“The study of national history in all its forms has been at the core of Royal National Park, one of the first national parks in the world, since its very beginnings in 1879. Along with the neighbouring Heathcote National Park, it has played an important part in the foundation of the conservation movement in Australia and the basis for national park management throughout the country. “
So begins the recent (2011) paper “Natural History in the Royal National Park and the Need to Better Integrate Research into Park Management” by outgoing NPWS Manager of the Royal National Park, Michael Treanor.
National history? A typo surely for “Natural history” since the story of national history (in all its forms) has not been at the core of the RNP since 1879.
And while not wishing to place any great analytical weight on such a slip, as it happens it does serve to alert us to the very close connection in Australia to the expropriation of ‘nature’ on the intellectual level and – on the practical level – the expropriation of First Peoples living countries and resources in the name of ‘nationalism’ and ‘national interest’ (by the clusters of vested interests which align with nationalism).
“Nation – Nature” – an ideology to the exclusion of Australia’s First Peoples and their claims to the resources of this country. First Peoples, their languages, their cultures and land management practices are missing from the modern Australian nation.
The Treanor paper typo, if that is indeed what it is, should also serve as an opportunity to remind us that what follows in the paper (and the collection of which it is part) is a fable of a kind . A myth which parallels the ritual practices involved in the creation and maintenance of the mentifact of a National Park – formed by displacing, excluding and surpressing indigenous peoples and their prior cosmologies from these forms of representation.
The exclusion of First Peoples is not the only feature of this modern fable. For example, the now ‘Royal’ National Park was equally founded to serve recreational purposes, not merely for conservation purposes. But this important purpose too is omitted from the introduction.
A ‘Royal’ National Park – where is the acknowledgement of the traditional owners in that title?
In modern forms of representation First Peoples interests are systematically depicted as remote and in the past. In the 20th century standards of adequacy in scholarship were subtly shaped not by a concern for comprehensive knowledge but by a state-funded agenda. “Terra nullius of the mind” reigned supreme.
These standards are no longer acceptable in the 21st century.
And while a slip of the pen by the hardworking RNP Manager is hardly indicative of anything of great significance, the whole nature-nation mindset has riddled past RNP Plans of Management.
These plans are very carefully crafted to put into words the vast body of interests which operate via the state bureaucrats to give effect to their master’s wishes. What they contain – and what they systematically exclude – is the result of very careful deliberation.
What is truly important is the extent to which the 20th century nature-nation thinking, excluding First Peoples and their practices, informs the draft RNP Plan of Management now in its final stages of preparation. This PoM is the key document for all that takes place in the RNP, and we need one with a new spirit – one which leads us into the 21st century, not one which repeats and perpetuates the mistakes of the past.
We have to ask, given the chronic mismanagement of these lands by the state (which are a chaotic mess by indigenous standards):
“Where does the accumulated knowledge of countless generations of indigenous people in Australia feature in the projected management of the RoyalNational Park?“
The healing challenges which face us in this century require us to fashion new forms of representation – new forms which factor back-in what was factored out in modern thinking.
From the titles in the 2011 Linnean Society of NSW Symposium collection (see below) – some careful reading will be required to see if those wedded to ‘natural’ history are able to make the transition into present realities.
On the face of it though, neither modern science nor Natural history is the answer. Modern science in this country has been half-brained.
New forms of representation will represent an epistemic shift – not merely those of a ‘new paradigm’ which, while appearing to offer change, merely mask the ongoing priviliging of otherwise obsolete practices.
We now need new thinking – which understands the importance of connecting management and users of national parks with country and with a living cosmos – new thinking which (at least) matches bureaucratic policies with a spirit moving in step to the new songs and dances of a genuine cultural partnership.
That is, a full-brainer.
Continue reading “Nation and Nature – Royal National Park”