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Addressing cultural, economic and environmental concerns

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Howard Pedersen, from the Kimberley Institute, looks at how to deal with development effectively in the region.     
The two issues consuming the world at the moment are climate change and energy, which are the issues that also consume The Kimberley, with its western gas reserves and massive horticultural development in the east. There will be pressures on the region but it is how those pressures are managed that matter most, and Howard suggests a new paradigm for sustainable development.
A pivotal question is how the old economic activities of pastoralism, mining and horticulture connect with the emerging economies, such as land management Indeed, The Kimberley has been overgrazed by cattle for years and the explorers’ accounts, like those in Alexander Forrest’s journal, all point to the extraordinary dense plant life.
There needs to be a restoration of land in The Kimberley using Aboriginal knowledge and the whole question of land management is something that Aboriginal people are keen on. There are some 200 Aboriginal people employed as rangers for indigenous protected areas such as Lake Gregory, an inland fresh water lake with extraordinary bird life. Only 12% of The Kimberley is designated as Aboriginal reserves (which the Aboriginals were herded into) and 10% is designated as National Parks and conservation reserves. None are managed well by the state government and it seems that the revenue obtained by treating Western Australia as a quarry is more important than having sustainable development.
There is a history of finally protecting areas of Australia that are vital parts of our nationhood (Kakadu, Great Barrier Reef to name two) but The Kimberley does not yet benefit from an iconic status. Howard likes the notion of a region ofworld significance that embraces indigenous cultural survival and coexists with European settlement. There are already some indigenous tours on the Dampier Peninsula but Howard says that these ventures be encouraged by government spending on things like TAFE courses, providing good governance regimes for cultural tourism.
Part of the Kimberley Institute’s role is to broker arrangements with outside researchers to work with Aboriginal people to explore the ideas of sustainable development and to create a public discussion on new ways of looking at development. It is a very different role from the one that Howard first had in The Kimberley, when the Premier Richard Court proposed a dam be built on the Fitzroy River at Diamond Gorge. The dam, supported by other dams, was to provide water being for extensive cotton farms in the Grange Basin. The idea was opposed and led to the formation of Environs Kimberley, a local environmental organisation with Howard as a member.
As far as the Aborigines themselves are concerned, the picture on development is confused. Many live in neglect and poverty and are desperate for an economic future, so being offered partnerships in new developments is very seductive. It also creates division in communities which is beneficial to the developers. This reflects the major problem with the public discourse for the future of the region. There is not enough public information, leading to people who oppose some developments being attacked as pushing Aborigines further into poverty.

There really needs to be a social, environmental and economic solution to the future use of The Kimberley.

Text: V.B. September 2009

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The proposed Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy The King Leopold Range Conservation Park is still home to feral and unmanaged stock

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