All good things are wild and free

A tree-filled view

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.

A tree-filled view

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.

8 Comments

  1. chartreuse

    It sounds as if you probably live in the same area where my daughter lives. They’ve seen a koala run down the street past their house, making a dash from one piece of bush to another. And each time we drive down to their place, we notice that development is spreading further and further north (away from the city). Unlike you, she and her husband are beginning to find the commute to the city – with their 2-year-old in the back seat coming along to the childcare centre on their university campus – is taking a huge toll on nerves (and time). So regretfully, they are planning to move nearer to work and away from a more pleasant lifestyle. Knowing how good it feels each time I head back north, away from the urban sprawl, I feel for them.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Chartreuse – It’s such a shame to see development spreading the way that it is … especially when we’re losing habitat for our native animals like koalas. I can imagine that driving to the city would be incredibly stressful – I used to do that but now travel via train, so it gives me time to catch up on my reading. It’s sad that they are planning on moving away from where they’d rather be living. Hopefully they find something that’s at least a compromise between the best of both worlds.

  2. Gabrielle Bryden

    It’s shocking what is happening and will happen even more quickly (esp, now we have 3 levels of conservative LNP governments and their commitments to roll back ‘green tape’ for the sake of ‘progress’. My son just did an geographic assignment on Brisbane – wish I had read your post before he submitted it, as it is very relevant – he had to come up with recommendations for sustainable growth in Brisbane. One of my older books on wildlife in Brisbane (1995) says that Brisbane has one of the greatest varieties of wildlife of any city of that size in the world – that won’t be the case if Abbott and co. and Clive and Gina get there way.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Gabrielle – I’m so worried about what the future will hold for our environment (especially in Qld), and I’m always concerned when I hear about plans to cut ‘green tape’ and ‘streamline’ processes … we all know what that’s code for.

      I hope Michael’s assignment went well, and no doubt he came up with some ideas for sustainable growth that would teach our current leaders a thing or two.

      I’m just not sure whether we’ll be able to repair the environmental damage that is no doubt going to be done within the next few years. It’s a constant source of worry (if only the powers that be had the same level of concern).

  3. bobbi

    Hey Tracy!! So glad to see you back in blogland!
    How sad this is. It’s happening everywhere in the world, my city included. My shop is in a long and wide road and up until june there were lines of wonderful pines on both sides of the road. The new mayor decided to cut them all off, for no apparent reason other than than the cost of keeping them trimmed. Without trees there is dust everywhere, traffic noise is unbearable and al looks miserable. Naturally there is a group of people which I’m part of that is taking action. We will have our trees back.
    Is there anything you queenslanders can do to stop ‘the progress’?

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Bobbi – Thanks very much for the welcome back to online life! 🙂

      It is so sad to see the scale of damage being done to the environment, especially considering that it’s happening the world over. What a shame that you lost those beautiful pines on either side of the road. I’m so glad to hear that people power will win out in your case.

      Those of us who are troubled by these developments will definitely protest where we can, speak up, and do anything within our power to bring these situations to the attention of other people. Unfortunately though I think our current government leaders are more interested in progress than sustainability.

  4. woolf

    it is sad, and it is happening all over the world. and it has to do with politics, always. plenty of empty old housing around begging to be refurbished, but no. as much the new owners as well, they want new, new, new and they do away with old. they will be sorry, of course, when they themselves grow old. this being just a tiny part of the problem of doing away with greenery for a quick fix.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Woolf – It is so very sad, but I suppose the bright side is that so many of us feel the same way (what a shame caring, logical people like us aren’t in charge). It’s such a shame that so many people feel the need to replace old with new, with no other apparent reason than to have something new. Such a shame.

      I love places (buildings and nature) with character – so for me older is often better. Sometimes the ‘modern’ life and ‘modern’ thinking of many people makes me feel weary…

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