Foolish Fairfax 100 most influential list? The Keith Muir case study
Topic: big media
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Picture: Keith Muir contemplates the Bimberi Wilderness from Mount Morgan,
We hear via 702 abc radio just now the Sydney Magazine is posting a '100 most influential in Sydney' list.
One "quiet achiever" apparently is Keith Muir.
Uh oh. We feel a degree of jealousy but mostly mirth at the preposterous nature of the self referential list.
Here is Keith's Colong Foundation website here. The opening lines in the About Colong section are:
"The Colong Foundation, the successor to Myles Dunphy’s National Parks and Primitive Areas Council, is Australia’s longest-serving community advocate for wilderness. Its proposal for a Wilderness Act was accepted in 1989. " [bold added]
As will be seen this is not really true.
There is no doubt Keith is a toiler and if the world is controlled by people who turn up every day as we expect it is, then perhaps Keith is a justifiable entry. But all the same we don't think so.
If being a trusted member of the unofficial ALP wing of the green movement (more below) is influential then again we say Keith's listing is probably justified. But again we don't think so and not for simply bitchy jealousy, but because:
in real politik terms compromise deals with trusties resulting in genuine conservation on the ground, only follows effective damaging opposition to the ALP Govt via genuine usually embarrassing and inconvenient grassroots campaigning..
The public get to see the front man the govt are willing to stand on the public stage with as 'the moderate', which almost by definition is not the people who forced them to the negotiation at the expense of some other preferred expedient direction. Such is the true nature of change politics. The people at the coal face are usually far too embarrassing to be seen with or admit defeat. The trusty is always being wheeled out in preference.
We say the real source momentum arises from genuinely financially independent groups such as The Wilderness Society at their best. Or Greenpeace. And increasingly the Green Party. Or numerous resident action groups. At times it has also come from Colong but their modus operandi is to play what we know as "chess" with the political capital created by others. As Jeff Angel does too for TEC as close affiliate of Colong. That is, as derivative players and dependents. It's not these mid and top level 'greenocrat' ngo 'vaccuum cleaners' who created the dynamic for change.
That being said we enjoyed our bushwalk with Keith in 1995 down the remoted section of the Tuross River like Aussie actors in our own Deliverance via the remote western Badja side of Deua Wilderness (NSW South Coast). The random rock crashing into the deep pool opposite camp was a memorable moment as was the floating of packs from one watery run to the next. Alot of fun in those younger days. We even worked on his Red Index for a while but found it too vague and tedious.
The first clue to the genuine Keith Muir story at least as we know it is The Wilderness Act was legislated in 1987 not 1989 as asserted in the quote above as you can see here in the consolidated statutes of NSW . We have a copy of it on our shelf too.
Indeed we have spoken to as we understand the real green movement history, the two main architects in the NGO movement of The Wilderness Act NSW in person, who at the time worked for the friendly and far more fiesty rival green group The Wilderness Society. Margaret Robertson (sister of the well known Peter Robertson) who was visiting from WA, and Randall King then based in Sydney. We were the NSW Campaign Coordinator of TWS 93-94 at the time.
We distinctly remember Margaret volunteering these sobering words to the effect of:
'Colong support The Wilderness Act now? That's good because they were against us pushing for the legislation.'
'Because they were worried it would create a backlash amongst the redneck elements in politics.'
This all rings true. In fact the redneck backlash came as feared but not in the late 80ies with Hawke still PM, and the ALP keen to embarrass the Greiner Liberal Coalition Govt. This was when the green was still a winner of elections 87 and 90 for the federal ALP too and redneck groups like Timber Communities Australia and the Shooters Party didn't exist to speak of (an echo of the USA so called 'wise use' anti green movement). The backlash came in the early 90ies.
To be fair it was a logical concern of Colong too, but we tend to suspect it was mostly about being patronising and condescending to the younger newer TWS compared to the infamously known 'old boys at Colong', who truth to tell were intimidated by the evolution of the green movement beyond their aristocratic male reach. This is what Keith Muir still represents today, as does Colong and TEC to some degree - the old boys school. Compared to say The Green Party actually mixing it with the big parties in Parliament.
(Suffice to say its the necessity of the Green Party to discipline the self serving and corrupt in the ALP that we much prefer as a path forward to ecological sustainability in society - because they have such financial independence, even when watering down their green in Green with minority populism.)
One needs to keep in mind that TWS at that time 1986-7 had a stupdendous double carousel slide show set to ethereal music like the new inspired Clannard etc showing the best natural wilderness heritage the state had to offer. Most people including NSW Parliamentarians and throughout rural and urban NSW had never seen it's like. We reconstructed the dusty old show with our limited technical expertise in the back room of the TWS office James Lane just off Sussex St (yes that street) 13 years ago (1994) and got a sense of the real power of the audio visual. This was the basis of their pioneering roadshow of 1986-7.
There is no doubt in this writer's mind it was the TWS that championed and gained the public support for The Wilderness Act. Not Colong. And for this we feel Colong did get their nose out of joint. After all Milo Dunphy (a personal friend till his death in 1997) and his understudy Keith (seen as clumsy and gawky in this period) was till then pre eminent in NSW but only until 1982 or so with TWS and the winning Franklin Dam campaign of 1983-4, with a franchise of their organisation spreading nationally including to Sydney.
Now we see a revisionist history of Colong's credentials as has been the case a good 10 years now. We have raised this directly with Keith Muir before but he insists on keeping it on his website, as he must to claim some historical credibility. If they were supporters, or "suggested" The Wilderness Act it sure is news to this writer.
And a damned disrespect to the sisters in the environment movement like Margaret Robertson, and for this reason worth exposing because just as Julia Gillard is acting PM today, the green movement on the statistics is about 65-70% female in active numbers.
We understand that Keith came to his environmental research work after employment with a uranium mining business of some kind up in the Northern Territory decades ago. We don't hold that against him, in 1990 we worked for the no.10 corporate law firm in Sydney until we also got very disillusioned with that world view.
But how has Keith Muir managed to present as such an achiever none the less? Well it comes from turning up every day in his stolid determined way, to be respected no doubt, but also crucially for being a satellite of Jeff Angel's operation ie folded into the Total Environment Centre. (The 2ic at Colong was Jeff's field worker in the south east forests campaign of the 90ies, Fiona McCrossin, sister of media figure Julie. And also this writers ex housemate. )
TEC and Colong are invariably located in the same building on the same floor whether the Rocks, or Kent St CBD or wherever. Jeff at the TEC is the 'go to' person to cut deals with then Carr led ALP 1995-2005 - in a quid pro quo for grants and access and PR as long as TEC pulled the rug from truly financially independent critics like said TWS and Greenpeace.
The whole knowing history of the South East Forests campaign of the 80ies and 90ies is replete with this tension of the Carr ALP working through the Angel side of the TEC to maintain native forest logging - and why Carr got away with maintaining a disastrous Eden woodchip mill destroying East Gippsland and chunks of NSW, in breach of his 1995 election promise to close the monster by the year 2000. In 2002 Angel was writing unedited in Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald that Carr was the 'greenest premier in the history of Australia'.
Fine praise and quite deceptive appraisal of the true record of Bob Carr (compare
| Carr alp dodges 1999-2003 ,|| Carr dodges 95-99) or the political alliance Angel had compromised himself with, not least cyanide mining like Lake Cowal to ease Bob Carr's economic credentials when the politics got too tough:|
Lake Cowal Scandal in Central NSW, proposed cyanide leaching for gold, pit as deep as Centrepoint Tower is high. Globally on average 79 tonnes of waste is produced for every ounce of gold. More info and links here
All this being said, there is no denying that Colong's specialty is the bushland surrounding Sydney. This we do concede. But on the other hand we can't help believing most (certainly not all) of these areas were protected in National Park a long time ago. Hence Colong in some ways has been over egging the protection of national park as "World Heritage" a bit like the cliche of a new layer of protection for Sydney Opera House, a favourite mostly meaningless additional appellation with no discernible change in management while other areas do indeed get trashed. That's the deadly real game of environmental politics and hyperbole in Sydney and NSW.
How misdirected must the Sydney Magazine publishers feel to know their quiet achiever is more quiet than they quite realise? Or maybe it's all part of the plan?
There is another angle to Keith's acclamation which almost certainly leads to the door of James Woodford, ex TEC staffer, then enviro journo for Fairfax, and well versed in this Carr ALP patronage and access machine. James got hitched to a State Forest logger PR merchant which spouse then pushed on to Sydney Catchment Authority with it seems stories back to James in the Fairfax press proper. Very cosy. Was James the referee for Keith to the Sydney Magazine? We imagine so. It's all so predictable.
Posted by editor
at 1:51 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007 8:26 AM EADT