Intangible Matters

The art of living is something we learn as we go. For some, fighting is a way of life, for others finding a fair solution is more important than winning. 21st century living is going to present plenty of opportunities to seek fairer outcomes for the conflicts that arise as a growing number of people stake their claim for a decreasing amount of food, water, space clean air and habitable place to live. It is in our interest to look at the broader reasons why people fight rather than compromise and what factors we should consider as we seek peaceful and sustainable outcomes.


My central question is how can we achieve fair distribution of water. Perhaps we should look more closely at what consitutes fairness, a somewhat subjective concept.

When people consider something to be unfair, they generally feel things are unbalanced against them. In this case, they will give less and want more. Conversely, if the balance appears to be tipped in their favour, they might be more inclined to give more and want less. We associate fairness with notions of justice, good, ethical, morality. Yet every individual’s concept of the mechanism of fairness is slightly different. Some see fairness as the protection of individual rights, and disputes over fairness should be settled by argument, appeals to logic and precedent. For others, fairness is seen as a process whereby the needs of all are met before the rights of an individual are considered. (30)

The Kangaloon Aquifer fight demonstrates neither of the above scenarios, the needs of all were not met in any stage of what transpired, nor was there any justice served by argument or logic. The only precedent was that government can, and has done before, made decisions without prior consultation and proceded regardless of opposition, with no avenue to appeal its decision. This process would be seen as unfair by most people. And that is probably the main reason why there was conflict in Kangaloon.

In the height of the 2006 drought, public anger was expressed in many communities in and around Sydney ie the Shoalhaven regarding the Tallowa Dam, Sydney over the desalination plant, Southern Highlands over the Kangaloon Aquifer and Rouse Hill in response to water recycling. The Hon Justice Peter McClellan, suggested a public enquiry to help solve complex water sharing issues:

“The public inquiry process has the potential to relieve an issue of party political imperatives and provide solutions which will have general community support. It can serve a fact finding function as well as providing the information for effective decision-making and the opportunity for whole of community education. When the issue is one of such fundamental significance as the water supply each of these elements has great significance” (25)

He quotes Professor Salter: ”
“inquiries are justified because they allow for a relatively independent assessment of complex issues that are deemed unsuitable for legislative or judicial scrutiny in the first instance. The issues that attract inquiries are those that have public significance, require open scrutiny, involve a complex determination of fact, and seem to require government action” (26)

There are other emotions and concepts we value which will impact on our notions of fairness. Below are some that could be considered if we were to propose a different approach to sharing an essential natural resource, like water.

Most of us place great value on where we live. There are many factors which influence this, and where we live often changes many times throughout our lives or not. Whether it is an urban or rural lifestyle, in Australia, we make large financial commitments to secure a place of living. Statistics show that for some families, more than 50% of household income is committed to paying for the roof over their heads. (27) The purchase of a home is the biggest investment most people make. Our home can mean many things such as: family, love, power, status, peace, belonging, beauty, security, garden, community, safety, retreat, control.

“The material home represents the concrete expression of the habits of
frugality and saving … one of the best instincts in us is that which induces us
to have one little piece of earth with a house and a garden which is ours; to
which we can withdraw, in which we can be among friends, into which no
stranger may come against our will” 
(former Prime Minister, Robert Menzies) (27)

When our home is threatened, everything we value about “our little piece of earth” is threatened, and it is not surprising that we will fight to defend it.
Home is just a small part of habitat, we exist as part of a family, community and a global community, and each individual will have a different concept of how they choose to interact within each realm.

When we look at an issue like the Kangaloon Water war, habitat is a concept of relevance. The people of Sydney may not have been aware of the depletion of their water supply or even particularly conscious of the drought, Sydney is the Harbour City, water is all around. However they were still part of the war as they were enjoying all the rights and privileges of their chosen urban habitat without awareness of how their lifestyle was being maintained. There is a growing awareness for the need to alter the way we view and live within the urban environment in a more sustainable way. This is connected with the concept that with rights comes responsibility. Where water is concerned, there is a responsibility to learn where this comes from, how much one is using, and the true cost of it, not just in the bill paid to the water utility.
Rural habitats faced possible threat if the aquifer was mined. Farms in the district may have lost their water sources, affecting not just gardens and fields, but livelihoods and lifestyle. Natural habitats, particularly the wetlands, but also the woodlands and forests, were also under threat. As a result of water restrictions during the drought, Sydney did improve their water consumption habits, reducing their usage to 1974 levels, even with a population of 1 million more people. (14). They managed without mining the aquifer, and if it had come to it, they would have managed on level 5 restrictions as well, and learned a few more lessons about sustainable living!

It is important for our society to consider the value of our habitats. There are now too many of us to just relocate every time our habitat is destroyed, and we need to look beyond the horizon of our own communities and question whether the sustainability of our own habitat is at the expense of other’s.

Much of the community focus in the aquifer war was on what would be lost. Moisture, fertility, wildlife, beauty, self sufficiency, income, tradition, future, home, extinction, rainforest, unknown, community. These are words that don’t appear often in the Environmental Assessment. These concepts may not be of value to everyone, but they were to the people of Kangaloon. I suspect they would be of value to many people in Sydney had they had the opportunity to make the connection. We may fear loss or mourn it.
Here are some ways loss has played a part in the aquifer war:

Loss of farm: dairy farmers feared loss of water, loss of their farmland, loss of the ability to maintain a dairy herd, loss of livelihood, loss of their home, loss of heritage (most farmers are second or third generation farmers), loss of self determination

Wattman's Dairy, Kangaloon
Wattman’s Dairy, Kangaloon
Brad Wattman and Friends
Wattman and Friends
Jonny, George  feed day old calves with Brad's Father in Law
Jonny, George feed day old calves

Loss of the forest: environmentalists, naturalists, residents, farmers, politicians, people, were fearful that the many different types of forest would be lost. Changed would equate to loss.
Much of the rainforest of the Yarrawa Brush, the original cool temperate rainforest of the area has already been lost to clear the land for farming.
“Imprint of a landscape; The Yarrawa Brush ” (28) is a study of environmental aesthetics by Ruth Roby who mourns the loss of the forest.

“The Yarrawa Brush landscape, situated on the Robertson Plateau just above the
Illawarra escarpment, has long been a place of solace and connectedness for me,
documented over the years through intensely worked etchings. My immersion in that
specific landscape over time, and my research into the Aboriginal and white settler
history has left an indelible imprint on my sense of self and an awareness of loss. As
Allen Carlson has noted, three of the major art-philosophical texts produced over the
second half of the last century have neglected the Aesthetics of Nature. Focusing on the
field of environmental aesthetics, this thesis argues for the value of experiencing the
natural environment. It situates my etchings and digital video in relation to work by
colonial artist Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872), who resided near the Yarrawa Brush
district at the time of early settlement, and contemporary artist John Wolseley (b1938)”

Eucalypt Forest, East Kangaloon
Eucalypt Forest, East Kangaloon
Remnant Yarrawa Brush Rainforest, Robertson
Remnant Yarrawa Brush Rainforest, Robertson

Loss of the Swamps: There are several upland swamps in the Kangaloon area, Butler’s Swamp, Stockyard Swamp and other unnamed wetlands. Environmentalists feared loss of these habitats and their many endangered inhabitants. The Southern Highlands and the SCA mourn the destruction of the Wingecarribee Swamp, a unique montane peatland, the only one in NSW, home to ancient spirits and the bunyips……

Loss of Orchids: Denis Wilson, famed local naturalist and photographer, passionate about endangered native orchids, feared for their loss.

Denis Wilson
Denis Wilson
Small Tongue Orchid
Small Tongue Orchid

Loss of Power: State government, feared loss of an election, SCA feared loss of power and control

Loss of convenience: Sydney residents and industry, loss of water meant change, restrictions, loss of freedom of urban convenience

Loss of Water: feared by us all

Spiritual Connection

I want to share a passage from Allan Carriage, a tribal elder of the Wadi Wadi people who passed on March 9, 2011. The Wadi Wadi people are neighbours to the Gundungurra people of the Highlands.

“I would like people to understand that water is a very strong part of Aboriginal religion. Water was used by our women, where it falls off the high rocks, to have their children. They had their children next to waterfalls. Water is sacred to the Aboriginal people – moving water makes noises and the baby was more relaxed, my mother used to tell me; it made birth more easy for women. It’s been handed down to me from my mother.
The fine mist from the waterfalls used to fall all over the ferns and put a glittering mist on delicate ferns in the rainforest when the sun hit it. It was a gentle way of nature watering their very delicate plants.
We have abused this system of our waters so much that money cannot pay for the damage what has been done to it. What’s our future generations going to do?
Some of our old people know freshwater is vital to our flora, our fauna (ocean and land) and most of all for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. I went to a couple of sites at Kangaloon and they were pumping water out of the sandstone pockets which act as a sprinkler system to our rainforests. That is heritage water, spiritual heritage water being pumped from our basin of sandstone to make the rivers run. There are big pockets of sandstone what holds water. I don’t know if people realise this or not. My elders taught me about the vital role of the sandstone. It cannot support itself for that vital role if support is taken from underneath it and our water is going down where it is doing no good for our animals and our flora and our future children
I do not know how people can think money can keep our environment together. We need to be more aware of the environment and what we have done to the catchment areas. I feel sorry for my peoples’ and the non-Aboriginal peoples’ children and my people’s religion.” (29)


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