Unicorns and Trees: an Address to the Future
Talk to the Nature Conservation Council New South Wales 22 October 1977*
Preparation of this address was assisted by Research Assistant Helen Tranter
Since this is the 150th anniversary of the Australian Museum, some of what I have to say tonight will deal with museums and the Australian Museum, but there are a number of other things I would like to talk about.
Let me start by taking you back approximately two thousand years, to the time of Julius Caesar. You will remember that, as depicted by Shakespeare, the murder of Julius Caesar was a great conspiracy executed with careful planning by a person who persuaded a lot of influential people that the removal of Caesar would bring them many advantages.
Early in the morning on the ides of March the conspirators, led by Cassius, gathered in the garden of Brutus, the supposedly honest politician and friend of Caesar. They have finished debating how they will dispose of Caesar, where and who else they will or will not strike down.
Cassius expresses some doubt about whether Caesar will in fact arrive at the capitol,
“for he is superstitious grown of late,
Quite from the main opinion he held once
Of fantasy of dreams and ceremonies.
It may be, these apparent prodigies,
The unaccustomed terror of this night,
And the persuasion of his augurers,
May hold him from the capitol today.”
One of the conspirators, however, assures them that they need not worry.
“Never fear that. If he be so resolved,
I can o’ersway him: for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betrayed with trees, and bears with glasses,
Elephants with holes,
Lions with toils and men with flatterers;
But when I tell him he hates flatterers, he says he does, being then most flattered.
Let me work;
For I can give his humour the true bent,
And I will bring him to the capitol.”
You will remember what happened subsequently.
This scene in Julius Caesar crystallises for me the fact that things are not always what they seem to be, they are certainly not what some people say they are, and many people are persuaded that a particular situation or future course of action is appropriate or the right one by being flattered, by the fact that it only reinforces what they have believed before, what they have grown up to believe.
I want to return to this later
I will start by saying something about museums.
The overall aim of museums, whether they be are museums, curiously called art galleries in Australia, science museums, natural history museums or history museums, is to collect, to conserve, to conduct research using those collections and to use the collections for the purpose of education, by display, by publishing the results of research and by conducting active participatory education programs.
Museums started as cabinets for collections but they also had some connection in their origins with temples. So, museums are often housed in large, imposing buildings which to some represent authority. Because they are old by western European standards they are often considered to be dusty and very dull. I am hopeful that you will have seen or know of some of the things that we have been doing in our 150th year which will have persuaded you that this is not so at all. The quite large number of surveys of visitors to museums do not show that those who go to museums do so very seldom, nor only when it’s raining, nor only because there is nothing else to do.
Whilst many areas of modern society are involved in arguments about the extent to which unions are responsible for everything going bad, so far as museums are concerned the arguments are about the role of the Trustees, even if it is only the extent to which they (rather than the staff) should be involved in purchasing items for the collections. And this is so for a particular reason. Museums, despite the assertions of some, have tended to be for the elite, for a minority, or certainly originated from that group. They have played a large role in dictating the taste of the community.
The Australian Museum is no exception. The Museum was founded in 1827 when on March 30th, Lord Bathurst, Secretary for the Colonies, wrote to Governor Darling approving of the expenditure of money for the formation of a “public museum” in the New South Wales, “where it is stated that many rare and curious specimens of natural history are to be procured.” In fact, although money had been made available in 1827, the first Curator did not take up his position until June 1829, and a couple of years later he shot himself during an expedition in Queensland.
There is no doubt that one of the most prominent citizens in the colony at the time, Sir Alexander Macleay, played a prominent role in the establishment of the Museum and the Macleay family was involved with the museum until the 1870’s. Alexander Macleay, who was later Colonial Secretary, was a man who loved to run meetings and was ridiculed by W.C. Wentworth because he was not a man of action: Wentworth protested in parliament at the establishment of the Museum.
The most notorious incident in the Museum’s history occurred in the 1870’s. The first really competent zoologist to become director or rather Curator, was Gerard Krefft, a zoologist of international standing appointed in 1864 after a two year battle between the Trustees and the government over who had the power to make the appointment. In 1874 Krefft was dismissed: carried out in his chair onto the street because he refused to leave. Trivial matters like faking the attendance figures were brought forward as reasons for his dismissal. In essence, the matter had nothing to do with Krefft’s ability. The point at issue was whether it should be a scientific institution or not. Some Trustees were involved in using their position at the museum to improve their own collections. They were experts, Krefft wasn’t. Krefft was a person with strong views and little tact.
A select committee of the Legislative Assembly was set up to investigate the Museum in May 1874. The draft report of the chairman contains some interesting comments. “these Trustees are in a position of almost the perfect irresponsibility, the Executive having no power to remove them: they are subject to no inspection, merely sending in annual reports to the government; they are not required to possess any special qualifications; they are unpaid; they contribute nothing to the expenses of the museum; they have no interest whatsoever in the institution beyond that which an unselfish public spirit and a devotion to science my engender …. Under such a system as this the efficient management of the institution is, in the opinions of the committee, impossible.”
One of the final recommendations of the report was that a Curator appointed by the government should have complete charge of the museum, assisted by a board of six directors, of whom he should be its ex officio-chairman.
Of course it didn’t work out that way; the Trustees were dedicated to the view that they should run the museum in minute detail. An obvious strategy was to divide executive power between the Curator and a secretary, each of whom communicated independently with the trust. Another was to form a multitude of committees.
The Trustees were not always able to fulfil their responsibilities in regard to the collections. The museum lent its ethnological collection for an international exhibition staged on the Sydney domain in 1880. Although the exhibition closed in April the collection (along with those of the just formed Technological Museum) remained at the Domain, and on the night on September 22nd 1882, fire destroyed the lot! The trust apparently did not refer to this at their subsequent meetings, although earlier, in December 1880 when pressed to have the collections returned to the museum, they declined saying that there was no space at the Museum for the collection, and if returned the items would have to be packed in boxes and risk destruction.
In 1930, the Trustees decided, after four years of discussion, to have the Public Service Board investigate the organisation, control and management of the museum. The report found the Museum to be overstaffed and the scientists to be underemployed. It was noted that the scientists spent too much time reading. It was recommended that the staff be made subject to the Public Service Act: greater efficiency would result. We might conclude that this recommendation was appropriate for in the 1960’s and 1970’s reports by Public Service Board committees have observed that the museum is well administered, has a good scientific atmosphere and high standing, that the broad aims of the museum are being achieved and that the calibre of the scientific staff is commendable. I would contend, and I am sure you would agree, that this “change” in forty years is not due principally to the fact that the staff were public servants (nor to the continuing role of the trust). I think it would be obvious that the leadership of previous directors, John Evans and Frank Talbot, have made a substantial difference.
In our recent reviews of what the museum should be doing, the need for publicity has received a lot of attention. I therefore want to tell you one more story about the museum which shows that even fifty years ago the museum was forward-looking. The trust decided in 1913 that newspaper photographers may have access on the afternoon of one Monday each month for the purpose of photographic specimens.
Prior to this the Daily Telegraph said in an editorial, “The Curator of the Museum, Mr Etheridge, admits a strong objection to the press and yesterday carpeted an official who had transgressed his edict by forwarding some information to one of the daily papers. The Daily Telegraph asked Mr Etheridge for permission to photograph some fishes which the trawler ‘Endeavour’ had secured at great depth in the Great Australian Bight. The information had been prepared and sketches where also in readiness. Such publication would have been in the nature of a much-need advertisement for a public institution.”
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that until the last twenty years the Museum was dominated by arguments amongst the trust and I am sure that in fact you don’t believe this anyway. The Museum has had a very vigorous history and has made important contributions.
Many museums have had difficulty with their involvement in the community, many have stood quite apart from their communities. The quotation from the director of a very early museum in England typifies this.
“This is to inform the public that, being tired out with the insolence of the common people who I have hitherto indulged with a sight of my museum, I am now come to the resolution of refusing admittance to the lower class, except they come provided with a ticket from some lady or gentleman of my acquaintance…. If it happens to be inconvenient when they bring their ticket, they must submit to go back and come some other day. Admittance in the morning only from eight o’clock to twelve.”
Signed Ashton Lever.
Amongst the views expressed at a seminar in 1969 on “neighbourhood museums” in Brooklyn, New York were the following: museums should be manned by people in the neighbourhood because they are aware of their own needs, people are getting tired of others planning for them, cultural institutions should function as integral, rather than isolated, sources of the style and energy of people.
The major part of the museum movement is responding. The setting up of neighbourhood museums, the staging of exhibitions demonstrating the richness of other cultures, the attention to participatory programs, and the move into the community by way of travelling exhibitions are examples. Museums are not dull. Nor are they old (except perhaps in our terms).
At Mornington Island and in parts of the Northern Territory, local Aborigines have been given a grant to develop their own museums. Here, artefacts of importance in the education of the young men into their religious and cultural heritage and into the myths and legends of the tribe will be placed. Increasing westernisation has meant that the hiding places where such items were previously kept and to which the young men of the tribe were taken exist no longer. The items are still important, they must still be available. Museums in this sense are young, and so they are in many other ways.
Let me come to a number of other matters which I think are areas in which the museum should be concerned. They relate to the point that I was making at the beginning of this talk – things are not necessarily what they seem to be.
It is widely accepted in Australia and elsewhere, even today, that Aborigines are extremely primitive. It is, however, becoming widely known that Aboriginal culture dates from at least 40,000 years ago compared with the four or so thousand years of what we might call modern western culture. I quote from an article by Keith Cole in a recent BHP Journal, “each Aboriginal tribe is made up of two halves or moieties. The moieties are the two natural parts of each tribe or clan and are basic to marriage and kinship. Once a person is born into a moiety, he or she is there for ever. The person must marry into the opposite moiety, the two halves of the marriage as it were making up the whole. Material things also fall into the two moiety groups, so that everything has a rightful place and is complete in the universe. Any Aboriginal kinship system concerns ones relationship to the other people through blood, ceremony and marriage. Every child growing up learns his or her place within the group; the child is owned by many close relatives. Kinship regulates marriage and patterns of behaviour. If you know what to call a certain person, you know how to behave towards that person. Despite the many changes during the past fifty years and the destructive cross-cultural pressures, this pattern or social behaviour still persists.
“Totemism, the relationship between the Aborigines themselves and natural objects and species, is an essential part of Aboriginal culture, through totems many and the natural species are brought into one social and ceremonial whole and are believed to share a common life. Totemic beings are the subject of most Aboriginal songs and dances and of a great deal of their bark and rock painting. They are those cultural heroes who existed in the dreamtime of prehistoric days, sometimes human, sometimes non-human, who brought into being the physical characteristics of the natural world and the environment. The ceremonies, centred around these totems and linking the people with the universe of nature and their very existence with the dreamtime, are a fundamental expression of religious belief.”
That the Aborigines have a close relationship with their lands and that they have a fine knowledge of the animals and plants of their environment is well-known. Indeed, as Geoffrey Blainey has observed, “many discoveries announced by European natural scientists were mainly the gathering of knowledge which had long been known to Aborigines.” For example, the fact that most primitive mammals, the platypus and echidna, laid eggs.
I was fortunate recently to hear the results of one study on the meanings of some bark paintings of Aborigines on the East Arnhem Land area. If we understand the importance of initiation in Aboriginal life, we will understand that different things have different meanings depending on where one stands in the tribe: so it is with bark paintings. An outside interpretation of a particular bark painting is that it depicts a myth fundamental to the origin of the tribe: a mythical animal (gwark) perched in a tree with other animals (emus, kangaroos, possums) with which it travelled through the ancestral lands. An inside meaning, however, is quite different. The painting is a map of the tribe’s lands with particular points and areas on the painting having special significance – depicting places where Aborigines in their travel through the land stopped to sing or to wait for their fellows and places where they settled. Very stylised paintings derived from the first depict the same thing – that the painting is about the travel through ancestral lands by mythical animals is difficult for an outsider to discern. These two interpretations of the particular painting are the most outside interpretations: there are further inside interpretations, layer upon layer. This, perhaps more than anything else I have heard, emphasises to me the tremendous richness of Aboriginal culture.
Aboriginal society is not primitive. It is in tune with its environment. It guarantees to every member of the tribe a place in that tribe, there is concern for the other members of that tribe. Aboriginal society is advanced.
I am not of course going to suggest that simply by recognising the Aborigines as people problems between the races will be immediately settled. Nor has my purpose been to suggest that the most appropriate role for Aboriginal society today is a wholesome return to traditional -?better – life. I want to compare this so-called primitive society with what we understand as advanced industrialised (and therefore highly urbanised) society.
Hong Kong is the most highly urbanised city in the world. Its population has increased largely by immigration from rural communities of people seeking better standard of living. Hong Kong has recently been studies by Stephen Boyden and co-workers from ANU.
Hong Kong is a city of 4.5 million persons, the density of people is 160,000 per square kilometre, 50% of the population live in huge multi-story apartment buildings in the resettlement areas – up to 3000 a tower block, an average of 3sq metres of living space per person. The flight path of jets landing at the nearby airport is 150 feet above the top of the flats. Maladaptations to this environment include high rates of infection in children during their first year of life and reduced growth rates. It appears that those people having a history of contact with western society perceive that they are less able to withstand the effects of such high density living. The crime rate is 10 times higher in the resettlement areas than elsewhere in the city; 65% of the people in the resettlement areas fear crime. Children go to school in shifts; when not at school many watch TV which keeps them inside where their mother can see them. The neighbourly interaction of squatter settlements is lost; open market places allowing personal interaction are giving way to supermarkets, packaged food from advance countries (rather than the nearby countryside) is being imported – e.g., Plastic covered lettuces from California which, by the time they are landed in Hong Kong, have taken four times as much energy to produce as that contained in the lettuce, itself.
Finally, energy is oil based; the oil is low grade with high sulphur content. Combustion produces sulphur dioxide, a carcinogenic agent. High grade fuel could be imported but it would cost more, adding to the price of goods produced, thereby reducing Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness!
Is our industrial urban society advanced?
Environment and politics
I want to deal with some environment matters, and the opportunity of individuals in our modern western society to change things and the reactions of other groups to such attempts. It would hardly be necessary for me to say that I am not one of those who considers that the concern about the environment is something temporary and against which there is an increasing backlash. That a commentator could say recently about the presentation to Harry Butler of an award for his series “Wild Australia”, that Butler has made conservation a household word goes against any suggestion that concern for the environment is something transitory. I want to start by quoting from a paper by Brian McGee on perhaps the world’s greatest philosopher, Carl Popper (published in Current Affairs Bulletin, January 1974).
“A policy is a hypothesis and adopting it means testing it against reality; that it is the best one in the circumstances can never be proved but can be refuted in practice by quite simple evidence in many cases. Therefore, those responsible for it should be on the lookout not for signs that it is having the hoped for results, but for signs that it is not. The creation of policy and the criticism of policy are interdependent. If criticism fails, mistaken policies will be persisted in at indefinite cost. So an indispensable part of the most efficient way to do things, quite regardless of any moral consideration, is unfettered criticism of governments and their policies. This is why the most efficient societies in the world are by a very long way those so-called free institutions. The popular notion that the most efficient form of society must somehow be a dictatorship is wrong both in theory and in practice.”
This view is at variance with the statements of some politicians, particularly one who recently said he was prepared to fight a Federal election on the matter of an unruly society, on the fact that people publicly expressed their disagreement with government decisions on uranium. But let me not continue with that.
Power Stations and Communication Towers
I want to look briefly at two matters: the Newport power station and Black Mountain tower.
Concern with energy resources is certainly an issue which is uppermost in public debate these days. It is not confined to uranium or solar energy. The Newport power station is an example. I’m not concerned here with whether more power stations are necessary, or whether the Newport power station is a good thing, although, as some of you are aware, a recent enquiry has suggested strongly that the siting of the Newport power station was inappropriate. I am concerned with the extent to which the community was involved in contributing to the decision.
Newport power station is to be a natural gas fired facility located in the Latrobe Valley near Melbourne.
One of the things that took place in the debate over Newport power station was the gathering of opinions of the community, a public opinion survey. Opinion surveys are something like audit procedures, they need to be done independently. Yet what did we have in the case of the State Electricity Commission on Victoria and the Newport power station? The SEC stated, “opinion poll firms take several weeks to conduct a thorough survey and analyse the results. So the decision was made to conduct the poll ourselves. The public relations department and the secretarial departments typing services got together to organise it. The first job was to round up fourteen volunteers to contact members of the public by telephone. The girls were asked not to identify themselves as SEC people, unless asked. The next problem was to make sure that the responses were as representative of the general public as possible. Each girl was given several pages of the telephone book, and asked to phone each number as it appeared in the listing. The girls tackled the job with tremendous tact and enthusiasm. One of the more encouraging aspects of the poll was the surprisingly small number of people who answered don’t know.”
The Research Information Centre, which might be considered an independent authority (they are registered with the University of Melbourne’s Student Union Council which does not diminish their independence from the SEC) took another poll. Its design seems, as far as I can make out from the manner in which the interviewees were selected, a great deal more likely to give statistically reliable results. The RIC poll showed that 45% were in favour of the Newport power station (compared with the 62% of the sec poll) and 40% against (compared with the 10% in the sec poll). The RIC tested the influence of voting patterns on the opinions expressed, and found a meaningful relationship. They also tested the influence on the result of the order of presentation of the arguments for and against: they found that the suggestion that the order of presentation influenced the result to be spurious. They also found that in those areas closest to where the Newport power station was to be sited there were a greater number of people objecting to the construction of a power station, than in areas located far away from the proposed site.
The SEC concluded from their survey, “opposition to the Newport project is limited to a very small number of extremely vocal people. By far the majority of informed opinion wholeheartedly supports the building of the station?”
The retiring chairman of the SEC said, “every individual has the right to be heard on environmental issues. Nobody would deny that, but people also have a responsibility not to impinge on the rights of others. They are doing that when they refuse to accept the judgement of the properly qualified authority appointed by the elected representatives of the community.”
I wouldn’t need to tell those of you here tonight who have been involved in environmental matters for a long time, that a conflict exists between those who seek to develop and those who wish to conserve. It has been expressed for almost 100 years by those seeking a Border Ranges National Park, the campaign for which started in 1896 or thereabouts. Those who are concerned to get on with the business of “improving our standard of living” are often inclined to minimise the effect of opposition to the development and to minimise the time spent on listening to the minority as expressed in the quotation of the retiring chairman of the SEC. Many people of such a persuasion suggest that those who oppose development should work through the system. Quite what this means I am not sure, but we might agree that one of the things involved is procedure through the courts. (This is difficult, of course, in Australia which does not have a strong body of environmental law.)
The Black Mountain tower protest is an outstanding example of working through the system. I am indebted in making the following remarks to a summary of the protest against Black Mountain tower prepared by W.K. Hancock of the Australian National University. Black Mountain is a major natural feature of the Canberra environment. It was the view of some that it should be preserved as such.
The Australian Post Office sought to achieve, by a proposal put forward in early 1972, the provision over the next fifty years and more, in the Canberra area, of facilities for radio-telephony, television broadcasting, frequency modulation, etc. A high tower was to be erected. In order to pay for the tower visitor facilities viewing platform and restaurant were included. The main bulk of the tower arose from radio telephony and visitor facilities requirements. The height of the tower was determined by the TV and other broadcasting requirements.
Late in 1972 the Labor Party came to power, having pledged itself at its previous national conference to wage war against population and protect the natural landscapes of Australia. On 13th February 1973, the Labor cabinet made environmental impact statements mandatory for all developmental projects in which the Commonwealth was involved, the decision to be operative from January 1974; the Minister for Environment and Conservation was granted authority when he thought fit to anticipate that.
It was the contention of a number of prominent citizens that the Australian Post Office environmental impact statement paid no respect to the well-understood guidelines of such an exercise: it was considered that it was not more than a well-produced advertising brochure. On 11th march, 1973 a meeting of 700 or more people took place in Melville hall in Canberra. A citizens committee to save Black Mountain was elected. From the beginning the committee found itself fighting an uphill battle. The Minister for the Capital Territory, the Minister for Environment and Conservation and the Minister for Urban and Regional Development supported the demand for a proper enquiry; the Postmaster General and the Minister for Works proved themselves formidable fighters.
Early in April 1973, the urban affairs committee of cabinet decided by five votes to recommend that the tower project proceed. The head of the Department of Engineering Physics at ANU, Professor Kaneff, argued that the proposed tower on Black Mountain was not only technologically unnecessary, but likely to prove an impediment to necessary technological change in the not distant future. He advanced a number of alternatives.
The citizens committee appealed to the caucus of the parliamentary Labor party to reverse the decision of cabinet to build the tower and to refer the project to its own urban affairs committee. It held a lunchtime meeting: over one thousand people attended. On 31st May, at the last caucus meeting before the recess, an attempt to have the Black Mountain tower voted on was defeated on a technicality; a third of the caucus had already left Canberra!
The Australian Post Office and Department of Works had already fixed September 1973 as the closing date for tenders, and December 1973 as the starting date for construction. But rumours were afoot that work would start as soon as parliament adjourned. The committee therefore decided to join battle with the authorities in the Supreme Court of the ACT. Following well established precedents of English and Australian law, they appealed to the Attorney General to act on their behalf. The basis was that individuals whose property rights were damaged or threatened by the action of a government department could seek redress by the usual legal procedures.
However, it was indicated by his department that legal opinion on the case would have to be obtained before the Attorney General would act. This was done but delay continued.
The Government Gazette of 28 June continued two notices: one clearly removed from Black Mountain Park an area of land for building the tower; the other was a notice of intention to vary the plan of layout of Canberra. Taken together these two notices had a single purpose – to remove every legal barrier to the building of the tower.
On the same day the Attorney General approved of action being taken by the committee in his name but conducted by the committee, the plaintiffs.
In the initial hearing, counsel for the Attorney General rose to say that the Attorney had signed an instrument removing his name as plaintiff in the proceedings. Justice Fox treated this as incidental. Fox’s judgement on whether the matter should proceed was delivered on 9th July. He agreed to have the case listed for hearing in the Supreme Court on 13th July. In his findings he laid special stress on environmental and ecological issues which might come within the legal category of public nuisance.
A number of strange things took place during the main hearing. There were attempts to keep evidence out of court. On one occasion a document necessary to the case was, according to the defendants, not available: the committee would have to subpoena the chairman of the Public Works Committee to produce it but he was out of Canberra; they did not possess a copy. However, a person sitting the public gallery produced a copy out of his bag, Counsel for plaintiffs tendered it in evidence, it was handed to the judge and immediately opened. There upon, no fewer than four persons sitting at the defendant’s end of the bar table produced copies of the documents from their briefcases.
Before calling their last witness counsel for the defendants tendered in evidence a minute drafted by the Minister for Works approved on 19th September by the Governor-General in Council. The document authorised the Minister for Works to proceed to construct on land owned by the Commonwealth of Australia at Black Mountain a communications tower and associated revenue producing facilities referred to in the report of the parliamentary standing committee. (Note that this was before the Supreme Court had made any judgement.)
In the concluding address Counsel for the defendants argued that the plaintiffs has no right to sue on the ground of public nuisance, that as citizens they possess no propriety right in the mountain reserve but merely a license to use it. He argued that the reserve powers of the Crown put beyond the possibility of challenge the legal right of the government to build and manage the tower.
But the plaintiffs won the case. Mr Justice Smithers found that the construction of the post office tower was without the approval and against the will of the National Capital Development Commission and would constitute an exercise in undertaking and carrying out the planning, development and construction of the city of Canberra as the national capital of the Commonwealth of Australia and as such would be an unlawful usurpation of the functions of the National Capital Development Commission as set out in the Act and ought to be restrained!
Following a meeting of the caucus committee for urban affairs and works on 4th December (which Hancock described as a charade) it was fairly obvious that the tower project would be railroaded through cabinet. Two days later, on 6th December, that projection was fulfilled. On 10th December work started again on Black Mountain tower, having been at one time prevented by the protests of citizens on the mountain itself. As you know, the tower was constructed – or rather construction is still going on – further public meetings and other protests failed to prevent that. The Minister for Works proceeded, in accordance with the authorisation given him, and in spite of the decision of the Supreme Court.
What does all the show? It does not show that one should not take legal action nor does it show that authorities, government authorities or any other authority, are likely to treat honestly the attempts by citizens to have their views heard or indeed have their views on legal grounds or on any other grounds override decisions which have been made, decisions which they believe to be not in the public interest. We may conclude also, I think, that working through the system is by itself insufficient.
Certainly that part of working through the system involved in electing representatives of the community at each election is not by itself sufficient involvement of the community in the democratic process. It is appropriate that members of the community express their views at any time. It is proper that those views be expressed on any matter which members of the community feel they have a rightful interest in, on matters which will affect the quality of their lives.
What is really needed, of course, is a move away from power to responsibility. That is what so many of the arguments are about; not whether or not Black Mountain tower will achieve what it is supposed to achieve or whether sitting the tower on Black Mountain is the only viable alternative. It is about the use of power as opposed to the responsibility of governments or others to the community. It is also about value systems, about whether development and progress are to be defined in terms of larger buildings, more freeways, more power stations or whether it is to be defined in terms of concern, in overall planning for the environment, concern for [the] communities’ multiplicity of needs, of the value of diversity and the rights of minorities.
The [Scottish] ecologist and planner, [Ian] McHarg, [of the University of Pennsylvania] is perhaps the strongest exponent of a planning system which takes prior account of values: integrated land use planning (making use of results of satellite photographs and analyses) is what is needed – not more environmental impact statements.
I want to mention one other topic, education.
Education is of course a subject about which everybody knows a great deal, but I think you will agree that what is generally being talked about is not learning, excitement of discovery, but reinforcing in young people the value systems of adults. The reinforcement takes place in schools. Perhaps Ivan Illich is the strongest exponent of cultural revolution through the education system. Illich presents a startling view of schooling, schooling as opposed to education. A review of one of his books states, “education has become our modern dogma, a sacred cow that all must worship, serve and submit so, yet from which little true nourishment is derived. Schools have failed our individual needs, supporting fallacious notions of “progress” and development that follow from the belief that ever-increasing production, consumption and profit are proper yardsticks for measuring the quality of human life”.
The problems are expressed by students themselves. A boy 13 says, “If people could come to school willingly without uniforms and not collapsing under the weight of a school bag it would be much happier place. Education would be far more effective if it were made enjoyable rather than miserable”. Another, “what is school for? Is it supposed to be an institution like a government and are students supposed to be perfect and penalised for their small mistakes.” Another, “in the ideal school staff should have trust in their students as this tends to develop it also in their students. With trust I don’t think any organisation, whether it is a school or otherwise, can exist.”
(Changes in education (or schooling), according to the commentary by [Dany] Humphreys and [Ken] Newcombe [in “Schools Out: verdicts by Australian children”], have always been equated with changes in schools. The popular sentiment association with schools is that we can achieve greater social equality through more and better schooling. But the study by Professor Christopher Jenks and his colleagues, of the Centre of Education and Policies Research at Harvard, states, “The evidence reviewed suggests that equalising opportunity will not do very much to equalise results and hence that it will not do very much to reduce poverty. Although school reforms are important for improving the lives of children, schools cannot contribute significantly to adult equality. If we want economic equality from our society we have to get it by changing our economic institutions, not by changing our schools.)
I have used these statements only to allow me to talk about a number of departures from the system and to perhaps challenge the statement that schools are a failure.
At Mansfield Park, South Australia, 12 km north of Adelaide (and in some other places) efforts which appear to be very successful are being made to involve the whole family in education, to involve parents as well as children, to emphasise the quality of the individual. A brochure states, “Individual and community needs can only be met realistically when the various services catering for the children and their families are combined or they work closely together. They can only be met fully when the barriers between the family and institution and between different institutions are broken down.”
Mansfield Park was established about twelve years ago with a high level of housing trust houses and few community facilities – it has been labelled as socially deprived. At Mansfield Park Junior School, teachers and parents together have developed courses on baby development, playgroups, parent drop-in centres, toy libraries, family day care programs, parent reference libraries; health and welfare services have been brought to the school, parents have been brought to the school, the school has been taken to the home. A community club (not a mothers club) has been formed. They have tried to develop in the parents and in the children a recognition of the uniqueness of the individual, self-respect, not a feeling of being deprived or of being inferior.
Schools might, like some museums, encourage in each individual the ability to make independent judgements, they might extend people’s horizons instead of simply initiating the child into the myths and beliefs of adult society.
Much of what I’ve said may seem a long way from museums, from what I started to talk about. I can try to draw it together this way.
Museums are part of the community. They must be involved in exposing community issues, in contributing to the increase of knowledge and understanding, they must be controversial. Their research must continue with a spill over into exploration of issues of the environment, of our cultural heritage.
The other thing I can say is this. If one thing emerges from considerations of issues such as the richness of other cultures, the conflict over environment or development, concern about education, it is that each individual in the community has the responsibility to inform him or herself, to made their own decision, not leave it to other “people or authorities” to decide for them; each person has the responsibility to be actively and continuously involved.
In this the Nature Conservation Council has a fundamental role to play. Each member, drawn from a community-based nature conservation group is accountable not only to the group which he or she formally represents but also the community at large.
The conspiracy against Julius Caesar ranks amongst the greatest bungles of all time. Instead of everyone being pleased at Caesar’s removal the assassination was recognised for the con-job it was. The conspirators were plagued by ghosts; beaten in battle they killed themselves. If Cassius’s associates had thought things through for themselves they would have realised that Cassius was only in it for himself. How many situations like this face us today?