MALLACOOTA AT THE END OF THE WORLD
One night many years ago a friend of mine informed me that he viewed Mallacoota as an excellent place to experience ‘the end of the world’. He explained that he was not talking about the ‘Armageddon-end-of-the-world’ so fondly imagined both in America and by some of Australia’s more excitable fundamentalist evangelicals. He was referring to the gradual breakdown of the structure of Western Society as it succumbs to the pressures of over-population and resource exhaustion. At the forefront of the problem is the exploitation of the internal combustion/diesel engine as a way to power personal and commercial transport and the widespread use of other fossil fuels for electric power generation. In those far off days climate change was only on the radar of a few visionary climatologists and the warnings were subdued. We had yet to experience the huge obfuscatory snow job that international business interests and the US State Department perpetrated on the world when the threat became clearer and the warnings more insistent. My friend’s view was that Mallacoota was sufficiently isolated to escape the grosser manifestations of increasing shortages in essentials like oil and petrol (it is hard to imagine petrol riots and endless queues of road-rage besotted loonies in down-town Maurice Avenue – except possibly at Christmas and Easter), Mallacoota had it’s own independent water supply, a medical center, an airstrip and it was on the coast – to facilitate transport and communications, a small enough population to be able to manage itself in a crisis and the population containing a skills and knowledge base quite out of proportion to its population size. Since then the population has aged considerably and has been leavened by upper middle class professionals and public service administrators who have come here to retire, still his summation remain substantially true. While climate change is undoubtedly with us and set to create huge problems for us as a society and as individuals the details of it’s effects must remain as a range of probabilities and models until the direction the climate is taking is undeniable – by which time it will be far to late to do anything about it. Some things however are abundantly clear: the planets population growth is verging on the exponential and these populations are largely expanding onto arable land that used to be used to grow food. The worlds in-the-ground resources are finite and being used at an increasing rate as populations grow. Drinking water is becoming scarce globally and the cost of industrial inputs like crude oil is rising steadily as supplies become depleted. The world is approaching rapidly or has just passed the point where over 50% of the worlds available oil stocks have been used and they are of course were the easiest to extract. From now on oil will be harder and more expensive to extract and increasing in cost year by year to the user. It is also very clear (even without specific details of the effects it will have on the environment in a case by case basis) that pumping huge amounts of carbon and other green house chemicals into the atmosphere is a bad idea. Viewing the above paragraph in cold blood is likely to depress anyone. We are all doomed and in the words of the Peggy Lee song ….’if that’s all there is lets break out the booze and have a ball’. But what of our children and their children – must there lives be diminished because we had a powerboat to go fishing and flew around the world for our holidays? It was just because global problems seemed so intractable that Mallacoota offered such an opportunity for my friend. You might not be able to save the world but you might be able to save this bit. A few years ago Mallacoota was voted the top tourist town in Victoria out of a hundred Australia wide by an expert panel for the travel magazine Australian Traveller. The criteria was – ‘What town would you advise a tourist that was worth visiting an hour or so out of there way?’
This is not too surprising to those of us who know that we live in paradise. What perhaps was surprising, on the surface, was that the only other town in Gippsland to get into the list of a hundred was Wallhala! It is in that result where in lies the secret message from deep time. Remember this is vote about the past. This is about people making decisions based on what Mallacoota was like the last time they were here. A Mallacoota less developed than it is now. It is salutary to note that it was the only town on the Sapphire/Wilderness Coast to get on the list at all. This is also true with The Lonely Planet guide books who sing Mallacoota’s praise and who are frankly disparaging about Lakes Entrance, and other ‘developed’ holiday destinations. While it takes all kinds to make a tourist industry there is a definite risk that the simple-minded develop-develop-develop approach is rapidly eliminating choice from the tourism equation. This is why increasingly large numbers of discerning Australian tourists are going to New Zealand. It is instructive to note that the two most popular towns in Australia where Yamba and Esperence. Mallacoota enjoys a huge natural advantage over many other coastal destinations with its encircling National Park, enormous lake and river system and pristine surfing and fishing beaches. Lakes Entrance started out with similar advantages and now has an environment where the lake ecology is slowly dieing from salt water incursions, riverine inflows are severely curtailed by domestic supply, irrigation and deforestation upstream in catchments and polluted by effluent and nutrients from surrounding domestic, agricultural and commercial developments. The whole ecological catastrophe is a result of ill planned and unrestrained development. That is not to say, of course, that development is bad. We humans cannot help but impact on our environment. We don’t really belong so it is just prudent to step carefully. Especially if we want tourists to keep coming to Mallacoota and spend there money, so we and our children can live in the manner in which we have become accustomed, we must preserve the features that have made us number 1. We must provide services and facilities that mesh with the peace; beauty and natural wonder people come here to experience. There is no doubt that Mallacoota could be developed along the lines of Lakes Entrance or Merimbulla and make quite a lot of money in the short term for people on the ground floor (us) but if we want to preserve a beautiful, safe and healthy environment for us, our children and future visitors then considered and careful development is, I believe, imperative.