Chain Reaction Foundation
INSPIRING INNOVATIVE CITIZEN ACTION

Forgetting and being irresponsible with the connection that binds us and heals us as a nation.

by Margaret Bell | March 18, 2019

Image Credit: Getty's Images

A Culture of Risk: What Happens When we Forget Our

Inherent Natural Bonds

"If you put your hands in it, you get burnt. This is sulphuric acid."

When we hear these words, we would be forgiven for thinking we were watching a science fiction movie, as a team of intrepid astronauts explore an alien planet, or perhaps preparing to embark on an experiment in a high school chemistry class. Unfortunately, this would be incorrect.

Instead, these are the words of Mike Young, a professor of water economics at the University of Adelaide. He is not talking about an exotic landscape in a distant world; neither is he discussing a chemical reaction under laboratory conditions. Professor Young is, in fact, talking about the waters of our own Murray-Darling Basin; waters which have now become dangerously acidic after the recent drought exposed the mineral-rich soils of the riverbed to the heat of the sun.

The Murray-Darling Basin is one of Australia's most precious natural resources. It is among the largest water systems on the planet, covering an area of almost 410,000 square miles, and has provided vital irrigation and water supply to our nation's southeast for thousands upon thousands of years. Today, 39% of Australia's agricultural output depends on this water system, and over three million people rely on the basin's waterways to survive.

But this precious resource is dying. Severe droughts have shrunk water levels at a dangerous rate, resulting in the deaths of countless plants and animals within the system, and pushing numerous businesses, individuals, and even entire communities to the brink.

So why is this? As is common with such a cataclysmic event, a confluence of different factors have led to the current situation. Natural environmental factors, anthropogenic global warming and pollution, and unsound industrial and political policies have all had their part to play in bringing about this very sorry turn of events. By some accounts - including those of experts like Professor Young - the tipping point has already been reached: it may already be too late to save the Murray-Darling Basin.

On a more profound level, it is disconnection which has brought about the demise of the Murray-Darling. This is something I have written about extensively, is one of the core tenets of our work here at Chain Reaction, and at Learning Ground - the intrinsic connection which all of us have to the natural world and to our ancestry, both historic and pre-historic. Not only is it important for us to recognise this connection if we are to live harmoniously with Planet Earth, but we must actively work to foster and strengthen the bonds inherent in all of us. As we have seen in the case of the Murray-Darling - and, tragically, in countless other cases of environmental catastrophe across the globe - the stakes are monumental; if we fail to maintain and develop this connection, the results are grave.

In March of 2019, hundreds of people rallied in communities across the Murray-Darling Basin, voicing their desperation and their fear regarding what is to come. On the same day, Indigenous elders and families gathered at the source of the Murrumbidgee River, located in the Kosciuszko National Park, to conduct a traditional healing ceremony.

At this ceremony, senior lore men from across New South Wales were joined by Major 'Moogy' Sumner, an elder and songman of the Ngarrindjeri people from Coorong, where the Murray meets the sea in South Australia. Connection to the land, and to the divinity of nature, is something which sits at the heart of Indigenous culture and philosophy, and is a key concept which we have built into our own teachings at Learning Ground. These latest meetings represent attempts to reconnect with our homeland, and to intervene to prevent more damage. We must hope that it is not too late, and each of us must work to build and reinforce our own connections with nature if we are to have a future on this beautiful planet we all call home. 

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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