OZ - Populate the north before the decision is forced on us

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Populate the north before the decision is forced on us
Great migrations happen each century and Australia looks inviting, writes Alistair McAlpine.

This treasure chest that is northern Australia is no ordinary casket, for it is a place of abnormal beauty, a place of great ecological importance, a place with rare species of plants and animals - one of the world's last great lungs, a true wilderness, only nibbled at by mankind. And herein lies the dilemma. A vast tract of land that should perhaps be preserved in its natural beauty, a place stuffed with potential loot, a place, proportionately to its neighbours, empty of people.

Each century has had its great migrations brought about by famine and warfare and there is no logical reason to believe that the 21st century will be any different. That is how our world has evolved. Great tribes have occupied vacant land - land less well protected by population. So a further question arises: does Australia wish to be a victim or a victor?

Twenty-five per cent of the adult Australian population live alone. This is bound to affect the birth rate in Australia. The capacity of Australians to populate this continent in the next 100 years, even if this was not the case, is doubtful.

There is no other solution than large immigration, and this immigration can be voluntary or imposed. You can choose who comes and the terms that they come on, or they will come and impose their terms on you. The former option is obviously preferable.

The great migration of the 21st century can only come from the north towards the unpopulated shoreline. Australia is secure against military invasion, protected by alliances, world opinion and her own defences. Australia is completely vulnerable against a civilian migration on a huge scale - the situation where world opinion would favour the migrants. I am not suggesting that this will happen tomorrow. Rather this will happen some time during this century.

Australia should set about systematically populating her empty north and the measures taken to do so should be applied with the utmost sensitivity to the ecology and the environment. The coastline should be kept pure, centres of population should be created back from the coastline and only small nodules of population should occur near the sea. The Aboriginal population must be carried with such a scheme; development must be to the benefit of those who already live in this region.

In the past year there have been two steps towards Australia, the nation. Neither has been wholly satisfactory. The process of reconciliation with the Aboriginal people has started. Land rights, however, are to some extent confused. Both must be carried through unequivocally. An apology is needed and the sooner it comes the better for all Australians. The ownership of land needs to be decided beyond doubt.

As a developer in the north, albeit a retired developer with no commercial interest in Australia, I would rather deal with the Aboriginal owners than with the Crown. I can only reflect, in the matter of sacred sites, that a scheme to put a uranium mine on the site of Stonehenge in England's Wiltshire would be greeted with great horror - despite the fact that Stonehenge is in effect a pile of rocks left over from a defunct religion.

Australia will have to face up to appointing or electing her own head of state. I mention these contentious subjects because the foundation of the defence of Australia in the north needs to be based upon solid certainties and great national confidence.

What I speak of is a long-term project but many things can be done at once. The tax structure can be altered to help those who would live in this development area; transport can be arranged so that the costs of moving goods and people north are no longer prohibitive - a bullet train around Australia perhaps. When the centre and the west of North America were developed, railways were built into wilderness and people followed. There is no Western civilisation that does not have a comprehensive rail network.

Airports must be built, universities must be built. Cheap electricity must be provided - perhaps for a time even free electricity. The Tidal Power Scheme at Derby should go ahead. Planning must begin for great cities, towns and small villages, wildernesses and national parks.

As for the greenies, the ecologists and the anthropologists, they have a role to play. It will be a compromise, of course, with them ending up with half a wilderness. The alternative is no wilderness at all, only a desert, created by waves of hungry migration. Instead of enjoying the great future that lies ahead, Australia will become the lost continent, some great whale wallowing in the Pacific Ocean unsatisfactory in every respect.

The population and the preservation and the development of northern Australia are just not a possibility. It is an imperative.

Lord Alistair McAlpine is a British developer and businessman who first invested in Australia 40 years ago. This is an extract of a speech he delivered to the Brisbane Institute on Tuesday.


Lord McAlpine had large investments at Broome in Western Australia. This is the landing target for the boat-people that originate from Iraq, Iran and Afganistan etc. This new migration movement is causing much tension Down Under. The provincial city where I dwell is a designated drop-off zone for surplus boat-people. We have no jobs for them and no planned services either, although the welfare agencies rally as best they can.

This issue of migration is becoming a hot debate. It's only just begun...

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), July 20, 2000


What is the potential liveability of the center of Australia? I visualize it as a harsh desert wasteland that is too hot and dry to attract people from anywhere. Am I correct or is there a potential for this huge empty land?

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), July 20, 2000.

G'Day Lars,

The Kimberleys in the North West is well watered. Huge tracts of land are irrigation developments up there. The Argile pink diamond mines are up there too.

Queensland's Far North is also well watered and could be considered our national market garden. Only a few hundred thousand people dwell north of the Capricorn line, mostly in coastal villages. Tourism is big with about 1.5 million traellers passing through Cairns international airport.

The Channel country and the monsoonal regions are wet seasonally, with various rainfalls. Everywhere else is very dry, although right now it would be picture postcard stuff.

Two national railroad infrastructures are planned with the Alice Springs to Darwin link going ahead now. The other railway loops through the Queensland hinterlands from New South Wales to Darwin. This is on the drawing board. If it proceeds it'll open up Australia to large scale population drifts.

Even so, I think it all depends on the water situation. It's a parched landscape and few people survive its rigour. Opening it up for settlement is only for the stoic, or the insane.

New migrants aim for the cities to join their own communities. ie Melbourne is largely Greek...

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), July 20, 2000.

Oops, sorry Lars.

About once every 25 years the huge dry centre of OZ is transformed to a wondrous bountiful beauty. That's happening right now. We've had it arranged to make a splash for the Olympics. Wouldn't do to disappoint anyone... :o)

In the other 24 years odd it's a desolation of an immensity that stretches the imagination and fries the mind cruelly. Not a place for the faint-hearted, and it might bleach your bones if you test its barriers. Best not to tempt fate when it's sweltering...

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), July 20, 2000.


Thanks. A naive question, I'm sure: is there a potential for irrigating the desert? Central California was a desert (I believe) until some greedy anti-environmentalist figured how to pipe in water from the mountains. Israel has had some success in irrigating another desert "wasteland".

-- Lars (lars@indy.net), July 20, 2000.


Over the years many ideas have been put forward to make the outback a more productive region. It's not desert as in Sahara, more a rock-pile with sand-drifts and gullies that channel water infrequently. Water is underground in artesian systems. If you use it to grow things this H2O table rises bringing up the salt concentration. It is reckoned that a football field per hour is lost to salt inundation Down Under. The problem of development is a conundrum - if we do get on with opening up the marginal lands salt takes it away soon afterwards. Many trees are planted to drop the water tables, but it's a bit late for huge tracts of land.

And that's the flaw in Lord McAlpine's argument. This huge land cannot sustain a population in most of it. Even the trial irrigation systems up north and northwest have been troubled by bugs and wildlife plagues. The harder you try in OZ the more resistance to success you find. That's why I admire the aborigine. They survived here for 40,000 years. They didn't force the issues by making waves...sort of belonged in the scene and walked about.

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), July 20, 2000.

Unfortunately Australia is going to be one of the first places on the planet to become completely barren of life thanks to the nice big hole we poked in our atmosphere.

-- Hawk (flyin@hi.again), July 20, 2000.

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