Friday, January 27, 2017

Exploitation of Cocos (Keeling) Islands

by John

I lived on West Island, one of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean back in the mid-90s.

I wrote a long sequence of poems on the islands (collected in Lightning Tree, with some of those poems included in my recent Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems 1980-2015), and also a novel Post-Colonial.

I have maintained an interest in the islands and follow any news relating to them. I was thus astonished and appalled to see the Premier of Western Australia's latest statement of cultural insensitivity, ignorance, and grotesque exploitation.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands have a fraught colonial history, and the Cocos-Malay people who live on Home Island have a cultural life that extends back to the first half of the nineteenth century (and obviously beyond that to their places of heritage). They were horrendously exploited by white colonial overlords (starting with Alexander Hare and his harem slaves, and his conflict with the Scotsman John Clunies-Ross and his family who arrived in 1827), right through to the late 1970s.

As indentured labourers who were paid in tokens ('Cocos Rupee') only usable at the islands' store, the Cocos-Malay people have the right to self-determination even if they opted to go with Australian citizenship during the 1983 referendum on self-determination.

The mid-twentieth century John Clunies-Ross (the family ruled across two centuries) sold the islands to Australia — forced to do so by the Australian government due to the overtly colonial exploitation model under which the islands were being ruled, though the islands had technically been under Australian administrations since the 1950s — back in the 1970s. Yes, sold.

That West Island is an extension of Australia is arguable in some ways (though I'd refute this as well); it is certainly not a playground for the Colin-Barnett-leisurists.

Barnett's insensitive implication that Bali exists as a tropical paradise for 'Westerners' (specifically the Western Australian versions) to play out their fantasies is obscene. Western tourism's impact on Balinese cultural and day-to-day life has been immense and very often negative. All the economic-rationalist arguments in the world won't offset the abuse that is 'Kuta Beach', that is the mockery of spirituality on the island.

The Home Islanders of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are of Sunni Islamic faith, and they have been so long before they were 'purchased' by Australia. The religious bigotry that has embroiled Australia in the hatefest that has led to so many Muslims in Australia being targeted by right-wing 'patriots' is shown for its absurdity in the fact of the Cocos Islands having been Muslim (and to some extent animist) long before there was even a Commonwealth of Australia.

In fact, Cocos-Malay culture is complex and diverse, and people of many different geographical and ethnic origins came together as 'Cocos-Malays',  and though the people only number in the hundreds (on the islands; many other Coco-Malays have emigrated elsewhere in Australia and Malaysia), a Cocos-Malay language has essentially become its own language, and aspects of island culture belong only to those islands.

I don't doubt that some Cocos-Malays, and probably quite a few non-Cocos Malays running businesses on West Island, would welcome this message of development, but I personally know many Cocos-Malays wouldn't. There's a difference between having interested visitors and making a massive exploitative assault on culture and rights that comes with isolated places being turned into the playgrounds of holidaymakers looking for pleasure, leisure, and a beach party. Sensitivity and respect are the key in this.

My novel Post-Colonial was actually an attempt to articulate an independence movement under difficult economic conditions. It follows a character who has gone to the islands to experience oral cultural histories, while wrestling with his own demons of addiction and disillusionment with Western life.

I send my best to those people on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands who need to know that some people on the 'mainland' actually do care that their cultural identities and 'ways of life' are respected. Here is my poem to Mr Colin Barnett and other would-be exploiters:

Graphology Endgame 15: Cocos Islands Party Plan

‘Just think about it — our own tropical paradise. An alternative to Bali.’
            Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia

The Premier of Western Australia
wants to (re)turn the Cocos Islands

(in)to a colonial playground. Sensitivity
swirls about his corporate state

of excitement. Like a cyclone. Shattering coral,
threatening homes with breezy annihilation. 

Those small risings of land made so slowly —
particle by particle — way out

in the Indian Ocean, carrying a legacy
he will never translate, hearing only English.

This threat to the spirits that simmer
in the lagoon, drift through coconut palms,

scuttle over the sand dunes of South Island.
The Big White is sailing back in with the tide.

The Big House is rising again. Small sailing
craft are becoming quaint. Ghosts indentured.

Drinkers at The Club on West Island are charging
their glasses. Prospects of a fire sale?

Can he possibly know that Hari Raya doesn’t
imbibe his eternal beach-party movie,

his piss-up for patriots
with palm-heart daiquiris?

            John Kinsella

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Asbestos at Coolbellup Bush Site

By John

The Western Australian government, the police and their private enterprise cronies and agents have deleted the Coolbellup bush and left us a legacy of dispersed asbestos fibres. A class action is needed and I hope this will happen. (The private enterprise cronies should be boycotted.)

This poem below was written a short while ago when there was still bush left in this section of the Roe 8 highway extension 'area'.

All will suffer the consequences of asbestos, and this from a government that was responsible for the (literal) installation of asbestos products in the ceiling spaces of the new children's hospital, and asbestos dispersal in roadside mulch (and who knows where else) in one recent case.

The contempt for life in all its forms shown by these people is obvious, but that they actually see themselves as champions of Western Australia and its 'way of life' (what on earth is this in actuality?) speaks volumes for their ignorance, arrogance and cruelty.

The trauma so many people are experiencing in seeing rare bushland habitat deleted from the Perth city region will not be 'got over'. It is long-term and is akin to trauma felt during disaster and war.

We are writers writing in times of catastrophe faced with a 'hebephrenic' power elite (hebephrenic in Hodge & Mishra's sense) who will force what they see as necessary on us all.

I read an appalling article the other day on a site dedicated to commentary on GM science, and while discussing the genetic manipulation of mice to 'turn on their hunting instinct', the journalist sought to normalise the process as being something akin to 'natural'. And all this with the advocacy of 'science not ideology'.

Sorry, but such acts are pure ideology, as is the Roe 8 debacle — it is an act of ideology, not of community wellbeing or sound public planning. It is about greed, profit and power. The ability to make in one's own image.

The result: toxic fallout, further damage to the biosphere, and the massive loss of all sorts of creatures' lives.

Blue Hazmat Suits in the Coolbellup Bush Prior to its Destruction

A premonition or a delayed reaction?
A parody of deaths from blue asbestos,
fibres invading Tracy’s father’s lungs,
and lungs of so many others we’ve known.

And as the wound is widened, stretched
by sadists, blue hazmat suits are seen
bobbing in and out of the undergrowth,
a consummate piece of pastoral diplomacy

played out on crown land, a colonial
power-trip for the born-again remittance men,
their shock troops without masks
breathing deep the dust from the dozer,

from the mulcher; O lèse-majesté flexes
as the arrests mount and fibres fall out
and about, confetti for this wedding
of development and annihilation,

such comfortable bedfellows. And
so the evidence mounts, the bushland
is riddled with dumped asbestos products,
the tests verify, and then evidence

is suppressed, misplaced, dispersed,
deleted. O fibres dispersed throughout
the suburbs into lungs of all ages, all conditions,
do you expect us to be grateful?

And still the juggernaut, transparency
of fences revealing the antiworld,
where ghosts prevaricate, disorientated.
Children breathe here, you bastards.

And remember that smug capitalist
eating asbestos on his breakfast cereal?
Publicity stunt, but some bought it.
Softly softly among the rowdy machines.

Fibres beneath fingers.
Fibres in noses, mouths, lungs.
Fibres on clothes, on uniforms taken home,
dispersed among loved ones.

            John Kinsella

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Protecting Old-growth Trees on the York-Merredin Road and Bush at Beeliar

We were out under the magnificent sammies (salmon gums) over the weekend with our friend Lindsay (the views expressed below are mine — John's — though Lindsay is also committed to saving these trees).

The poem below is a reaction to the Main Roads compulsion to destroy a supreme 'architectural' achievement of nature — trees that are complete ecosystems in themselves. Below the poem are photos taken to show the girth of these trees, their ancientness. In doing this I acknowledge Noongar elders and country. 

It is a disgrace that some (all?) conservative politicians are actually trying to attack the trees as dangerous and redundant. Why not lower the speed limits to 80ks an hour through 'Cathedral Avenue', just to start with? 

The destruction of ecosystems in W.A. is happening so rapidly that many people are largely unaware. The so-called Royalties for Regions money is too often funnelled from mining (in relatively small portions compared to miners' profits); it often supports an ethos of road-widening (habitat destruction that serves mining infrastructure in so many ways) and environmental destruction elsewhere.

Further, the expansion of leisure facilities in nature reserves and national parks is part of the manipulation of all natural spaces to suit human exploitation. Nature just can't exist in its own right in the minds of these exploiters. (Of course, I am not including traditional/cultural uses by indigenous peoples in this critique. Indigenous land usage for traditional/cultural reasons is of an entirely different provenance and is to be respected.)

The disgrace that is the assault on the Beeliar bushlands, with hundreds of police deployed to ensure the destruction, is the overt side of a police state — the conservative government deploying the troops.

And as the Beeliar/Coolbellup (anti-Roe 8) tree-sitters give their all to save something, the bulldozers work in the spaces below them.

But there's a covert side as well, and that's what's happening with the clearing of old trees along the York-Merredin Road.

Blue hazmat suits have been seen in the bush around Coolbellup down in Perth before it is cleared, and (previously dumped) asbestos is something the neighbourhood is possibly being exposed to without recourse, fibres sent airborne.

In future years the young police themselves may wonder how they developed asbestos-related diseases — they have been deployed without care for their health. Some are willing executors of policy; others do it because they are ordered to do so. All of them — and we the people — will suffer the same from dust clouds sent high and far by the bulldozers and mulchers.

Some of us have memories of the old Charles Court government days and similar use of police. It could be brutal at times. Liberty, fraternity and equality are alien terms here — rather, it's bullying, destroying and profit-making.

Sammies (Salmon Gums)

for Lindsay, Tim, Tracy and Kim

East of where I write but not too far east
the great sammies arch over the road
to hold movement in, work to keep a grip
on the land as they knew it two hundred
or three hundred years ago, ringing
the changes of timeline owned and owning,
knowing patterns of seasons from voices
rising beneath them always, and so wide
in the trunk that two of us can only just
touch hands, a difficulty the plastic ribbons
of the clearers, sashed around, don’t have —
not ‘welcome back’ from war but declarations
of war. Strips of dried bark crunching
reminders underfoot, getting close.

If you’ve never seen a sammie in its home
place, never been haunted and rejuvenated
by the way it works dawn or evening light,
then you probably can’t know how much
its deletion diminishes you, never mind
country itself. You’ll have equivalents,
sure, of course, but there’s no analogy
to be drawn that won’t dilute the agency of light,
of that orange-pink-white-brown bark negotiating
temporal and spatial variables. Hands reaching
to touch, a nest high above makes glyphs.
Sammies, poured into their columns,
ribbed vaults, horizons of canopy
through which land and sky parley.

You know, near those magnificent sammies...
You know, those sammies umbrella-ing
near the corner with Station Road, you know,
you know. In the hot wind scouring
stale, bleached paddocks, embrace
their cool forms. A heart stretched
out, an anatomy of transfiguration.
We acknowledge the elders, who know
the name of all the creatures who dwell
in their inner and outer worlds, cross over.
We acknowledge the poverty we make
in taking them away, these sammies.
Where the cropping went, the sammies fell.
Their characters are inflections of soil.

Those personal anecdotes hived out of sammies.
Riding beneath, rewritten by the spirals of shadow.
Leaning against the base of a thick trunk to shelter
from a sun that would hallucinate you to walk
straight into flames. Slowly, cautiously, drinking
from the waterbag, you scry a future bare of the present.
Picnics, gatherings, knowledges of healing and origins,
all learning cut to the base, grubbed out. And so
the ancient salmon gums are killed off — death-wish
where roads are widened to ‘prevent deaths’? Always
these paradoxes like cigarettes ashed out of car
windows at the height of summer, flickers
of holocaust in such a casual gesture. Sammies
see us looking out for ourselves, grabbing our slices.

East of where I write but not too far east
the great sammies arch over the road
to hold movement in, as in our mind’s eye
we wander though the ambulatory, cars
rushing past. We are three generations
of onlookers enraptured by ancient trees
that make settlement look as tenuous
as it is. Knowing this, we listen to the pink
& greys, the Port Lincoln parrots, the honeyeaters,
the black-faced wood swallows, the willy wagtails,
the array of insect species, the Wurak, the Wurak, the Wurak,
which we borrow from a language which will keep these
trees in the constellations and won’t let go of the roots deeper
than light, as far as we understand it, wanting to learn, to respect.

            John Kinsella

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A poem in support of Tahlia and Emma at the Roe 8 protest

Sweeney Witnesses the Attack on the Coolbellup Bush
by the Forces of a Corrupt Police State

for Tahlia and Emma

Wings clipped, you’d expect Sweeney to plunge
to the ground, plough into the ploughed sand
and wait helpless till collected by the mulcher
and spat into a pile of has-beens, signed-off on.

Wings clipped, you’d expect Sweeney to plunge
into the clouds of toxic dust generated by the smash-
and-grab, by the sweeping of the last pieces
from the board in an endgame not quite going to plan.

Wings clipped, you’d expect Sweeney to plunge
into the microclimate of asbestos, the bush stressed
as dumping ground for waste no one wants to pay for,
then murdered because other forms of life test reality’s limits.

Wings clipped, you’d expect Sweeney to plunge
into the crowd of protesters, some wearing face masks,
others exposed to the dust that reaches into front gardens,
houses, the small amount of space allotted to public recreation.

Wings clipped, you’d expect Sweeney to plunge
into the police lines, police told to watch out for the particles,
that it will cost them too in the long run, but the Big Cop
says hold your positions, breathe in, breathe out, it’s all propaganda.

Wings clipped, you’d expect Sweeney to plunge
into the bulldozer, stuff up its hydraulics, its bamboozled
driver bragging of his agency. And all the while the women
up the trees looking down and roosting, roosting, roosting.

Wings clipped he lifted, flying high, to sit close with Tahlia.
Wings clipped he lifted, flying high, to sit close to Emma.
Together, he said, Together we will keep the trees upright.
Together, he said, We will unravel the bulldozer, the mulcher.

            John Kinsella

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On Witnessing With Many Others the Destruction of Remaining Bushland Alongside Malvolio Road, Coolbellup

A New Ode to Westralia: Anthem for All Future Sporting Events

The state is killing our souls
The state has murdered the people — some they murder over and over
The state has deployed vicious antibodies to kill the good cells
            and let the infection thrive
The state has equated work with destruction and manipulated 
             the outcome — remember, the state has no love for unions.
The state deployed its shock troops who watched on as poems were yelled
            at them, their commander marshalling attitude, saying: how can we
            shut this one up? Poets of the world, take notice. They will close
            you down the moment you break free of your anthologies,
            your safety in pages of literary journals, the comforts
            of award nights.
The state shapes itself out of the dust rising from underforest
            which is its soul exposed to a caustic, toxic atmosphere
            made by so many other such actions of malice — the shape
            is cartoonish to start with, then like a Hollywood effect
            then just terrifying ectoplasm feeding on sap and blood and grit.
The state chips and mulches because it has heard rumours of Plato’s
            theory of forms and thinks it needs a new translation full of local
            business inflection, full of their own brand of ‘civilisation’.
The state has no intention of letting traditional owners maintain 
            traditional places of worship of culture of belonging — it’s always 
            been about the twin poles of denial and deletion.
The state has reservoirs of species names and the odd pressed sample
            of a flower they wish only to remain as a Latin name and 
            a collectible, gathering in worth, which is the essence of market 
            economics, rolling on through the bushland with gung-ho 
            in-your-face finality.
The state wants you to gasp as the tall tree cracks and is brought down fast,
            the pair of tawny frogmouths lifting to nowhere, dazzled by daylight.

            John Kinsella