December 04, 2005 | Ronda Jambe

From the Gulf to the Gold (2)

The drama, the excitement, the shiver of shadenfreude has passed with the wind. Katrina? long gone, months ago now, just another major crisis somewhere else. Not much mention anymore about the ongoing problems, the health complaints of the over-stressed returning refugees. Like Kashmir, these can be forgotten, now that they are off the media radar screen. Not our problem.
By chance, I was reading about stubborn problems in New Orleans while holidaying at Port Macquarie. Is there are lovlier place to visit? ‘Port’ as the locals call it (part of the general Australian tendency to conserve syllables, surely the Business Council would approve of such reforms) sits at the mouth of a river, and overlooks warm beaches rimmed by gian Norfolk Island pines. It is big enough to be lively, small enough to feel like a community rather than the more muscular and intimidating Newcastle, which we passed through briefly.
At the Panthers club we heart ‘the other three tenors’, along with a hall full of oldies. We chatted with former Sydneysiders, and briefly contemplated our own possible retirement there. Above all, people who have run their race are looking for stability. At least I will be. Massive change, either naturally induced or due to human explansion, would be difficult to deal with for those in their 70s or 80s. Recall the confused faces of the elderly in New Orleans?
While Katrina was thundering, I was watching CNN from a Gold Coast high rise. Wondering about the rising seas, the increasing turbulence, and Australia’s vulnerable coastlines. More than that, as Canberra has just experienced a wild and fatal storm. A mini-cyclone in our capital?
In (1) of this post I gushed over the delightful decadence of the Gold Coast. I much prefer Port, lower key and more my style, although it would take a lot to lure me into apartment medium density living, which is sprouting at Port like mushrooms.
Port has some of the canal developments that are widespread around Surfers. I asked a friend who grew up there what was there before all the canals and fancy houses. He said mangroves. Like Louisiana, the natural buffer systems that protected some development from surges has been tamed, turned into walls and channels and directed water flows. Part of Surfers is a spit, a thin sand bar that would be much affected by any rising waters or storm surges.
Once, when a builder was showing me his house on Sovreign Island, I thought about water levels. Now, seeing the havoc of tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes, I can’t help but look into the future.
What will Australia’s coast look like in 50 years? How about 100?
What should we doing to preserve and maintain the precious places, like Port, that hold so much social capital and natural beauty?
It amazes me (and no doubt Tim Flannery also) that there is no serious discussion about our limits to population and growth. I don’t know what Port does with their sewage, but apparently Sydney still directs a lot of it, pretty much untreated, directly into the sea. Isn’t there a saying about not crapping in your own nest?
In Sydney someone has lost the plot. Complexity is now overtaking any other values in public policy, and quality control has gone missing. How else can one account for the recent ‘glitch’ where an ambulance couldn’t go to an emergency because the caller was told his suburb ‘wasn’t listed’? Such events are warnings, because we have come to expect that such details will be looked after. We pay taxes for administration of these critical services. But, like in the US, don’t take it for granted.
At Port the scale was comfortable. I felt there was an underlying order in the surf club training, in the Town Green, in the public library. (although I was surprised at how out of control the bitou was on the beaches)
Everywhere I visit on the coast, I see fragile beauty and a mostly functional and fairly peaceful citizenry. When I watch scenes of Africa, like in the movie The Constant Gardener, I am revulsed, fearful and almost tearful. There but for heaven…
I am about to do a one week intensive course in modelling complex systems, run for post-grads and researchers in Sydney. I expect to be the shallow hobbyist in the group, naively trying to model an elusive thing called ‘governance’. But I know that in human systems, the drives are values, and that the direction of change is as important as the overall setting.
In the disclosures this week about the Reserve Bank, only a fool would not be concerned about a creeping corruption in our political systems. Our coasts are gorgeous, but can we trust ourselves to keep our systems working well? And how many is enough?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 11:27 am | Comments Off on From the Gulf to the Gold (2) |
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