Tasmanian Aborigines provide us with an extreme case of geographical isolation. When Bass Strait was flooded, some 10,000 years ago, Tasmania was probably populated by no more than a few thousand Aboriginal hunter-gatherers. By the time their descendants were discovered by 17th-century European navigators, Tasmanians had become the most technologically primitive people ever encountered on the planet Earth. Now, it's fair enough to blame the terrible solitude of Tasmanians for the absence of the elementary culture of making fire, boomerangs, stone axes with wooden handles, etc. But the author might have drawn attention to another obvious aspect of Tasmania's isolation and small population. After centuries of consanguinity, their gene pool was surely reduced to a minimalist state leaving few cerebral resources for creativity. While avoiding all references to genes, and bending over backwards to avoid being accused of racism, Jared Diamond nevertheless falls into the trap of comparing the respective "smartness" of Aborigines with a notorious pair of ill-fated explorers. "Robert Burke and William Wills were smart enough to write, but not smart enough to survive in Australian desert regions where Aborigines were living."
A more recent and (to my mind) more convincing book by Diamond, Collapse (2005), tackles the fascinating question of why certain human societies suddenly disappear.
Mining in the literal sense—that is, the mining of coal, iron, and so on—is a key to Australia's economy today, providing the largest share of its export earnings. In a metaphorical sense, however, mining is also a key to Australia's environmental history and to its current predicament. That's because the essence of mining is to exploit resources that do not renew themselves with time, and hence to deplete those resources. Since gold in the ground doesn't breed more gold [...], miners extract gold from a gold lode as rapidly as is economically feasible, until the lode is exhausted. Mining minerals may thus be contrasted with exploiting renewable resources—such as forests, fish, and topsoil—that do regenerate themselves by biological reproduction or by soil formation. Renewable resources can be exploited indefinitely, provided that one removes them at a rate less than the rate at which they regenerate. If however one exploits forests, fish, or topsoil at rates exceeding their renewal rates, they too will eventually be depleted to extinction, like the gold in a gold mine.Then the author sketches the theme of his chapter on Australia in a single chilling sentence, where the inverted commas around "mining" indicate that he's using this term in its metaphorical sense:
Australia has been and still is "mining" its renewable resources as if they were mined minerals.Diamond pulls no punches in describing the exceptionally fragile nature of the harsh "sunburnt country" that many of us came to love.
Meanwhile, I was thrilled to see a victory photo of Mr Rabbit and his lovely women.
PS I should explain to readers who've never been to Australia that the title of this blog post is an advertising slogan that was used by the Red Rooster fast-food people.
I'm trying to figure out why that photo of Tony Abbott on the beach reminded me immediately of a red cock, about to crow...