The idea of extending this honour to elders in the community is professed in places like 1 Timothy 1verse 2 "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity."
Who are our Australian 'elders'?
I was thinking about this when watching some of the episodes of the TV series 'First Footprints'. A summary of this program can be found at: www.kimberleyfoundation.org.au
Aborigines, over time, developed land-management strategies that worked for them. They did not leave the land in its original pristine state, no human society has ever done that, but they learnt to manage the land and climate in the 200 or more different areas of Australia to maintain their food sources over many, many generations. Is our modern European land management strategy achieving this same result?
A European tradition may not be sustainable
Our land cannot be compared to England, where, according to the SBS TV program 'Walking Through History', the fertile land, mild climate and plentiful water of the Derwent Valley in England, enabled several crops to be grown in a year in Saxon times; then later the fast-flowing water powered the birth of the Industrial Revolution before the age of steam. (www.sbs.com.au)
And our land cannot be compared to other places in the world where rich (often volcanic) soils supported very dense populations for generations upon generations (India, China, the tiny island of Java in Indonesia for example).
Unlike these other places on our Earth, Australia is an ancient, worn-down land with most of the nutrients leached out. To add insult to injury, the rainfall is extremely unreliable almost everwhere. (www.abs.gov.au)
Whatever your view of the timelines that scientists present, the evidence of the outcome is the same – our soils are poor, our volcanoes are extinct, our rainfall is variable. We cannot support the same type of agriculture as our European settlers were used to; and the aborigines used very different methods of land management than Europeans are used to in order to survive.
But we have tried. With the addition of fertilisers, the introduction of irrigation (which is now under environmental scrutiny in many places, both in the south and the tropical north) and the development of broad-acre, mechanised farming, we have made a go of it – so far. (australia.gov.au)
In hindsight, many scientists think these practices are not sustainable. Looking to other methodologies of managing the land, some are advocating that we consult the peoples who, as archaeological evidence indicates, went through population expansion and crashes long before Europeans were here, and as a result they developed a range of agricultural practices to suit each climate and soil type all over the land. (austhrutime.com)
New respect, new partnerships, new developments
While we cannot go back to pre-European cultures because the society and the land has changed forever, we can now learn to respectfully take some of the knowledge our 'elders' have acquired over generations, and combine this with our modern methods of farming and land care.
This way, we may be able to forge new ways of caring for our precious land in more sustainable ways. The Australian Government has set up regional Landcare offices to facilitate the investigation of how some of this knowledge may be gained, and incorporated into land care management. (www.nrm.gov.au)
Postcript: Lessons from early explorers
Ian Clark and Philip Clarke, the authors of the book 'The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills: Forgotten Narratives." ( CSIRO Publishing) surmise that Burke and Wills perished partly because they did NOT consult the aborigines of the area but consciously kept them at a distance. The only member of the team who survived, John King, actually lived with one of the local tribes for months.
The authors were interviewed on the ABC Radio National program 'Bush Telegraph' (www.abc.net.au)
1 Timothy 5 verse 17 continues the idea of respecting elders: "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching". If Burke and Wills had extended this honour to the elders of the land, and allowed them to teach them survival skills and how to identify when others were in the area, as King some other explorers before and since have done, then there might have been a happier outcome.
Hopefully we can learn from history, as well as the Scriptures. If we can accept the teaching and preaching about our fragile land from those who have learnt about caring for it in a sustainable way, and honour their teachings and add to it with our current scientific knowledge, then together we all may still have a happy outcome on this continent of ours.
Certainly, some conservationists who presented evidence at a recent international conference think there is a better way forwards if we do this. (www.abc.net.au)
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html