What can we learn about environmental issues from the first Australians?
A few weeks ago, standing at the base of one of the most stunning monuments in Australia, I said, 'For heaven's sake it's just a rock!' And to me, that's all it was. Just a rock. I didn't even consider that it might mean something to someone else.
It was only later as we were driving away from Uluru that our tour guide really broke through to our teenage minds. 'Imagine', he said, 'imagine that while you were here, on this trip, someone was boarding in your bedroom. Your sacred space... and they died.'
Silence followed. 'Uluru is a sacred space to the Indigenous people of our country. It is a place at which they perform rituals, a spiritual place, and we need to respect that', he told us.
This analogy got me thinking. As the day went on, more and more shocking information was brought to light. Over 35 people have died on Uluru, and many others have been injured; people litter and defecate on top of Uluru, graffiti the rock, and even chip off sections from the rock, despite large warning signs. I was shocked. How could people do this, not only to a place considered sacred, but to any place at all? The answer is simple: they have no respect for the earth on which they live.
In Aboriginal culture the land is a living thing. Therefore, it is treated and respected as a living thing. Not only does it hold great spiritual significance, it is also essential to survival. Doug Taylor, Cross Cultural Guide at Alice Springs Desert Park, explained to me, 'Their [Aboriginals'] belief and respect for nature as the provider was pretty much universal.'
Many people disregard Australia's desert climates as an arid wasteland, lacking in life. This is not true. The desert is full of life: birds, reptiles, insects, vegetation. A closer look reveals the many resources that even a seemingly barren place such as the desert has to offer. The belief that all life is interdependent is central to the attitude that Indigenous Australians have toward the environment.
'One only has to view nature to see the way everything works together in order to survive', Doug explains.
In fact, the land is a central part of most of our stories. The people of Israel lived in a land not so far removed from our own arid desert climate in Australia. A dry climate meant that careful actions needed to be taken to look after the land, in order that it may produce healthy crops and healthy stock.
The Scriptures describe the land as something that needs to be cared for in order to survive, and something that we should care for as the stewards of this earth. God instructs the people of Israel, 'You shall not pollute the land in which you live... you shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell' (Numbers 35: 33 - 34). These words still speak to us when we are shaping our attitude towards our environment and our home, Earth.
Traditions where the land plays a central role have a lot to teach us today, as we grapple with environmental issues. Doug Taylor puts it well, 'Here in Australia now, more people are becoming aware of the environment and have more understanding of how precious it is to us for our future. We can learn a lot from the traditional practices of Aboriginal people. While we don't live in a traditional way on a daily basis, some of that knowledge still very much applies in this country [in which] we all live.'
Jessica Ali is a student at Mater Christi College, Belgrave.