Proposal to broaden the scope of the Coopers Plains History Group

by Simon Cole

Heritage and Environment

At last month’s meeting, I promised to provide an explanation to members of my proposal to broaden the group’s scope. I suggested our focus include not just the past, but the cultural dimensions of history and the ecosystems that affect how we live today. I think of the first part as heritage, or legacies. We are all a product of the actions of those that went before us. We are both blessed and burdened by them and we are responsible for how we manage these bequests and legacies and how we use them to inform our future actions.

History groups do invaluable work by preserving knowledge of the past. From this body of knowledge, we are free to decide for ourselves what lessons there are to learn.

What evidence is there that lessons from the past have been learnt? For example, here in southern Brisbane, the worst localized conflicts have been the Frontier Wars, and WW2. Are we in danger of repeating these tragedies?

When the world’s first country to industrialize met one of the oldest continuing pre-metallurgic cultures, relations were initially quite good. Official British intentions to establish good relations with the Aborigines were quite different to the Spanish conquistadors and other earlier expanding empires. Aborigines freely shared their catch with the colonists and likewise blankets and tomahawks were given to them as part of official provisions. (In Sydney, the local tribes-people loved having their hair cut and annoying nits removed.) Relations started deteriorating when the first (maize) crops ripened and the rights to harvest them led to disputes. Very different notions of cultivation and property led to conflict. Also, whereas one culture was stable and in a sense timeless, the other was intensely engaged in its ability to alter the environment and grow its presence.

Do we look upon and react to the frontiers of today differently to how our ancestors did upon theirs?

NASA’s Keplar telescope has found habitable planets in our galaxy. Are we interested in what life is there, what it might be like and what it tells us about how we originated? Or are we assuming it’s an opportunity to expand our presence and civilization? Can both be done successfully?

Current geopolitical tensions indicate we’re heading for another major showdown between super powers.

It seems to me the powers-that-be (PTB) have not learnt as much as they could from history. Nor, for that matter have wanna-be PTB, or elite aspirants. If they had, they would appreciate that the only constant is change and that although some form of growth is only natural, there are limits. Aboriginal culture remained relatively unchanged for so long because it was not at a crossroad of cultures on a fertile river plain at the right latitude. It was relatively isolated; a world of its own. They were inevitably going to ‘be discovered’ as the rest of the world grew more quickly.

It’s still growing… on a finite planet. International competition for resources and influence continues unabated. Growth, we are told, is good. And yet it seems that unless we redefine growth in qualitative rather than quantitative terms, we will run into trouble again.

In preserving our architecture and documenting the changes in our landscape, there is opportunity to leave a better environment for future generations. Future development should learn from and improve upon past experience from indigenous knowledge to the mid-century Dutch Housing project, to the Cornerstone Living project.

To take an example, developments like Cornerstone Living should to some extent incorporate existing robust and retrofitable buildings such as the Dutch Houses. They ought not be blithely knocked down when they still have much life left in them. Even though aspects of the Dutch Houses’ design is lacking (for their locale), there are people who love them and want to live in them. They can be retro-fitted for modern living. What is not deemed salvageable can be replaced with higher density and better designed structures. The Moorooka War Workers Cottages are lighter structures, but much loved and their owner-residents can modify them to extend their lifespan under Council’s character overlay, but since it’s ill-advized [sic] heritage restrictions (the Temporary Local Planning Instrument), residents have been in a sense imprisoned in substandard homes. Fortunately, the TLPI looks like it will be lifted. Town Planning Rebellion is a group leading the way in rethinking urban development in the context of an overcrowded and degrading world.

In July last year, I proposed – and the group agreed – to change the group’s name by dropping the word ‘Local’. There were various reasons for this, but one was brevity. To maintain this, I am now asking the group to agree to a subtitle to our branding – “Heritage and Environment”.

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