• Alice Farkas

How Australia’s Indigenous homelands are suffering the effects of climate change first and worst

As Australia’s first climate change network led by young Indigenous people, Seed aims to protect remote communities living on the frontline of climate change impact; namely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have lived in the Northern Territory (NT) for tens of thousands of years. Over the last decade, rising temperatures have brought unbearable heat, a wet season that comes later every year and a shoreline that creeps lower down the banks at the end of each passing summer. For the people who live there, the changes are disrupting the entire makeup of their ancestral land and the consequences are described with palpable despair, with the hopelessness of losing a relative, rather than a country.


But of course to these Indigenous people, Country is a living presence. Described in the second person, in the present tense: "Country is sick, I can feel it and it hurts my heart, it hurts my spirit", a community member mourns. For cultures that have lived interconnected with the land, the impact of climate change is bringing immeasurable interruption to a way of life lived for centuries. And it’s not just physical changes, fruits coming into season too early or heat waves that no longer give way to inevitable thundering storms, but it’s creating a metaphysical change between a community and their ancient connection to Country.


Watch how climate change impacts Aboriginal communities



According to The Northern Territory Government, there are around 500 homelands in the NT [1]. Homelands are remote areas where small populations of Indigenous communities live, on lands of which they have traditional ownership. Communities here have occupied these lands for far longer than any official documents can validate, it is a place indispensable to their identity and a cornerstone to every part of a community’s history. This is a culture of people who live by stories and spirits, and environmental landmarks are often woven into the rich tapestry of folklore and mythology.


Take an ancient and sacred tree with its roots that go deep into the ground, it may have stood there for a thousand years; a constant, precious reference point in stories throughout many generations. It has watched over a community providing oxygen, shade in the hot summer months and the promise of spring, once its branches begin to show the budding spores of green. If climate change means those roots are no longer able to find water and the tree dies, how devastating and disturbing that must feel to a people who have felt its steadfast presence for as long as anyone can remember.


And just as we read time, weather and news on phones, watches and laptops, an Indigenous community has for centuries gleaned that information from the environment: the time in the passing of the sun; calculated the arrival of rain in the clouds; or temperature from the denseness of the heat-packed earth. Climate change in the homelands is rendering environment patterns illegible for communities, who will soon no longer able to read this ancient natural language. Country is closing up just like an animal in danger, communities believe Mother Earth recoils too, protects herself and retreats from her usual predictable patterns.


The below map [2] shows the vast expanse of mostly inhospitable lands, sparsely populated with remote homelands of Australia’s ingenious peoples. So far in distance from the nearest Westernised city, and yet so close to the consequences caused by the pollution and unsustainable habits of those who live there. This is the painful irony and nature of Seed and the youth of Indigenous communities' crusade; to protect, so that their connectedness to Country can remain intact.



As readers and activists, we can’t let the physical distance separate our own sheltered understanding of the effects of climate change and those who experience its impact first and worst. We must do more in understanding how we can support those most directly affected, both physically and culturally. You’re in the right place, and there is much to be done.




About the filmmaker


Seed Youth Led Climate Change Network

A branch of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Seed is Australia’s first Indigenous Youth Climate Network. It is a national operation led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, with a small team of staff, volunteer state coordinators and volunteers in every state and territory across the country. In their words, they are "a movement working to make climate justice real for our people".

The network is responsible for initiatives and campaigns that seek to protect Country from the devastating effects global warming is bringing to the region, helping to ensure that their communities are able to continue living on the homelands they have inhabited for many generations. Their vision: "a sustainable future with strong cultures and communities, powered by renewable energy". To find out more about Seed and their work visit: https://www.seedmob.org.au . 


Footnotes

[1] Services to remote communities and homelands: The Northern Territory Government (nt.gov.au) https://nt.gov.au/community/local-councils-remote-communities-and-homelands/services-to-remote-communities-and-homelands (Last updated: 03 February 2020)

[2] National Native Title Tribunal: Northern Territory Native Title Claimant Applications and Determination Areas As per the Federal Court Map http://www.nntt.gov.au/Maps/NT_NTDA_Schedule.pdf (Last updated: 30 June 2020)



© 2019 Heady Mix 

 Read diversely, think differently. Join

Heady Mix today

Sign up to the next collection from Heady Mix