Progress and Hope

MEGAN JACEGLAV is a Spearwood resident, a lecturer at Murdoch University and the coordinator of The Beeliar Group: Professors for Environmental Responsibility (her home’s a mini Aussie oasis amidst the bleak landscape of turf and yucca). 

WE are not a war torn country, at least, we have not been for the last 200 years. We are, it is said, the lucky country, abundant in sunshine, sea, liberty, possibility and life.

And yet something is tearing at the very seams of this country, at the life, the blood of this land, renting habitats asunder, carving concrete into woodlands, making silent the hubbub of multi-specied voice. This something is called Progress. We all know about progress. It is the shining armour of a modern world, the raison d’etre of ordinary life. It fits neatly into the order of any given day, the logic for a suburb, a mortgage, a means to ends job. The end is of course, progress, your own special place in the big cultural promise.

Progress is linear. It does not look back. Consideration of the past blurs its vision. Like any valiant sergeant general storming the Bastille, progress must proceed with utter, brutal, if necessary, determination. It is unambiguous, it cannot afford pause, cannot consider the nuance of complexity, diversity – those permeations that complicate life, that make a moral quandary of any given decision. Progress is singular. It is without regret. What is there, after all to regret, when one is utterly self-satisfied? You need not know, need not consider, indeed even contemplate, the existence of the other. You, are, progress.

Progress is the opposite of hope. Hope is gentle and multifaceted, it yearns in the face of the abyss. It nourishes, recognises and nurtures a world that can always be a better place. It springs to life when life itself is flowering, chirping, budding in cacophonous array. It is there in the bleakest times, when a gentle touch, a kindred gaze, is the dividing line between life and death. It is resilient and resourceful, rhizomatic in its spread, springing across the landscape, seeding in the minds and hearts and the places of those touched by its call. Hope is a willingness to trust, to believe and to listen.

In November of last year I walked the path of the proposed Roe 8 highway (otherwise known as the Coolbellup Woodlands and Beeliar Wetlands) with a woman who had for eight years of her life held the strongest, most resilient hope, close to her heart.  This woman had been walking this land steadfastly, devotedly for the past four years. Her hope was embedded in the land itself, and the land itself, its myriad colours, shapes, smells, sounds were embedded in her. Walking with her, with the creatures and the critters in the shade and the dappled sunlight, in the presence of woody elders and freshly sprung orchids, was walking in a space of wonderment and love. This woman, Kate Kelly, was saturated by and immersed in hope, for it was undeniable in the promise of this bursting, flowering, determined place, a very cocoon of beauty and of trust. Who or what could possibly deny this very life, despite the threat that idled on the horizon? Life in its potency and splendour is after all its own argument, the strongest tour de force the planet has to offer.

Apocalypse

And yet, four weeks later, a spectre, a vulture, an apocalypse, descended on this trusting, beautiful, life giving land. In came the merciless, faceless machine, the machine of Progress. Firstly it imprisoned the land. Progress is efficient. Gates were erected, gates were patrolled. Progress, always seeks and acquires state authority.  Once the land became prisoner, crawling, burrowing, nesting life was incrementally removed to allow for wholescale, economically maximised destruction. Bandicoots, snakes, tortoises, tawny frogmouths, spiders, cockatoos who for their entire lives had happily, trustingly, hopefully burrowed into the dirt, the trees, nested in tight unison, were lured, trapped, taken in plastic bags and removed – they were taken, if they did not die in transit, to places unknown, so far from their home, places called ‘offsets’. And these were the lucky ones. Those who were too alarmed, or determined or hopeful stayed put, to be sliced to death by the steel teeth of the bulldozer.

Imprisoned, cleansed of visible, animate life, the machines of progress were sent in, soil testers, drills, probes, immensely forensic, detailed, so convinced in their practise. This was not a whimsical endeavour, it forged ahead with missionary zeal. Finally amidst the chorus of horror and grief outside the fences, came the bulldozer. The bulldozer is the most refined instrument of progress. Its ultimate weapon. It has a relentless motion, a distinctive rhythmic chant, chhh, chhh, chhh, chhh. It wipes out ancient, deeply rooted, inextricably woven life with astounding fervour, clinical indifference, and absolute precision. It does so without feeling, without thought. Its only definition is intent – to destroy what has been, what is, and to pave the way for progress.

Now at the corner of Progress drive and Hope road in Bibra Lake, the victims of progress lie strewn across the land. Corpses lay, where only two weeks ago there stood proud, two towering Norfolk Island Pines, trees that this year were to turn 107, planted in hope when a new community first made home here, planted before motor cars, electrical lights and bulldozers had touched the land. Alongside these beauties, whose shade I gratefully stood under when the land was first being made captive, stood too a family of eucalypts, amidst banksia and grevilleas, old and young acacias, home and habitat to Black Shouldered kites, Carnaby Cockatoos, Magpies and Red-Tailed Forest Cockatoos. Here they all habited, gently going about life, next to the luminescence that is Bibra Lake and across from the humming, whispering solace of Roe swamp. This family, this community of pines, eucalypts.  a comfortable island that as the signs still indicate, enabled the tortoises to make their passage from one watery home to another.

Today, in the wake of progress only the two lower trunks of the pines, too difficult for a standard ‘cat’, have been left, like scalps, haunting symbols of the victor. The elder eucalypt lies still, days after the carnage, prostrate across the land, so everyone may understand the rules of progress. The promise of a Roe 8 to nowhere looms in the death zone that has been ‘cleared’ for its inception.

So I stand at the corner of progress and hope, also decimated, in a world suddenly and brutally torn apart. Progress has devastated the land and in so doing it has wreaked devastation in the hearts and lives of the community. And yet, as we as a culture, as a society, as a damaged community stand at the crossroads, we, despite having lost all that is dear, still have choice. In honour of those lives, and so we may never forget each and every one of those slain, each bandicoot fleeing for its life, each tawny frogmouth flung from its nest, every crushed tortoise egg that will now not hatch, every Carnaby searching the skies for safety, each Balga and Tuart and Orchid wrenched from the soil it was wedded to, so they may live in our hearts and our minds always, we must laugh in the face of progress, we must laugh long and hard. And, we must always, choose hope.

4 responses to “Progress and Hope

  1. Simply get on with construction. Megan lives in Spearwood, her travels to Murdoch are hardly comparable to what the rest of us need to contend with on a daily basis. Yet another out of touch academic lecturing people on what is ‘good for us’.

    Well Megan, i’ll tell you what is good for me, this highway! To hell with you and your ‘pristine’ wetlands.

  2. This is such a beautiful article…evoking a lump in the throat that cannot easily be relieved and tears from the pain of knowing that the things that so needlessly have been destroyed cannot really be replaced. I am so angry for the innocent creatures and plants that have been killed, injured or displaced. I hope I am around to hear the news that the perpetrators are suffering slow, lingering and painful deaths. I hope and dream that day will be soon.

  3. I empathise with Richard, whose thoughts are probably representative of many residents, mainly motorists of course, who would be impacted by Roe 8. However, if we look at a bigger (social) picture and use a longer (time) lens, we may see the matter differently. Those interested in the broader social and economic impact of the project might find Peter Newman’s recent article illuminating:
    https://theconversation.com/roe-8-fails-the-tests-of-responsible-21st-century-infrastructure-planning-71810

    Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University (sorry, Richard, he’s a scholar and an activist) says: “The problem with freeways is that they create an ever-increasing dependence on cars and trucks. As soon as they are finished, induced demand leads to more congestion and the need for more highway capacity.”
    https://theconversation.com/do-more-roads-really-mean-less-congestion-for-commuters-39508
    https://theconversation.com/traffic-congestion-is-there-a-miracle-cure-hint-its-not-roads-42753

    At least 22 cities around the world have now actually removed freeways: http://www.publish.csiro.au/book/7465/

    One of the most freeway intensive and dependent cities in the world, Los Angeles, is, as anyone who has traversed the city in recent years knows, a nightmare.

    So, if building more roads (highways and freeways) increases congestion in the long term, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if Roe 8 serves the goal of creating a viable transport infrastructure planning strategy for Perth.

  4. Thank you, Megan, for a sensitive and sensual perspective on the natural environment impacted by Roe 8. Your article reminded me of the likes of David Abram, a naturalistic or eco-philosopher whose Spell of the Sensuous and, in particular, his more recent Becoming Animal speaks to the real but often unseen unity between humanity and the rest of nature.

    I was so engaged by responding to Richard’s remarks that I overlooked acknowledging the more important ecological dimension of your contribution.

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