Old school cares about the future, too


“One more thing,” the finger could have sent me to purgatory, I’m sure.

“You moved the teenagers into the shed because of the noise, so please don’t blame my paying guests.”

I skulked inside to ponder the dangers of placing real neighbours in newspaper columns when the phone rang. An hour later I freed my steamy ear, doubly chastened and with renewed respect for one Max Boyd, councillor for 44 years and president, mayor or administrator for 21.

He and I had crossed swords during the protests against the Oxley River dam. At the time, he used the term “idealistic” in reference to plans to capture water domestically and use water more efficiently instead of building more dams. Last week, I portrayed him as an old-school dam-builder, an advocate of big engineering and a proponent of pipelines.

Max was prepared to let this go as hot-headed ranting – he has seen a lot of that over forty four years in public office – but then Angela from Eungella publicly thanked me for exposing the real Max.

Now, Dear Reader, I must set the record straight. For years, Max advocated domestic rainwater tanks, local storage and environmentally integrated dams as reserves for hard times. His knowledge of the history of the water supply of the Tweed Valley is detailed, deep and crystal clear. It is also impossible to summarise here.

He believes that the greatest damage done to a sustainable water supply was the sixties doctrine that outlawed suburban water tanks and still insists that we drink only treated water, approved by government authorities.

Max proposes that we limit population to that which we can guarantee a water supply in the worst drought years. It reminds me of Tim Flannery’s proposition that a sustainable population for Australia is around two million people.

And there’s the rub.

Just as it is a bit hard to tell eighteen million people that they are surplus to national requirements, so it is tough on the people of Pottsville or Kingscliffe to say, sorry mate, there is simply not enough water here. Load your house onto your back and move to a nearby river.

Max does think that it is idealism to propose that we all live organically and drink rainwater not because he opposes the ideal, but because he knows we have to deal with the real.

I put it to him that the current global financial crisis is evidence that at some point we have to take the hard decisions, and that it is the job of governments to make those decisions before the sticky brown stuff hits the fan. “I agree with your sentiments,” he said, “but they do involve a fair degree of idealism.”

I accept that Max, and I take my hat off to you for walking the line between pragmatism and your desire for the best possible world for the forty years you have contributed to public life in this area.

Most of all, I apologise for painting you as Genghis Khan when you clearly channel the spirit of his grandson Kubla.

Giovanni Ebono is founder of The Ebono Institute. www.ebono.org

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