John Hyde, The Weekend Australian, June 13-14, 1992, p. 24.

Ron Manners, an enthusiastic miner from Kalgoorlie, recently launched his long-deceased grandfather’s autobiography, So I Headed West, published by Hesperian Press.

The book is an often amusing account of the miners who made the fortunes that sustained what we today call the chatterers who, in those days, mostly had the good sense to appreciate the miners.

The launching speech, however, was a sadder affair. It began: “Can you remember the time when miners were heroes; when they were proud of what they did without apologising; when all their attention was focused clearly on the task in hand and the striving to succeed. That was a period before we submitted the terms of debate to the values of those who are openly hostile to mining, and in fact hostile to the whole free enterprise system. This book belongs to an era that existed before the anti-industry lobby gained access to the taxpayers’ money and used it against us.

Manners asks how Essington Lewis, W.S. Robinson, A.J. Keast, G.R. Fisher, Maurice Mawby and other miners who engineered projects in the arid wilderness would have coped with a 200-page Environmental Impact Statement or with a “Miners Right” that was no better than a tenuous permit.

Throughout time, a certain type of not very attractive person has needed pariahs, Jews, witches, outcasts of all sorts to harass. Australian miners are recent victims of this human frailty, rather than their propensity to damage the environment. The proportion of the earth’s surface that they change is trivial when compared with roads and minuscule when compared with agriculture. Like all witch hunts, the vilifying of miners is irrational. Others, perhaps even the present persecution of smokers, may be more objectionable but none so obviously bites the hand that feeds.

That brings me to Minister for Environment Ros Kelly’s World Environment Day Schools Briefing. It, incidentally, was not withdrawn from circulation. I obtained a copy from a Canberra school. Although it says some silly things about people who use coal and oil, it does not attack miners. Instead, it turns its attention to farmers, who do at least have an appreciable environmental impact, but that was where Kelly came unstuck.

I believe the minister when she says she did not look beyond the cover, because even she would have recognised the political danger that followed. Rural seats are not won with cartoons in which the soil says the farmer, “I wish I could get rid of you.” Even Kelly knows that farmers think they have a rather special relationship with their own soil. What is more, farmers are still sometimes heroes, not only in their own eyes but also among the wider community. And, above all, farmers command votes in marginal seats such as Page and Richmond.

I expect the National Party, who are rather adept at self-righteous wrath, will find use for the publication. They will not need to quote selectively or even to comment. The whole is disingenuous agitprop of an unsubtle kind that will be recognised for what it is by most adults. However, it is written for children and there lies its danger. Under three headings I will cite a few examples of the text.

First, Western capitalism is guilty: “The crisis has two causes: the overconsumption of resources by the developed countries … poverty and debt in the developing world.” And the following is suggested for class role-play: “Big Bank didn’t explain (to the president of a Third World country) that the interest would increase if there was a world recession” — never mind the original economics, think about the implied intellectual superiority of the Western banker.

Second, the socialist States are OK: “China saves its trees … They hope eventually to cover 30 per cent of the land with forests.” And: “Emissions from power stations in West Germany and Britain were causing environmental problems in Scandinavia.”

Third, the kit is brimming with sheer nonsense: “More than half Germany’s forests are dead or dying … The latest recordings (of acid rain in Melbourne and Sydney) show an acid level similar to lemon juice … Yellow dwarf virus kills up to 20 per cent of Australia’s wheat.” And: “In Western Australia, 250sq km of agricultural land becomes unusable due to salination every year” — ie, a modest rural shire even 10 years.

Now an example of what is not in the kit: the case for the most effective substance for controlling malaria and other insect-born diseases, DDT. Even in 1972, it was obvious to all familiar with the insecticide that its banning by the United States Environment Protection Agency would cause millions of premature deaths. Nevertheless, to please militant environmentalists who said that it killed birds and caused cancer, the ban went ahead.

Now the environmental monitoring group, Greentrack International, reports that William Ruckeishaus, the man who signed the DDT banning order, later wrote to the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation saying: “Science, along with other disciplines such as economics, has a role to play … [but] the ultimate judgment remains political.”

At the time when DDT was banned, the Nixon administration might have signed any nonsense to replace Watergate revelations in the headlines.That’s politics.

Now that millions have died needlessly of malaria, the American Journal of Public Health reports that DDT is not a human carcinogen, and Poultry Science says there is no evidence for the thesis that DDT thins egg shells and so on. Yet, its banning has allowed gypsy moth to damage North American forests — is that fact sad or funny?

Alexander King, the president of the Club of Rome is quoted (by Charles Wurster, who is quoted by Greentrack International) thus: “My chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the human population problem.” That’s not funny.

How much better if, instead of Kelly’s kit, our poor lied-to children, were given something like Manners’s biography and left to make up their own minds about capitalism, individual enterprise, and the consequences of politicising the environment.