The Million Dollar Question

Posted: October 10, 2013

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a people person. I love living in the rainforest among the bandicoots, huntsman spiders and Lewin’s Honeyeaters (really I do), but my favorite activities thus far have been those for our Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values class.

Our Discovery Activity consisted of traveling to nearby towns and talking to locals about the micro-culture in their towns. What are the economic and social dynamics? Who are the different characters? My time was spent in Malanda, a small dairy town, which is suffering after deregulation. This town once consisted of 300 generational family farms and local trade, yet after prices on dairy dropped, small farmers could no longer compete with big business. It was so sad to hear one woman talk about how she used to organize a large potluck for the farmers on the first Sunday of every month. Now, there is little interest or participation.

After years of farming the land, the soil has been degraded, grasses have moved in and hope for reforestation of rainforest is very difficult, time consuming and expensive. Most of the farmers have now retired and care little about the future state of the land. Their children have moved on to bigger towns, attending university and looking for jobs in Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, etc.

While the devastation of the land and logging of forest is irreplaceable and irresponsible, I am sympathetic to these small farmers. I come from Wisconsin, where my parents still live, and have seen small towns just like Malanda: places that are unsure where to turn after the trees are gone and small, self-sufficient farms are a thing of the past. Traveling to Malanda, talking to her residents, really forced me to think: What can places like this do to get back on their feet? It’s not easy with an aging population, stuck in their ways, to change the main industry.

This problem has really forced me to think about government policy, economics, and a new niche of industry. How can we take areas like Malanda, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, or any place suffering from this sort of economic distress and turn them into something special, unique?

This is what I am pondering for our upcoming paper: What is the unique value proposition for the Atherton Tablelands (of which Malanda is a part)? What do the Tablelands have, what can be used in new and inventive ways? How do we think outside the box and create something out of nothing while thinking about the beautiful environment this place inhabits? How can we use rainforest, cleared land, recovering ecosystems to our advantage?

Yes, this is the million dollar question; if I have an answer I’ll be sure to share. Not only has this class taught me to think of ways to balance economics, social dynamics, and the environment, it has also shown me global trends and problems that stem from similar issues. Tomorrow, we are going to Malanda to sit in on a meeting of the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group, a conservation group not just for tree kangaroos. Hopefully, I’ll be able to talk to people there and pick their brains. That might be my unique value: being able to talk and work with people so I can save the plants and animals.