Before the newly elected Whitlam government rushed to get rid of regally bestowed titles, Harold Holt’s widow (now deceased herself) became Dame Zara. The gong for this one-time head of a fashion business located in Toorak was for what was vaguely described as “devotion to the public interest”.
Whatever Zara did in the public interest, it was under the right light to be seen. The devotion to the public interest of a nurse who has been working staggered shifts for 20 years is not.
Even if such blatant exploitation of privileged position is behind us, we still feel the need to select individuals for honours when it is impossible to do this fairly. Today you can be nominated by anybody for any one of four levels of the Order of Australia.
John Winston Howard has received the highest honour; Companion of the Order of Australia for services to the nation. After years of six-star accommodation, personal jet globe-trotting and dining with the famous - and then his golden parachute, why the honour?
It is because the current honours process is still primarily the establishment handing down a badge to establishment people as a type of mutual congratulation.
No gong possible for this man
He had a bright future as an engineer if he had continued with his studies when a young man. But, he decided to walk away and do what he could to save the old growth forests. Batch camping in the forest is a unique way of life which the establishment labels as weird and useless. His drop-out condemned him to a life not far removed from subsistence. I will call him “Platypus”.
The strategy is to obstruct the progress of the loggers, and, hopefully, attract some media attention. This is dangerous. It is a frightening experience, while chained to some heavy equipment, being surrounded by rough men who would like to see you dead. It is also dangerous spending days on a small platform 30 metres above the ground. The police are then dragged into the confrontation.
The loggers have a valid point of view - they have to make a living. It is not a perfectly valid point of view as there are alternative occupations to that of destroying ecosystems which evolved to their current equilibrium state an unknown number of millennia back.
I met Platypus through his mother, and I came particularly interested in what he was doing after she tearfully told me of her concern for his thinness, his occasional loneliness and the cold winters he was enduring. My concern was that once a young person drops out of society, it can be hard getting back in again.
With such irreparable destruction occurring, it would be a fair guess that Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment did not understand what its job was supposed to be. Platypus decided to do some systematic investigating.
After more than five years of Magistrates courts, the County Court, the Supreme Court and then back to the County Court, the finding was in favour of a case put forward by Platypus and his mate. Their allegation was that the department was operating in breach of the law. As I read the description of that battle by men who had no legal background, I stand in awe.
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