DR JULIA HOBSON is a retired academic, Hamilton Hill resident, cyclist and a great fan of the ridge above Manning Park, where a controversial mountain bike trail has been opposed.
THE social construction of reality occurs constantly and is played out in the media, in education systems and through cultural struggles over whose reality is given legitimacy and credibility, and whose is silenced.
In these days of climate emergency, world wide pandemic, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other social justice movements, we are perhaps beginning to notice in our lives when the power to name what is right – or a right – is privileged to and for one group.
We are perhaps all becoming aware of the importance of ‘parking our privilege’. Cockburn council has placed a prominent sign at the bottom of the Manning Park steps saying: No bike riding. Help protect our vegetation.
There has also been a large log placed across a trail created parallel to the steps, as a deterrent to mountain bike riders.
I was advised by email on July 24 that: “Bicycle riding is not considered a prohibited activity in the Manning Park upland area. However, the removal of any native vegetation in the park is. As per our current process, if we have evidence of anyone removing or destroying vegetation in the park we would take steps to prosecute.”
Since the current unsanctioned bike trails have obviously removed vegetation, and we know “a loose association of riders has formed with around 600 members” on Facebook, according to Mr Kotai (Herald, July 4)
why is it that people riding on unsanctioned and illegal trails are given the status of park ‘stakeholders’? How does the bad behaviour of riding on illegal trails become an invitation to legitimacy?
There is a biased privilege occurring in the conversation about mountain bike riding, a power of privileging one group’s claims for rights over all others. And this privileging is being swept over, not being noticed or addressed: It needs to be uncovered.
Who does our society structurally, through all sorts of systems, privilege over others? Who occupies the centre and dominates the discourse? I like to call them, the PPP (positively privileged people) or in other words: middle class, well educated, non-indigenous, heterosexual men and according to Common Ground Trails (p.8, 2020) “Recent market research suggests that mountain bikers are:
Mostly male (however women are a rapidly increasing market segment)
Predominantly between the ages of 25-44
Relatively affluent with high household incomes Generally well educated”
Mountain bike riders come from a group whose needs and desires are automatically privileged over others’ – especially the group known as non-human.
Mountain biking is fun. Driving out to the hills on the weekend may not be convenient, says Francis Kotai; positively privileged people like things to be organised for their convenience. That is how privilege works. And yes, as a middle class, well educated, relatively affluent, white woman I too am part of the PPP, which is why I have to work hard to keep parking my privilege.
When I went to Cockburn coucil’s information evening at Manning Park and spoke to a mountain bike rider who said they had been riding there for 12 years, I self-importantly replied that I had been walking the ridge (off and on) for 40 years. Only later did I laugh at my arrogance of trying to outdo someone’s sense of connection to the land using time as a criterion. Try toppiong 40,000 or 60,000 years of Indigenous connection.
Another of the MB riders on that same information evening said they had noticed how the trails had deteriorated over the last few years. They were concerned for the bush. Would not the best response to this be: cease privileging personal fun and pleasure over the health and flourishing of the bush. To park the privilege that says: I will have what I want, when it is convenient for me and rather say: I will care for others (non-human included) and try in all my actions to do no harm to others.
In a climate emergency we all need to be concerned for the bush, and this ridge is a designated Bush Forever site. Cutting a trail through disturbs the bush on either side from 5 to 10 metres along the entire length.
MB trails can be thought of as a cut in the skin of the fabric of the bush; the trail cuts the bush canopy letting more light in and encouraging weed growth (just as a cut in your skin encourages bacteria).
These weeds proliferate up to 10 metres from the initial cut and when it rains their root system interferes with native bush, such as parrot bush, from accessing water.
The compacting of the soil that occurs on trails used by mountain bikes causes rainfall to flow too fast and stops the seepage of water into the soil, again leading to the dying off of native species such as parrot bush. The cut also becomes a hunting trail for predators such as cats, foxes and raptors making it easier for them to pick off small birds and lizards.
One of the key responses from the council has been that the best way to protect the bush and to achieve a net environmental gain is to have well built MB trails that will stop the construction of unsanctioned trails. We are in agreement that unsanctioned MB trails are damaging the bush and need to stop, however in my view Cockburn council is rewarding the bad behaviour of building illegal trails with the construction of more trails.
MB riding is not a necessity: it does not put food on the table for the family, it does not help someone get to work, it’s for fun.
The assumption in this position is that MB riders must be satisfied; if we take away their fun in one spot we must have something else to offer them because…
Not good enough, time to park the privilege.