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Dear Bob Beale

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For those of you who missed it, I was lucky enough to recently find a comment left on my blog by Mr Bob Beale (you can see it here).  As described by the Penguin Books Australia website, ‘Bob Beale has been a writer for more than 20 years, much of it working as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald as Science and Environment Editor, Chief of Staff and European Correspondent. His work has won many awards and has appeared in many newspapers and magazines around the world. His previous book – co-written with Peter Fray – was The Vanishing Continent (Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, 1990). He is now a freelance writer, living in Sydney. He writes regularly for The Bulletin magazine.’  This is a letter I wrote in response to his comment.

Dear Bob Beale,

Wow! What a pleasant surprise it was to see your comment on my blog.  I’m not sure how you found that little mention of Vanishing Continent, but I’m glad you did.  After reading your comment, I thought I better do some more research in order to sufficiently reply.  Funnily enough, I had recently been lent another one of your books, Going Native, and so sat down to read it.

I wish I could say that I have some grand ideas or conclusions to share with you from my time spent reading these books, reading online, and researching these topics.  Unfortunately Bob, I feel I have quite the opposite.

In your comment, you said ‘Thanks for mentioning “The Vanishing Continent”.  As you say, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth now, having been written largely in 1989 and published in 1990, but I think it was also a little ahead of its time back then. I’d be interested to know how you think it stands up after two decades.‘  To be honest I was mostly shocked when I read it.  As I mentioned in my post, the data was dated but the ideas only seem to be more and more relevant as we continue to exploit resources and neglect certain environmental issues.  I was shocked because I had never heard of half of the things you mentioned.  I count myself to be an active environmentalist, perhaps not an avid or extreme one, but certainly interested and engaged with environmental issues.  You can understand my surprise then to read about water tables, deforestation, salinity, the destructive elements of agriculture, erosion and the complex links between them all.  Regardless of the dates and statistics, the book was eye opening for me.

Going Native was another kettle of fish, but perhaps a little more reassuring.  You mention a number of groups working on these issues and engaging farmers to develop more sustainable agricultural techniques – Landcare, The National Farmer’s Federation, CSIRO etc.  I looked into many of these organisations and was inspired to see action, enthusiasm and movement coming from the agricultural sector.  I was at the same time, totally overwhelmed by the content of these sites and the relatively inaccessible nature of them to a consumer audience (Landcare perhaps being the exception).  Not only are these sites hard to get your head around, but so is most of the information out there.  A lot of groups talk about increasing awareness and education of land care issues, but to be honest, I don’t see it.  If I can’t find basic information and I’m looking for it, what hope is there to create discussion and raise awareness about these issues amongst people who aren’t already participating?

I appreciated your books Bob, because they were well written.  They contained useful and technical information, but not jargon.  They explore complex ideas in simple enough terms that people such as myself from a non-scientific background can begin to engage with and learn about these issues.

Having said that, I have a long way to go.  There was one final point I wanted to cover in this letter, but I feel it might warrant a post of its own when I’ve finished collating the mass of information I collected this weekend.  In Going Native, you and Michael Archer suggest that it would be beneficial for Australia’s future to focus less on the Agricultural sector and concentrate on Mining and Tourism instead.  I have to admit, that sort of blew my mind.  I had to read it a few times before it sunk in that you were serious.  Mining over agriculture? Yes, you justified it well – smaller environmental impacts for greater economic benefits…but it still seemed, well, counter intuitive.  I did my best to follow up on the idea this weekend, but I feel a little out of my depth at the moment.

If nothing else, I have learnt a lot of acronyms for Mining related terms today.  I’ll keep everyone posted on my progress here on my blog, but it might be slow going for a while.

To conclude Mr. Bob Beale, once again thank you.  Thanks for your research, thanks for your awesome books, and thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

I hope one day we get the chance to discuss these issues more in-depth, or maybe even in person!

Kind regards,