Old Habits Die Hard by Charlie Powell

It was the height of the summer in the Northern territory, Australia. The sun beamed down on the dry arid plains as the wind swirled funnel like dust clouds high into the sky.

Australian law stated that indigenous groups should have the rights to certain areas of land, unfortunately in a lot of cases the recognition of this jurisdiction was too late in coming. Following the Second World War, the global demand for nuclear power and warheads had become ever more present in Australia and uranium mining began with the gusto of a gold boom. Dark deep craters and alien-like machines fueled by the greed and power of the Cold War had pierced the once wild idyllic realm of the Alyawarre Outback.

The sun was beginning its slow descent in the west and it was time for the Arrente elders’ weekly meeting, but this meeting would be far different from the rest. This time the elders would be discussing the proposal for a new uranium mine within the vicinity of Mpartntwe (Alice Springs), a sacred area for the tribe.

Daku and Jarli stood shoulder-to-shoulder overlooking the boundless plain envisioning their group’s future if they were to accept the uncertain proposal. They felt the heavy hand of fate and wondered if it would support them or dash to the ground as it so often had when the white man came.

Jarli, fifty years old, standing proud and gazing coolly towards the desert, the light evening breeze rustling though his beard as the sun’s intensity faded. Jarli – wise one –always looked at one with his surroundings, continued to gaze longingly into the distance listening attentively … were the spirit fires talking?

Daku, twenty years younger and with greater exposure to the outside world and city life, possessed a devilish desire to experience wealth and power. The mine could bring untold trade and riches to his community.  Friends and relations would no longer have to “poor abos.” They could buy their own houses – build them even – and buy cars and tractors and live a modern life. It was only right, he thought. Everyone else was getting rich of the great lands around the tribe. Why shouldn’t they?

So the elders began to discuss. Jarlie turned to Daku with concerned eyes and preached, “This could destroy all our ancestors’ history and all we have ever lived for, we must think of our children. They must inherit what we have guarded for thousands of years.”

Daku paused silently before replying. “I understand what you are saying Jarli, but this could bring wealth and jobs to the community. We must think of the bigger picture and see what the men in suits have to say. We could all benefit.”

“They’re corrupt and don’t give two shits about us!” Pete exclaimed. “What’s going to happen when the pit dries out? Where will the jobs be then?”

“You have to think about the present and what is going to help us now” Daku replied. “If we don’t buy into this, the company will go elsewhere. Someone else will profit. We won’t. Isn’t it time we grew up and took from the hands that have so often taken from us?”

The conversation continued for hours as the two argued about what they perceived was best for the group’s future. Jarli felt that the uranium mine would pollute water systems and end the aborigine’s thousand year old fishing traditions in the local rivers.  He also could foresee the villages being overrun by external workers who would pollute the already fragile aboriginal culture. Two things that the Alyawarre have never want to possess. Daku, Jarli argued, was becoming blind by material objects and the plastic life of the city, of suits and cars, and a need to have his own way. Daku countered that he wasn’t thinking just of himself; he emphasized that by allowing the mining company to operate would create jobs and wealth for everyone, as well as increasing the services and infrastructure in the area.

“The numbers add up, Jarli,” Daku waved his arms in the air.

“This land is not a number. It is a living spirit and we have been its guardians for thirty thousand years. And you want the white man to stab its heart, to rape its wealth. Daku, that is not wisdom, it is greed. Once the land is ripped apart by the mine, the ancient spirits will leave us. Then we will be soulless.”

As days past, both men continued to argue deeply for their beliefs, as they were due to meet the directors and mining specialists of the production company, MU fuels.

Seven days later, the elders stood shoulder to shoulder once again looking over the vast plain as the sun set. This time there was a deep rumbling noise in the distance. Suddenly from nowhere a helicopter flew over their heads, the spinning propellers created a percussive whir as the helicopter passed by. It was MU fuels.

As the metal bird landed, three men in suits emerged from the dust storm that engulfed them.

One of the men offered a “Howdy” as he walked confidently towards the elders, who had stood passively watching the MU executives land.

“This sure is a dust bowl ain’t it, I don’t know how you flocks survive!” he chuckled in a Texan accent as he sauntered over with an overwhelming sense of arrogance.

At this point something clicked in Daku’s brain. Whether it was the ancient spirits of the land or Jarli’s wisdom that had finally sunk in, he could not say; but did he really want to be associated with an organization that only sought to make a profit, without truly caring for the ancient landscape around the?. He turned to look at Jarli, it was if they could read each other’s minds. Jarlie smiled at his acolyte. It was as if Jarli knew that Daku had had to fight with his desires, that his heart finally had to speak.

Daku nodded to Jarli and then introduced the three men.

The elders and MU fuels executives conferred about how the mine could effect the ancient land until the moon rose in the early morning light. Daku argued more persuasively that Jarli why the mine should not be sunk. He used his white man’s education but his aboriginal heart. Finally, the executives realized that the tribe were united in opposing the mine and fortunately for the tribe, Australian law was able to shield them.

Uranium production and nuclear power helps to fuel the world and reduce the impacts of climate change, but it is important to understand environment, social and economic factors beforehand, as all things should be treated with respect regardless of power or status.  Uranium mining has taken place throughout Australia and has little if no effect in some cases, but as global demand intensifies the impacts of such activates may not be so subtle.