The Big Issue : Edition 468
THEBIGISSUE26SEP–9OCT2014 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH AUSTRALIA HAS A POOR TRACK RECORD WHEN IT COMES TO ENDANGERED SPECIES: WHETHER THAT’S FURRY CRITTERS OR THE LOCAL GROCERY STORE. WINNER TAKES ALL biodiversity. To squidge 10,000 words to their essence, Knox argues that these two grocery godzillas, locked in mortal combat, are crushing individual operators out of existence and forcing primary producers into contractual servitude. The result is that in most small towns and many suburbs, there are no alternatives to ‘Colesworth’. Or Bunnings. Liquorland. BWS. Officeworks. Dan Murphy’s. Shell. Caltex. And others all owned by Woolworths or Wesfarmers. They ‘brandbomb’ – which means moving into an area, even if it’s unprofitable, until the opposition is destroyed. Even on the shelves, independent brands have been replaced by the supermarkets’ own labels. Primary producers are only growing food varieties that the Big Two will take. The biodiversity of our grocery ecosystem is in freefall. I have a thought. It could be time we acknowledged that there are, shall we say, flaws with capitalism. With ‘the market decides’, and ‘the strongest wins’. With the idea that unfettered growth is desirable. We’re not keen on unfettered growth biologically: it’s called cancer. When we don’t support the little guy, whether they’re your local hardware store or Leadbeater’s Possum, their environment vanishes. We’re told that it’s progress, the rough-and-tumble of making a motsa. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that letting this system play out leads, ultimately, to profound impoverishment on every front. The end game of strongest wins is, actually, one winner. One language. One religion. One Bunnings. A native flora and fauna that consists of resilient imported vermin: foxes, feral cats, pigeons, rats, weeds, pine trees and cane toads. One shopping corporation that dictates, according to its bottom line, which varieties of vegetables can be grown and which are ploughed into the ground. One boss. And the rest of us, basically, as serfs. Consider this when you shop. When you’re asked to donate to the Wilderness Society. When you download something for free. We’ve been fooled into thinking that getting something cheap is our top priority. Yeah, nah. Before you use that discount fuel docket, ask yourself: what is this really costing? AS AUSTRALIANS, WE love to see ourselves punching above our weight. Be it diplomatic posturing, sporting contests against poorer countries, starring roles in Hollywood blockbusters, or augmenting other people’s wars, we believe that we’re small but somehow better. Like superhero Ant-Man, or nouvelle cuisine. Our motto is Awesome Per Capita, and we lead the world in coffee, deadly fauna, big bananas and Cate Blanchett. We are not, however, keen to bang our drum for everything we’re best at. We are totally winning, for example, at mass extinctions, including that of languages: there used to be around 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, and now only about 15 are spoken. The decline is so severe that Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Professor of Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide, has accused Australia of ‘linguicide’. Then there are the animals. In early September, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia’s species extinction rate is among the worst in the world: more than 1800 species and ecological communities have been listed as threatened. Hugh Possingham, a director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, says that biodiversity is being lost, breathtakingly, at roughly a hundred to a thousand times the natural rate. This trend is also reflected in our urban environment. Architecturally, our cities are endangered. I lived in Perth during the 1980s, when every building of charm and historical value was torn down and replaced with something modern, pink and cheap. I have a lot of affection for Perth, but swathes of the CBD now resemble the ‘reveal’ scenes from makeover TV show Bringing Sexy Back, where a trimmed down and lacquered mother-of-three is trotted out like a hot-dog sausage in a corset. Today, a walk through my inner Melbourne suburb reveals long-established streets studded with pug-ugly, pre-fab, ‘jangle of concrete squares’ apartments. For every seven or eight of these glowering future bombs there’s a gracious, 1920s California bungalow or somesuch, standing out by dint of being a) durably constructed, b) attractive to look at and c) not designed on a computer by someone knocking back a Red Bull. And in the August issue of The Monthly, Malcolm Knox produced a profoundly sobering piece of long-form journalism about the impact of Coles, Woolworths and their parent companies on Australia’s small business and agricultural » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.