The Great Reset: A letter to my Father and my ‘Sliding Doors’ self

Dear Dad

It seems that lately we struggle to spend time together without quarreling. Neither of us are good at small talk, and the divergent path that I took in my life means that we no longer share much in common.

Most importantly, we no longer see the world through similar frames of reference. 

I left the farm, as well as the safe world of our conservative home region, well safe for those who “fit” into the tight social structure, meaning you look and behave similarly to the majority, for university and ultimately a PhD in science.

My scientific achievements, though, are not nearly as well known in our home town as those of Peter Ridd, heralded locally for his brave stance as a sceptic of the science around climate change. I have never met Peter, but I do have a high regard for his courage even if I do not share all of his views – free and open debate has and always will be a vital ingredient for human progress. And I well remember how his (maths) school teacher father was so proud of his son’s achievements at James Cook University – I often wonder at how brilliantly served we were in our small town by high quality teachers such as John Ridd, and I attribute my own maths teacher (Santo Russo) and my science teachers for much of my own successes. 

Meeting my wife in the final year of my undergraduate degree was my sliding door moment. The four years that I had spent at university had shown me that a less stressful, more happy life was possible. I had resigned myself, however, to fulfilling your expectations – which I had certainly been responsible for creating at the beginning of my undergraduate by begging to be permitted to come home – of devoting my life to running the farm with you.

Instead I devoted my life to science and then to raising my family.

I will never regret that decision because I know that my wife is the greatest factor in me taking the potential you instilled in me – my resilience, intelligence and enquiry, work ethic, desire to optimise and excel, and most of all my empathy and compassion for others – to truly become the best version of myself.

I married a young woman from another culture who looks different to most in our town, and when she celebrates in traditional ways with her family, she behaves differently and she eats different food. You have tried to be understanding but in recent years – perhaps with the gradual creeping influences of Hansonism and then Trumpism – you have seemed conflicted like you somehow needed to make a choice.

I guess in your most recent visit you showed me that you had made that choice and it is difficult to put aside a belief that your previous behaviour was actually tolerance rather than you being open-minded. That hurt me, and my family, deeply.

Perhaps an even greater challenge for getting along, however, is our different views over climate change. A few years back you argued that climate change was not real. Now you suggest it is essentially a natural phenomenon and that human actions are not the prime cause. You like to present me with Letters to the Editor from home showing how ordinary citizens, intelligent conscientious objectors, up there are prepared to speak out, often raising past episodes of global heating and cooling, and so on.

This argument bears many similarities to the arguments we used to have around banana imports from the Philippines while I worked for Biosecurity Australia, the biosecurity policy setting function within the Federal Government responsible for conducting import risk analyses on animals and plants and their products. In our discussions you always started out stating your concerns for the risk of importing diseases, but when I said that nearly always there is something that can be done to manage those risks so that the trade can occur, the conversation very quickly swapped to the real issue – competition and extreme anxiety that the Australian industry would not be viable if bananas were imported from low-cost countries. 

Often you would even pose the question, “How can we compete when they pay 10 year old children 12 cents a day for labour?”

On one occasion I was as blunt as to say that I do not want to live in a world where those 10 year old children work in fields. Perhaps we could do things to prevent it… perhaps… but what about the family that is so poor that it chooses for their children to work rather than have them educated? They know that it is better for their children, and ultimately for them, if they attended school, but feeding the family is a more pressing problem for many. The only way for that cycle to be broken is for those families to share in more opportunities that the global community offers, and one way for that to occur is through international trade, so that perhaps the children of people who work in the field through their childhood have a better life… much like how my sister and I went to university even though you left school at 14 to become an apprentice carpenter.

When it comes down to it, I believe that all of these issues are a symptom of the anxiety that you feel because the world is changing in ways you do not completely understand and now you reject that change. 

Even though you will never admit it, you wish you could go back to the easier days of when Australia had solid contracts with “mother England” for the majority of our primary products, including sugar, the mainstay of our farm which has been in our family for over 100 years. This would allow you to just concentrate on producing the best crop you could, which you excel at. After the sugar price collapse of the early 1980s you held off switching over to bananas, but eventually you made the leap – with the enthusiasm and energy of my brother – hoping that the gamble would pay off. But chronic low prices and cyclones took their toll. Knowing all of this, I understood why even the mere mention of the possibility of banana imports made your anxiety go through the roof. 

All along there has been a creeping increase in awareness of the impact of agriculture on the environment, including to the precious Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a continual tightening of regulation and standards with which you had to deal. 

I know well your deep love of the natural world – undoubtedly a major factor in me studying biology at university – gained from a lifetime of diving on and fishing off the reef, and in the 60’s your pioneering saltwater aquarium was legendary. I also know that you love the natural rainforest that still exists down the back of our property, and the amazing moments we shared together there were special like when we came across wildlife such as a cassowary with chicks.

I have to say, however, that on my most recent trip home the close encounter that we had with a 3+ metre Johnson River crocodile, as it crossed our path between us and close to my eldest son less than 10 metres away from us, after it had lay in wait in the spot where you went into the creek to pick a water lily for mum the previous day, well that scared the pants off of me. It made me realise that it is not any longer the environment in which I roamed as a boy, when I was young making hidden cubby houses along the creek, and when older fishing from the bank for barramundi and mangrove jack.

I also remember how a part of your farm purchase, from your uncle, was a special lease block which had a 100 year lease which had some 26 years remaining on it. I know that it was bitterly disappointing for you that you had to relinquish it. That disappointment was worsened by the fact that when you first tried to purchase it in the 80s the Government declined your request because you had done nothing to “improve” it – i.e. you had not cleared the rainforest – and then when you again tried to purchase it, in the early 90s, you were declined because its conservation value had been recognised. You never received any compensation for having been custodian of that piece of land for 26 years, the option to develop it being a part of the initial purchase price of the farm, and then having paid rates on the land for all of those years (though perhaps you recognised the hypocrisy in such a view since you reject the concept of Aboriginal custodianship and you have feared indigenous land rights claims). And I always remember how you refused to reactively clear the land as conservation regulations closed in, even though others did including neighbours of yours.

I know that you have borne a great deal of the responsibility, already, to set humanity and the planet on a better footing. And there has not been any thanks for that, from Governments nor the community, and you received little assistance to help you to make these continual adjustments. You were just left with the knowledge that there will always be something else and soon.

I also know that, like all dry Aussie humour, the favourite joke up home nowadays – that goes that you used to leave the farm to your favourite son, now you leave it to your least favourite – is based on an underlying truth that you all have come to accept. That a life on the land, always challenged by nature but still rewarding, has become an unprofitable burden which you would wish upon nobody for whom you cared.

Even though it hurts me personally, I can see how people pushed like that can become bitter and look for others to blame, and human history shows that at such times people who look and act differently to the majority are singled out.

Worse still, I am not really sure that when globalisation leads to shifting of jobs to poor regions those jobs improve the prospects for those poor people. I think we all are waking to the fact that the way Western Governments have allowed Globalisation to occur has just led to the elites in the world becoming even more wealthy while even more people feel that they do not enjoy the standard of living that their forebears experienced.

In other nations people have become so desperate for the situation to improve that they have turned to populist politicians who just talk of “making [things] great again” but offer no real answers. It seems that just recognising the pain felt by many has been enough reason to support them.

My impression of your attitude to climate change is not so much that you think that you are smarter than everybody else, and that you see what few others do, but I think you are inclined to object purely because in a democracy you have the right to do so. And you feel like you have been pushed as far as you can and have gotten nothing for it other than more worries and more debt.

On that I agree with you, wholeheartedly. 

You continue to object even though people living in cities think of you as “backward”, which of course you are not. Hansonism has not helped, but equally the egotistical quips at Pauline did not help either – after all she was not the only person who had not heard of the term “xenophobia”, nor is she the first to not know the more politically correct terminology for her own behaviours. In many ways the subtext of this divide says that in a democracy all votes are equal, irrespective of the IQ or worldly experiences of those casting their ballot. 

Through my life I have learnt many times that an open mind is not dependent on the possession of a passport but on an open heart.

I notice that during every election these days there is a discussion about how to provide rural jobs; often a mythical “10,000 rural jobs”. When I hear this I feel like running a campaign to alert all to the fact that there are at least 10,000 rural jobs readily available right now… in scraping off the topsoil of Queensland and shipping it to the highest bidder. Of course any rural person would immediately recognise that as selling your future, but in reality it is no more unsustainable than many of the ventures that are supported to provide jobs in the near term. 

I do not suggest that I have all of the answers for the future, but I do honestly believe that I understand the context in which we must progress. Instead of allowing ourselves to be divided and embittered, let us join forces and fight the real fight. We will never progress if we continue to fight amongst ourselves. All we are doing is playing into the hands of those who seek to use the turbulence and our pain to advance their own personal political agendas.

America’s recent close call with Trumpist fascism must be a warning to us all.

We are tired of elites garnering an increasing share of wealth in the world. And we are tired of politicians and bureaucrats falling under regulatory capture from these elites.

We want real leadership, not salespeople who say to our faces what sounds good only to behave differently at a time and a place when they have the opportunity to make a real difference.

We can deal with the truth because we can work together to ensure that fairness is at the basis of our decisions. When decisions hurt people there must be adjustments made to allow them to adjust their lives in a way that affords them the dignity and rights that should come with being a human being in a contemporary society.

Nobody wants to feel embittered or isolated or left behind. 

All human beings understand inherently that change is inevitable – it is the very nature of our own being – but fairness is not.

If we are to achieve an inclusive and united global community then fairness must be at the heart of all that we do.

I know my generation talks a different language, Dad; as much from the heart as from the head. But I assure you we are not drongos.

What do you say? Do you think we can work together to make this world a better place for your grandchildren and their grandchildren?

Your loving son,

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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