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17 February 2011 – Australia’s councils are perhaps the most ignorant and contemptuous of indigenous culture of any part of our society.

Councils manifest their damaged psyche unintentionally in their development approvals every week. They’re unaware of what they say and do.

Let us count the ways.

Chief among their actions in their approvals is the self-serving but inaccurate use of the word “native” tree and plant.

In most of their tree plans and development approvals Councils require developers to plant “native” plants or trees.

What do councils say a “native” plant is?

In their list of “native” plants councils list only decorative plants and trees. Things with flowers or attractive foliage.

With the exception of the Lillypilly tree none of the trees and plants listed by Councils are edible.

What?

Did indigenous people wander around here for 40,000 years gazing sweetly at the flowers?

What did they eat during those long years?

Was the view enough, do you think?

In addition to culling the lists of all edible and productive and medicinal plants and trees the content and use of the lists show a deep local-government-wide ignorance about how Australia’s plants and trees grow.

Let’s pass quickly by the fact that local councils draw up their native plant lists without consulting indigenous elders.

Instead our “civic fathers”, rely on the knowledge of graduates of that other repository of, and chief promotion agency for, ignorance about indigenous plants and trees – your local university “Landscape Architecture Faculty”.

None of these Blazing Saddles of Academia teach one hour of edible and productive plants and vegetables in their four year courses including of introduced food producing plants and trees. Amazing.

Our trees don’t grow one by one, all of the one kind, neatly down a road, or tidily around a swimming pool or boundary fence. If they do they don’t thrive and often die.

No.

They grow in an association of plants and trees that together enrich each other and the soil and insect life to sustain the diversity, abundance and all the life that’s associated with trees.

One “native” tree, much favoured by local government because it will grow in buggered up city soils, clay soils, never irrigated soils and “don’t have to maintain them” trees is the Brush Box.

Trouble is, as indigenous elders know, the leaves of the Brush Box secrete a hormone that kills other natives unless there is biodiversity. Put it in rows so it dominates a street and it kills and prevents other native plants and introduced plants from growing.

And, stressed by its hitherto unknown lonely life with little water or soil and insect life, these trees drop leaves like snow, requiring in peak leaf dropping season, summer, two council trucks and three workers to walk the streets blowing air and water at the leaves to have them sucked up into a truck and taken away. Mulch from these trees retains the hormone and holds back the life that it might otherwise bestow on soils and plants.

What’s the consequence of the local government driven tree and plant monoculture of our cities?

Almost none of one of the key things we need to survive as a species and to make ourselves more resilient to climate change; biodiversity.

Declining populations of small native birds.

Declining populations of native insects.

Increasing populations of bird that are predators of small native birds and insects.

Declining resilience of existing “native” trees and bushes in the cities to hotter and more extreme weather.

The solution?

Make continuing education mandatory for landscape architects, council staff, councillors, arborists, and continued practising in these fields dependent upon the holding of annually renewable certificates demonstrating lessons have been had from indigenous elders in truly native plants and trees.

Poor fella, my country. Again. And again.

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who advises, teaches and speaks on sustainability issues. He works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy.

Michael Mobb’s book “Sustainable House 2nd Edition” has sold out its first print run, but new copies are expected soon. Place your order through  www.sustainablehouse.com.au