When anyone asks me where I live, I say ‘Brisbane’ … but that’s not quite true. I actually live in one of the outermost northern suburbs of Brisbane – just over 20km from the city. In fact, it’s so far away from the capital city that it actually falls within the bounds of a different Council jurisdiction. My house is situated in a semi-industrial area and has a population that could be broadly classified as being on the lower side of middle class.
There’s a lot I don’t like about the place – the long commute to work, the lack of decent cafes, the piercing squeal of burnouts in the quiet of evening, and the cars … the driveways and carports of many households seem to contain an abundance of them. It’s these kind of seemingly small and inconsequential things that can crawl under the skin and fester, causing me to lose a little more hope for the goodness of humanity and the environmental future of this planet.
But then there are a lot of things that I do like about where I live. When we first moved here some years ago, there were lots of trees – so many interconnected blocks of established native flora that they could easily be classified as remnant forest. And it’s no doubt because of these trees that we’ve been lucky enough to have had several close encounters with koalas just beyond our fence line. Galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos, kookaburras, rosellas, butcherbirds and magpies can be spotted with startling regularity in our backyard or flying overhead, and the eerie calls of bush stone curlews can often be heard in the otherwise silent darkness of early morning. Such close proximity to native wildlife – some species of which are classed as endangered or threatened – is a special experience for a nature and animal lover like me.
As the sprawl of Brisbane expands outwards and the demand for land increases, outer suburbs like mine change and develop in response to this ever-growing need for available land. In the space of three years I’ve seen one substantial block of land transition from being predominantly forested to largely cleared. At first just one small corner of the block was developed into housing – which then sat idle and vacant for two years – before another section of land was cleared to make way for a new residential estate. Quickly following the completion of that estate, the next stand of vegetation was cleared and yet another estate was under development. In the past couple of months the remaining bulk of trees on that block have been felled and the bulldozers have cleared the land in readiness for what I suspect is yet another series of housing estate developments. Now when I go for a run on the weekend, instead of pausing for breath on the crest of a hill and admiring a view across the green treetops of a not-too-distant forest, now all I can see is the dark brown of a bare, scarred ground. It’s a sight that never fails to shock.
These localised environmental changes have occurred against the backdrop of governmental change here in Queensland – in March 2012 the State elected a pro-development LNP premier (Campbell Newman) – a political party outcome which the recent Federal election has followed. Is it nothing more than a mad conspiracy theory that around the same time as a pro-development leader was elected into State Parliament, that development in my suburb suddenly seemed to increase pace? Possibly. Is it merely a coincidence that in the past few months there has been a noticeable reduction in the amount of native vegetation cover on nearby blocks of land? Maybe. Is this kind of environmental damage a sign of things to come? Probably.
This greedy development of all ‘available’ land is an inherently flawed concept. After all, the land that is cleared isn’t necessarily ‘available’ land at all – it’s already in wonderfully complex use by all manner of flora and fauna. Tree clearing doesn’t even adequately explain what we lose when we remove this native vegetation – all living things that call these places home are cleared away and another stand of natural beauty is sacrificed to the cause of ‘progress’.
Of course there are still areas of vegetated land that are under protection within national parks – places where, in theory, native plants and animals can thrive in their natural state. But even these parks are under threat in Queensland with plans to potentially allow cattle to graze, provide greater access to four-wheel drivers and horses, and expand eco-tourism ventures to make these places more accessible. With tree clearing seemingly on the rise and a likely erosion of the level of protection offered by national parks, I wonder … just where is wildness supposed to exist?
I have no doubt that I’ll still complain from time to time, but I can continue to live without close proximity to a decent cafe, and I could put up with a long commute to work. However I never want to live in a state or a country where there are more houses than trees, and where the only native animals I see are an occasional bird perched high atop a street lamp, wondering what used to be.