way to grow Mallacoota without killing the goose.
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