Social impacts of open cut coal mining

Dr Alison Ziller, Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Planning, shares her recent SIA work in NSW:

Social impact assessment (SIA) is often done for mining and resource extraction projects which the NSW Government has determined are of state significance. This means that the applicant is required to prepare a SIA and the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) must take social impacts into account in making its decision about whether or not to permit the development.

Lock the Gate’s campaign highlighted the agricultural values of the area (

In July the IPC considered an application by a mining company, Whitehaven Coal, to excavate a new open cut coal mine near Boggabri in NW NSW. This new mine would extend an already approved mine. The project is called the Vickery Extension Project. The application included an SIA.

There has been strong community opposition to this project. While much of the opposition focused on water issues, there was also concern about the likely social impacts of this mine should it go ahead. A number of community organisations were involved, among them an alliance of 450 community groups called Lock the Gate.

Alison Ziller was asked to provide Lock the Gate with a review of the applicant’s SIA. She also made a presentation on the social impact issues to the IPC. The key social impact concerns raised were that: the number of jobs for local people would be few, the project would be likely to have detrimental effects on public health in the region, and the mitigations proposed by Whitehaven did not appear tangible or durably effective in dealing with the adverse impacts.

In follow-up, the IPC asked Dr Ziller to advise whether there were examples of positive social benefits as a result of mining. Her reply noted that claims of social benefit are often made regarding the number of local jobs likely to be created, the benefit associated with financial contributions made by the mining company to sporting and other local groups, promises of local training opportunities, community engagement events, increased population and town beautification projects. But each of these is often accompanied by a down-side:

  • Often the number of local jobs is few and skill requirements mean they are not available to local people who are currently unemployed;
  • Local financial contributions rarely include much needed social welfare services, such as a mental health service;
  • Promises of training programs are vague and may not result in jobs;
  • Community engagement tends to focus on gathering support for a project, not on supporting the people opposed to it, and this contributes to social division;
  • More residents in a town only happens if new workers move in, but many workers prefer to fly in and fly out; and
  • Town beautification is no compensation for the landscapes lost to the open cut pit.

Mining and resource extraction projects are often viewed in terms of environmental and economic impacts. However, they take place in rural areas and significantly affect local residents’ lifestyle, amenity, livelihoods, health and well-being. These critical social impacts also deserve full consideration.

Recent graduates share their PhD and Masters stories

Keen to find out more about what it’s like to study planning and geography as a PhD or Masters student at Macquarie University?

We’ve got 4 reflections from recent graduates that captures their research stories. Dr Wayne Williamson reflects on his research about how community groups and the NSW government use social media as a communications channel. Harriet Narwal talks about her MRes on multispecies relations in cities. Lillian Tait shares her experience doing collaborative research with Aboriginal people in northern Australia. Zahra Nasreen reflects on how tenants navigate and negotiate shared housing using digital platforms in Sydney, Australia.

Thanks to Zahra, Lill, Harriet and Wayne for providing materials for the videos and Michael Rampe for compiling them.

Common Grounds: The power of coming together, Sapmi to Country

This blog post is by Marnie Graham, Sandie Suchet-Pearson and Uncle Lexodious Dadd.

Marnie Graham is a post-doctoral fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University and at the School of Tourism and Hospitality, University of Johannesburg. She is an Honorary Associate at Macquarie University’s (MQ) Department of Geography & Planning.

Sandie Suchet-Pearson is Associate Professor at MQ’s Department of Geography & Planning.

Uncle Lexodious Dadd is a senior Darug custodian, Assistant Manager of the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre, and Adjunct Fellow at MQ’s Department of Geography & Planning.

All the way from Sápmi in Sweden and Finland, a delegation of Indigenous Sami representatives visited Australia in May 2019 to connect with Indigenous Australians and Country. Including reindeer herders, artists, and community activists, the delegates are all engaged in struggles to protect their lands and livelihoods from resource developments.

Together with researchers from Sweden, Finland and Australia, the Sami representatives met with Indigenous peoples from Cape York and White Bear Nation, visited the Quandamooka people on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), and camped with Darug custodians at Yarramundi/Yellomundee Regional Park in Western Sydney. Common Grounds shares this journey, and in particular the connections nurtured at Yarramundi. The documentary short highlights some ‘common grounds’ around Indigenous peoples’ powerful efforts across the world to maintain their cultures and care for their special places.

Darug custodian Uncle Lex Dadd leads regular Darug culture camps at Yarramundi through the Yanama budyari gumada collective, who have hosted over 700 people at camps. Uncle Lex welcomed the Sami delegates and researchers to Yarramundi, where they camped by the beautiful Deerubbin [Nepean River], and learnt about Darug Country, culture and histories. Participants and Darug custodians walked together on-Country, sharing meals and music around the campfire, and spraying their handprints on casuarina trees with ochre from deep in the earth.

Uncle Lex and new friends sharing around the campfire. Image copyright Sandie Suchet-Pearson.

Everyone also shared their respective experiences of colonisation and the continuing pressures and challenges of the post-colonial state, including the impacts of mining, development, conservation and resource exploitation, as well as stories of resistance, and cultural strength and revival. Uncle Lex reflects on the camp:

“Yarramundi is only an hour away from Sydney, yet here we can share culture in this natural environment, and we found so many similarities between our struggles. Very, very similar.

And what amazed me is one young lady, she was a new mother, doing a PhD, plus herding reindeer at the same time. That just blew my mind. Like, how organised are you with your time, how diligent, not giving up with all the constraints of the modern world and other people taking Country off you, and all those restrictions – nope, she’s just going to keep going. And that just shows true resilience of Indigenous people, right around the world.”

            Learning together on Darug Country. Image copyright Sandie Suchet-Pearson.

Professional film-maker Klas Eriksson directed and produced Common Grounds. He collaborates with the Yanama budyari gumada collective to communicate their work through his visually stunning films. He has also collaborated with the Sami delegates and accompanying researchers to document their work on confronting climate change in Sapmi.

Inviting Klas to film the coming together of custodians from Sapmi and Darug Country was therefore a natural fit, of which Klas says “I couldn’t think of a more worthwhile project to be a part of”.

“I’m a Swedish person living in Australia, but also someone who has been fortunate enough to tell stories both from Sapmi and Darug country. As a filmmaker and storyteller, it is always an absolute joy and honour to be allowed to act as a megaphone for Indigenous perspectives. Both because I believe it is important for the world to hear as many of them as possible, but also on a more selfish level because it’s always a great learning experience.

It was just awesome to see two groups of people that I’ve gotten to know from opposite ends of the planet interact and share these perspectives with each other, and seeing them find common ground and connecting almost instantly on the core issues and challenges they both face”.

Klas believes the survival of the planet “depends on more people opening their eyes to these practices”.

“I hope that the wider population will start to realise that the preservation of Indigenous culture, tradition and rights are important not just for Indigenous communities, but for society as a whole.”

Klas Eriksson filming at Yarramundi. Image copyright Sandie Suchet-Pearson.

Yanama budyari gumada researchers Uncle Lex, Marnie Graham, and Sandie Suchet-Pearson note that the ‘Common Grounds’ explored in the film can strengthen solidarity between Indigenous groups who, although living on opposite sides of the world, experience many similar pressures and challenges.

Uncle Lex says “it would’ve been nice to spend more time with them, to share more culture as well. I just think it’s really important for our project to share that culture, and we can build on that. All these connections coming together”.

We certainly plan to continue strengthening these connections, and sincerely hope we can organise a reciprocal visit from Darug Country to Sapmi in the not too distant future. As Uncle Lex explains:

“We talked about me visiting Sapmi while they were here in Australia. They said ‘oh, we’ll have a motorbike for you, Uncle Lex, and you’ll be able to herd reindeer’. And what I’d love to see is how they can all pick out their own individual reindeer amongst hundreds of them, which I think shows that connection not only between Country but between their animals, their stewardship with these animals.

I would love to go over there. It would be really, really special.”

Thanks go to all the camp participants for joining us, Dr Rebecca Lawrence for bringing us all together, film-maker Klas Martin Eriksson for being brilliant, the Yanama budyari gumada research collective for facilitating the camp, and to the NSW Environmental Trust for supporting the Darug-Caring-as-Country project.

The ‘Common Grounds’ film was funded by FORMAS, The Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development, REXSAC “Resource Extraction and Sustainable Arctic Communities – A Nordic Centre of Excellence”, and The Research Council of Norway.

This project was supported by Griffith University, Luleå Technical University, Macquarie University, Stockholm University, Stockholm Environment Institute, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sydney Environment Institute (The University of Sydney), University of Newcastle and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected

Wikimedia Commons

Republished from The Conversation – Andrew Burridge from the Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the border between his state and NSW will close after 11:59pm on Tuesday to prevent the coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne from spreading further.

It will be the first border shutdown between the two states since 1919, when the Spanish flu epidemic prompted the NSW government to close its borders with Victoria, Queensland and South Australia to slow the spread of the virus.

What will this new shutdown mean for residents on both sides of the border and what are the potential longer-term consequences of the closure, as well as those between other states?

How will residents be affected?

There are more than 50 land crossings between NSW and Victoria, peppered between the coast and South Australia. Last year, NSW welcomed more than 4.7 million overnight visitors from Victoria.

There are also a number of interconnected communities along the length of the border, most notably Albury-Wodonga along the Murray River. There are some 89,000 people living in those towns, according to the 2016 census. Other large border towns include Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura.

Read more: Border closures, identity and political tensions: how Australia’s past pandemics shape our COVID-19 response

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many states have announced similar border “closures”. It should be noted, however, that borders rarely, if ever, close completely. They are designed to act as filters, allowing officials to decide who, or what, crosses.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the border closure after talks with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Daniel Pockett/AAP

In other states with closed borders, residents in border communities have been given permits or exemptions to cross for specific reasons, such as specialist work or to care for sick relatives.

Permits for the NSW-Victoria border will likely be made available for residents of border communities like Albury-Wodonga and for those who believe they must cross for “exceptional circumstances.”

The permit system will also likely allow people to cross the border for health care. The Albury and Wodonga health system is unique in that it straddles the state line, providing service to 250,000 people in the region. The state of Victoria runs the Albury Hospital, even though it is located in NSW.

Trade is also unlikely to be highly affected. The NSW-Queensland border has been closed since March, but freight trucks have generally been allowed to continue to cross unfettered, though perhaps more slowly than usual.

Constitutionality of border closures

Even though there have been few disruptions, this has not stopped challenges to the High Court over whether such closures are constitutional.

Section 92 of Australia’s constitution says

trade, commerce, and intercourse among the states, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.

There are some exceptions to this freedom, though, particularly when it is necessary to protect the people of a state from the risk of injury from inbound goods, animals and people.

COVID-19 has generally been accepted as a reason for imposing border closures.

This has happened in Australia before. In January 1919, during the Spanish flu outbreak, a case of influenza arrived in NSW from Victoria.

NSW unilaterally closed the border between the states, followed by other closures (notably between NSW and Queensland). Some people tried to circumvent the border restrictions by taking to the sea.

The NSW-Queensland border was closed in March, causing traffic back-ups and headaches for residents who live there. Jason O’Brien/AAP

Have there been border disputes before?

Victoria officially became an independent colony on July 1, 1851, with the border defined under the Australian Constitutions Act as

a straight line drawn from Cape How (sic) to the nearest source of the River Murray and thence the course of that river to the eastern boundary of the province of South Australia.

A boundary survey was conducted in the 1870s by Alexander Black and Alexander Allan to demarcate the straight line portion of border through the often mountainous terrain between the two colonies.

Disputes over the boundary have persisted since then, with reports noting that fishermen blew up the original cairn at Cape Howe to avoid license fees.

These disputes eventually found their way to the High Court in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in regards to the boundary along the Murray River. The entirety of the river was found to sit within NSW in the 1980 ruling of a case involving bizarre circumstances – the jurisdiction of a murder that took place on the shoreline.

In 1984, the straight-line border between the states was resurveyed by the Department of Surveying, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and renamed the Black-Allan line in honour of the first surveyors. The border was not officially recognised in name until 1998 by the Geographic Place Names Act.

Read more: Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?

What do border closures mean long-term?

One point of concern in the states’ response to the pandemic is the way it has changed the way we talk and think about borders. We have begun to separate ourselves from our neighbours.

And while the political rhetoric that goes back and forth between states has been mostly trivial in nature (think of Andrews’ comment about who would want to travel to SA), there is a risk of longer-term damage to relations between states.

Perhaps more importantly, some cross-border residents have been subjected to abuse for legitimately crossing state lines, often identified by their license plates.

Health experts have also disagreed over the need for border closures, with some saying there is a lack of evidence for their effectiveness in curbing disease transmission. However, even these messages have been mixed, and some have been politicised.

How NSW and Victoria proceed in managing their highly crossed and integrated border will throw up previously unforeseen challenges that Black and Allan were unlikely to have considered while navigating the alpine terrain between the colonies 150 years ago.

The boundary marker monument on the NSW-Victoria border in Genoa, an area affected by this summer’s bushfires, reminds us of the need for cross-state cooperation on issues that are not confined neatly within borders.

Read more: Lockdowns, second waves and burn outs. Spanish flu’s clues about how coronavirus might play out in Australia

Andrew Burridge, Lecturer in Human Geography, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Recording of Prof Matthew Kearnes’ talk ‘Knowing Earth, Knowing Soil: Epistemological Work and the Political Aesthetics of the Carbon Frontier’

Click here to access the recording of Prof Matthew Kearnes’ excellent Geoplan Seminar: ‘Knowing Earth, Knowing Soil: Epistemological Work and the Political Aesthetics of the Carbon Frontier’. Recorded Tuesday 7 July. To see more of his work, you can also go to his blog:

Making learning fun: MQ’s Planning students create videos to enhance their communication skills

When students go beyond simply writing essays to present information, they can learn about effective communication, engagement and creativity. Linda Kelly, lecturer in planning at Macquarie University, explores how video changed the learning experiences of students Kathryn (Katy) Murphy, Harseerat Kaur Thind and Morgan Blamey about what they learnt when undertaking a video assessment.

“I learnt a new way to present ideas and I also learnt how to make sure my communication was clear and concise to effectively get a message to my audience.” (Morgan Blamey, student)

Incorporating video making into the planning program at Macquarie University has been a fun way to develop students’ communication skills. Communicating issues, and at times complex ones, to the public is a core skill that urban planners require. The Planning Institute of Australia has identified this skill as a core competency for planning students. The importance of video communication has also been highlighted this year as opportunities for in-person meetings and discussions are limited by public health orders.

For the last few years, third year Bachelor of Planning students have made short videos for an assessment task which provides the opportunity for students to show their understanding of a current planning issue, and to communicate this information to the public as well as motivate them to take action. New topics are chosen each year, with this year’s choices including community action on climate change, living with urban wildlife, small apartment design, and re-imagining roads for people rather than cars.

What do our students think? I asked three of our higher scoring students about their experiences in 2020 – what they learnt, the role of videos in communicating in planning, how they approached any challenges, and whether the exercise was fun.

Katy Murphy’s video was set in the Snowy Mountains area on the topic of community action on climate change. She utilised the majestic scenery of this area with the impacts of the recent devastating bushfires to tell a compelling story about the urgent need for action.

“The video assessment was an incredibly engaging and interesting assignment that I thoroughly enjoyed creating, although it did not come along without a couple of hiccups…” Katy said. She approached the challenges of this assessment format by drawing on the well-used first port of call – Google, and then YouTube videos.

“The next step was finding relevant high-quality videos, luckily for me, I decided to base my assignment location in one of the most beautiful regions in Australia, so there was no shortage of stunning high-quality videos.”

Katy Murphy’s video on climate change and community action

Morgan Blamey also produced a video about climate change action, however, her community was the outer metropolitan area of Penrith. When asked about how she overcame some of the challenges of making videos, Morgan reflected on how important creativity was to the process:

I found the creativity of how to set out a video and make it engaging a challenge. I overcame this by watching similar style videos and then trial and error with my own. First I attempted just making a video with pictures and narration before I realised it needed some music and key words on screen for people to engage with it better.

Morgan Blamey’s video on a low carbon future for Penrith

Re-imagining roads for people, not cars, was the video topic chosen by Harseerat Kaur Thind. Harseerat, like her fellow students, approached the task with a combination of research and trial and error. The result was an effective learning experience:

Through my experience with the community video, I learnt to effectively apply information, visual layouts and effective communication of the topic, which related to the community for them to feel engaged.

Harseerat Kaur Thind’s video on re-imagining roads for people not cars

“Visual representation through video-making, is an incredibly effective communication tool in planning, as it is an engaging form of storytelling that has the potential to connect with a large audience of people, I believe this assignment really highlighted this fact.” (Katy Murphy, student)

Research has demonstrated a link between enjoyment and engagement in learning, for example, “learning while having fun” was explored in research into planning student engagement with role-playing games by Dorina Pojani and Roberto Rocco (2020),

Morgan agrees, “It was definitely a fun task as it is something different to the report style or essay style we would usually complete. Fun is an essential part of learning, because for me at least, when I am having fun I am usually more engaged with the task at hand. This means I learn more and I also perform better”, she said.

For Harseerat not only was the experience fun, but also interesting and beneficial as she developed her understanding of involving the community in the planning process.

Providing planning students with opportunities to be creative beyond the usual written assessment or face to face presentations has an important role in developing skills and knowledge. Learning can be fun. And crucial to making better futures for us all – as Morgan Blamey points out:

…the more people that engage with planning, the better our cities and towns will be. So the role of videos in communicating planning messages is vital. 

Beyond National Reconciliation Week – Indigenous tourism in Sydney: Learning to Listen, Stepping-up

This blog is written by Marnie Graham, Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Uncle Lex Dadd – Darug custodian, Assistant Manager Blue Mountains Aboriginal Cultural Resource Centre and Adjunct Fellow, Department of Geography & Planning, Macquarie University (

Last week was National Reconciliation Week in Australia. Held each year on the 27th May to the 3rd June, Reconciliation Australia states National Reconciliation Week is “a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia”. The week puts a spotlight on Australia’s need to acknowledge its past and learn the truth of colonial and ‘post’-colonial histories in the land now known as Australia. It is also a time for deeply thinking about what we do here and now, and about how we see our future together, non-Indigenous and Indigenous people.

As part of reconciliation processes, non-Indigenous Australians have a responsibility to do the hard work of learning the truth of the past and present and working towards a future of togetherness. One way to do this is by connecting with Indigenous peoples and Country. Through this connecting Australians can learn some of the stories, culture and languages of where we live, work and love – and that means learning to listen. Our work and research centres on Indigenous rights and knowledges, and what we have learned, is that many non-Indigenous people in Australia would like to make personal connections with Indigenous people but don’t know how – who to talk to, how to connect, what actions to take.

Indigenous tour operators dedicate their working lives to making these connections and sharing these learnings with visitors, yet many people don’t realise that Indigenous tour operators are located all over Australia, including Sydney. The Indigenous tour operators we connect with conduct their tours with immense openness and generosity in sharing aspects of their lives and some of their stories with visitors, and tourists should take responsibility to value, respect and treat these with sensitivity. We have also learned that when non-Indigenous people do take that first step – begin to make a connection with Indigenous histories, stories, and cultures, then they begin to see that their words and actions and learning can make a difference.

So if you are not sure how to make that first step of connection, then consider taking an Indigenous-owned tour. If you live in the Greater Sydney Region, there are a huge range of amazing Indigenous-led tours which you can do, listed at the end of this page. If you live elsewhere in Australia, then is a new not-for-profit website dedicated to putting you directly in touch with Indigenous tourism initiatives throughout Australia, with more operators added frequently. As well, Professor Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia is a beautiful hardcover guidebook, detailing Indigenous tourism initiatives throughout Australia, which makes an amazing gift for the important people in your life who you want to encourage to learn more about Indigenous cultures.

National Reconciliation Week 2020 was held in the shadow of the appalling, brutal murders of black Americans by police in the US, and the associated protests, whereby Americans have shouted and burned their fury at the police brutality and systemic racism on which America is built. If, in light of our own national week of truth-telling, Australians confront their own “shared histories”, then we must also acknowledge the abuses that continue to happen in Australia all the time – (including during Reconciliation Week). The Guardian Australia documented 432 (now tragically updated to 437) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody since only 1991. Four hundred and thirty-seven…this is an absolutely shameful, sad, outrageous statistic – each number a human being taken too soon and in an inexcusable way. This situation is reflective of the systemic and everyday racism and violence faced by Indigenous Australians and the disgraceful attitudes of arrogance and superiority on which contemporary Australian institutions and society are built. The Australian Reconciliation Barometer in 2018 found 33% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experienced at least one form of verbal racial abuse in the last 6 months. Research just released by Siddharth Shirodkaralso of the ANU shows that three quarters of Australians hold racial bias against Indigenous people. Actor Meyne Wyatt powerfully describes the subtle and overt ways such racism plays out in the everyday for Indigenous people in his play City of Gold.

What can non-Indigenous people do to change this reality? Where do they start? We don’t have all the answers but we know there ARE things non-Indigenous people can do to stand up and be counted, to say THIS SITUATION NEEDS TO CHANGE NOW, including as James Purtill notes: taking responsibility for educating themselves, donating to appropriate causes, and getting involved in activist organisations. We argue that National Reconciliation Week puts a spotlight on these fundamental problems within our society, but we must not turn the light off after Reconciliation Week ends. We need to be shining a light on the past, and thinking about our future and how we can work together to change it for the better in the everyday. Australians need to learn the truth of our past and present, and have honest conversations in our schools, universities, workplaces, media, and in our homes. Non-Indigenous people need to speak up wherever it is that they hear racism – –be it in the shopping centre, on public transport, in the classroom, on the street, online, in the media, in the justice system, and within their own homes. Non-Indigenous people need to not be afraid to call racism out, even when the racism comes from their friends and family.

The time for learning and stepping up is now. Covid-19 has put – and may continue to place – huge restrictions on our travels and learning, but we can help to keep Indigenous tourism operators afloat so they can keep doing the important learning, sharing and transforming of Australian society they do. So get your friends and family together, get in touch, and book an Indigenous tour for the near future. Many of the Greater Sydney-based independent Indigenous tour operators also do cultural education sessions in early childhood centres, schools, universities, government organisations, and businesses, so start a conversation about what they might be able to do with you or your organisation. Start the process, make the connection. It is through listening, and starting to learn and connect, that we can begin the difficult conversations that we need to have, and step up and take the actions we need to take to make the changes our nation needs to see.

Sydney and surrounds Indigenous tour operators:

Girri Girra Aboriginal Experiences – day tours on the NSW Central Coast, 1.5 hours north of Sydney

Wollombi Aboriginal Cultural Experiences – Day tours and dedicated women’s camps and other camps at Wollombi, 1.5 hours north of Sydney

Kadoo Tours – day tours at Watson’s Bay and La Perouse, Sydney

Dreamtime Southern X – day tours in Sydney CBD and further afield

Guringai Aboriginal Tours – day tours on Sydney’s North Shore

Tribal Warrior Cruises – Aboriginal cultural day cruises on Sydney Harbour

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney Aboriginal experiences – day tours in Sydney CBD

Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tours – day tours in Sydney CBD

‘Tearing down, building up: Or, how to deconstruct and democratise innovation’ Dr Jathan Sadowski video

Here’s a recording of Dr Jathan Sadowski’s (Emerging Technologies Research Lab, Monash) fantastic GeoPlan talk ‘Tearing down, building up: Or, how to deconstruct and democratise innovation’ (recorded Tuesday 8 June 2020).

Nurturing connections: from the calm waters of Yarramundi to the red dunes of the Kalahari

Uncle Lexodious Dadd, Dirk Pienaar, Marnie Graham and Sandie Suchet-Pearson share their story of a growing collaboration in this blog.

I’ve been very fortunate to come over here, and make this connection. It’s been very, very important. Even connections with the animals, the plants. They’re going to be long term connections – Uncle Lex.

Uncle Lex made a really cool friend – “I’ve got about 30 photos of the yellow mongoose hanging around me, leaning up to me like this, and looking into my eyes.”

In January 2020 the Department of Geography and Planning supported Darug custodian Uncle Lex to travel to #Khomani San lands in South Africa to participate in a cross-cultural learning exchange together with human geographers Sandie (Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning) and Marnie (Formas post-doctoral fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, hosted by the Department of Geography and Planning). Uncle Lex, Marnie and Sandie were hosted by Dirk Pienaar, a #Khomani San tour guide and Tourism Officer together with Dirk’s San colleagues Xopan and Honeyboy.

Dirk sharing some of his knowledge with Uncle Lex, Marnie, Sandie, and their families on Erin Game Ranch.
Sandie’s, Marnie’s and Dirk’s kids playing together in the red sand of Erin Farm.

For one week we stayed with Dirk at Erin Game Ranch near Askham and at Twee Rivieren rest camp within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Erin Game Ranch was one of 6 farms awarded to the #Khomani San community in 1999 in compensation for land lost during colonisation from 1652. During our time together Dirk, Xopan and Honeyboy led us on cultural education activities and walks around Erin Game Ranch, drives in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and visits to local communities in the surrounding area.

Google Maps images of the location in South Africa and the red landscape of Erin Farm (Erin Game Ranch) and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Uncle Lex and Xopan at Erin Game Ranch

This international engagement activity was a result of our long-term intertwined inter-personal and research relationships, and reflects the Department of Geography and Planning’s aim to support community engaged research and long-term research relationships.

Since 2016 Uncle Lex has led the Yanama Budyari Gumada: Walk with good spirit project where he runs Darug culture camps on Darug Country in Western Sydney in collaboration with Marnie and Sandie, along with Dr Paul Hodge and Paul Glass (see our films on the Yellomundee Living Culture Camp and 2019 Australasian Green Gown Award winners in the Benefitting Society category).

Uncle Lex and fellow researchers of the Yanama Budjari Gumada: Walk with good spirit project at Yarramundi, western Sydney.

Dirk and Sandie have known each other for 7 years, since Sandie spent time with Dirk in 2013 and 2017 learning about the #Khomani San’s effort in the tourism space.  Dirk manages the Sustainable Tourism projects of the #Khomani San community ( and through arts and crafts sales, tracking, guiding and cultural activities assists with the development of responsible tourism and traditional conservation initiatives enhancing the local San culture. Dirk played a key role in gaining UNESCO World Heritage recognition for the #Khomani Cultural Landscape.

In 2017 #Khomani San efforts for recognition paid off with UNESCO World Heritage listing of the #Khomani Cultural Landscape.

On our first morning together on Erin Farm, Dirk took us for a walk up the red sand dunes for sunrise.

Erin Farm sunrise skies.

“I really love this place. This place, the red sand, is in my blood, I can feel it. Even when I leave here, I want to be back, it is always part of me”  – Dirk Pienaar

Uncle Lex, Dirk, Marnie, Sandie and families on the red dune of Erin Game Ranch on our first morning together.

These intimate relations between Dirk and the Kgalagadi were immediately familiar to Uncle Lex who spoke with Dirk about the Aboriginal concept of Country. From a San perspective, Dirk was very comfortable with the concept of a sentient, living, inter-related environment.

Our way of living was mostly influenced by the movement and characteristics of animals and the interrelationships of other organisms … Remember everything, including the land and humans, are seen as one environment in the Bushman context.

The calm waters of the Deerubin, Yarramundi, Darug Country.

Uncle Lex was astounded by the deep similarities between Darug and #Khomani San places.

Coming in to Upington was just amazing, because I saw these trees from the aeroplane, and I thought, “I know those trees.” Then, when I went up to Erin Farm with Dirk, and I spoke to him about the trees, they are actually in a family of our trees in Australia. So I felt very comfortable, and at home, and at peace, and it wasn’t as foreign as I thought it was going to be.

Uncle Lex checking out the trees at Erin Farm.

Although not everything was familiar.

But then, I’ve seen things that are just blowing me away, that I haven’t seen before. Like today on the game drive seeing lions, ground squirrels, so much animal life, compared to Australia, and in such arid country – Uncle Lex

Uncle Lex seeing his first Kalahari lion in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Dirk also picked up on these resonances.

A special moment for me was when Uncle Lex saw his first lion. The awe and absolute respect that showed on his face was beautiful and with all the other lions we encountered his expression remained the same. With both these encounters I could feel the undertone of emotional similarities from both cultures and their relationships with the natural environment.

Uncle Lex and Dirk also spoke long and deeply about their shared experiences of (often ongoing) colonial dispossession and devastation.

So many cultural things are so similar if not exactly the same … colonisation, loss, the hardships … even though we’re worlds apart … we’re doing similar things, and trying to care for Country on opposite sides of the world – Uncle Lex

Opportunities to connect in the shade of a shepherd tree, Erin Game Ranch.

Uncle Lex gained lots of new perspectives and ideas from everything he experienced and learnt.

I’m going to have far more appreciation – for our plants, our animals, and Country … I’m going to have a different appreciation, and a deeper appreciation … Imagine if we had those beautiful tents set up!! They were done so simply and they just fit in with the environment so beautifully, just imagine if we had that at Yarramundi, Marnie!! And the hides they had at Erin Farm – I definitely want to build one here at Yarramundi – up in the bush. It was so cool, just watching animals do their own thing without interrupting them. We’ve gotta do it … I’m just inspired, and I want to do more.

The beautiful safari tents at Erin Game Ranch. And looking out from the Hide at Erin Game Ranch towards its waterhole.

Uncle Lex connected very deeply with Dirk who he found extremely inspiring.

Speaking with Dirk has been very important, to see what he’s doing with conservation, and how he’s rallying a lot of his people and so forth to look after Country, and to do the right thing. He is very inspiring. He is not just committed to tourism for his own self-indulgence, it’s commitment to his whole mob, his whole people, and to the country, which is very inspiring. And I’ve been fortunate enough to spend, what? Only four or five days with him? But we’ve formed a really good relationship and we’ve got a really strong connection now that we’re going to keep. We’ve made plans that he’s going to help me with doing stuff in our own country, but also I’ll be able to help with stuff that he’s doing here in his country.

He also formed a particular connection with Xopan.

The connection I made with Xopan was really special. Within two days, we were both in tears at leaving each other – And that… Yeah. Really. Blew me away, and blew Xopan away … there was a definite connection between Xopan and I. We understood each other, and I looked at him as a younger version of me.

Above: Xopan, taking us for a game walk on Erin Game Ranch.

We were lucky enough to spend time together just after the drought broke in southern Africa – here is a storm rolling in and turning the Kalahari green.

Xopan and Uncle Lex discussing the Kalahari trees.

Our time together emphasised the importance of Indigenous tour operators learning and sharing from each other and Uncle Lex, Marnie and Sandie so look forward to creating the opportunity for Dirk and his colleagues to come and spend time at Yarramundi in Australia.

That’s the beauty about Xopan and Honeyboy and Dirk, that they were open to that sharing. And that’s why, every night I’ve been sitting up with Dirk till the early hours of the morning, and we’re been talking culture, and philosophies, and the way our country is and the challenges we have with governments, and legislations, and all those things, and he’s taught me many, many things.

You can read more about this important cultural exchange visit in the Kgalagadi in the co-authored chapter:

Graham, M.; Dadd, L.; Pienaar, D. and Suchet-Pearson, S. (forthcoming 2021) “Indigenous tourism in a time of rapid change – learning across, learning deeply”. In Rogerson, J. and Saarinen, J. (eds) Tourism, Change and the Global South. Routledge – forthcoming in 2021.

Dirk’s son Gee under the most magical of Kalahari rainbows.

Photos copyright Sandie Suchet-Pearson and Marnie Graham, used with permission of Uncle Lex, Dirk and Xopan. Indeed, Xopan says that he loves the idea that people all around the world look at images of him and wonder about him.

Hotels are no ‘luxury’ place to detain people seeking asylum in Australia

Published today in The Conversation, Andrew Burridge from our Department critically examines mainland detention of asylum seekers in Australia:

Andrew Burridge, Macquarie University

In Australia, much of the discussion about detaining asylum seekers has focused on offshore sites on Manus, Nauru and Christmas Island.

But, as the recent ABC drama series Stateless reminds us, detention of asylum seekers within Australia has a longer history and continues today.

The Department of Home Affairs recorded 1,436 people in detention on mainland Australia at the end of February.

Read more: Stateless review: remembering a time when we were outraged

Not all are in the standard detention centres. We’ve seen a return of hotels used for detention and that’s a worrying trend, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has been told hotels are “not appropriate places of detention”.

Kept in hotel detention

The use of hotels as Alternative Places of Detention (APOD) is not a new practice. For example, the Asti Motel in Darwin was used to detain unaccompanied minors and families with children in 2010.

Hotels are being used now to detain asylum seekers, specifically at Kangaroo Point Central in Brisbane and the Mantra Bell City in suburban Melbourne.

Most of those detained in these hotels were transferred throughout 2019 – following several years of detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru – under the now-repealed Medevac provision.

Some media have portrayed the use of hotels to detain asylum seekers as a form of luxury accommodation at taxpayers’ expense.

In Queensland, The Courier Mail adopted this tactic when it said the 45 asylum seekers detained in Brisbane were in a four-star, city hotel costing Australian taxpayers more than $410,000 a week.

No luxury for ‘guests’

But this supposed luxury accommodation is indisputably a site of detention, rather than a comfortable holiday, with untold impacts on physical and mental health.

Those detained in Brisbane and Melbourne are typically held two or more to a room, under the constant watch of security officers. They are allowed use of the hotel’s gym facilities for only a few hours a day at most.

In order to physically go outside, those held at Kangaroo Point Central or the Mantra Bell City must be transferred by bus to other immigration sites in Brisbane and Melbourne, after being subjected to body pat-downs, where they may briefly access the exercise areas.

Independent reviews of the detention situation in Australia are relatively minimal and infrequent.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman, tasked with immigration detention oversight since 2011, released its first review to the public only in February of this year.

But this report only covers its inspections from January to June 2019, at roughly the time the hotels were brought into use. It said:

During this reporting period, we continued to highlight our concern about the facilities provided in the non-medical APODs. These include shortfalls in daily access to outdoor recreation areas, dining areas also being used as multi-purpose rooms, and medical and mental health clinics that do not support the detainees’ right to private consultations.

The Australian Human Rights Commission conducts periodic reviews of detention sites. It said in its May 2019 report:

… hotels are not appropriate places of detention, given their lack of dedicated facilities and restrictions on access to open space.

It found the restrictions on the mobility of detainees was significantly greater within hotel APODs than in any mainland detention centre.

Hotels for ‘short period’ use

In response to the AHRC’s recommendation that hotels only be used in exceptional circumstances or for very short periods of detention, the Department of Home Affairs responded:

Hotels are designated as APODs, and are used as transit accommodation. Transit accommodation is generally used for detainees required to be in held detention for a short period, detainees subject to airport turnaround and detainees ready to be removed.

Those held in the hotels in Brisbane and Melbourne – many previously transferred due to severe physical and mental health issues in Manus or Nauru – have described how their health concerns have been exacerbated since arriving.

Most say they have now been detained for several months, often spending 19 hours or more per day in their rooms. That’s anything but a “short period” of detention.

Coronavirus concerns

The COVID-19 crisis has generated considerable additional concern for the hotel detainees, who have reported minimal or non-existent measures to prevent an outbreak.

A guard at Kangaroo Point Central tested positive for COVID-19 on March 18.

Visits to detainees have been suspended, as well as transfers to the Brisbane and Melbourne immigration centres for outdoor recreation time. The cramped conditions in hotel rooms, common spaces and eating areas have not been addressed. The Ombudsman has now been banned from conducting inspections.

Across the globe, calls and petitions have been made to “decarcerate” or reduce the number of people in prisons and detention centres in light of COVID-19.

Read more: How refugees succeed in visa reviews: new research reveals the factors that matter

In the UK, the Home Office released almost 300 asylum seekers from detention, roughly a quarter of the total detained.

In Australia such action has yet to be taken. Protests within the hotels and immigration detention centres, statements by lawyers and health experts, and online petitions are increasing pressure on the government to release detainees into the community.

Yet, rather than reducing the numbers, transfers are instead increasing numbers within hotels. Last week, detainees at the Brisbane immigration transit accommodation in Pinkenba (up to 204 men according to February statistics) began to be transferred to the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel.

Andrew Burridge, Lecturer in Human Geography, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation