God and the Live Export Beef Trade

Read: Gen 9:7-17

In his book, ‘Engaging God’s World’, Cornelius Plantinga observes that Genesis 1 opens our eyes to the core character of God. In his act of creation, God answers the formlessness of the heavens and the earth with his creative word ‘Let there be light.’ While Plantinga does not make the point directly, I have wondered whether the essence of God’s grace is to give out of who he is, and what he has, to cause others to flourish.

Once you start thinking this through, you start to see it everywhere in the Bible. You see it in creation itself, in God’s call of Abraham, and ancient ‘nobody’; in his establishment of his covenant with insignificant Israel, the birth of Isaac, Israel’s entry into Canaan; even in King David, who simply did not cut it when it came to how a King should look. Most of all, we see it in Jesus’ coming into the world to bring grace and life and truth. We see it in his commitment to his mission, and his self sacrifice (Phil 2). We see it in God’s mission through the church, and to the church’s call to sacrifice and servanthood. It is everywhere: God wants his world to thrive and his people to flourish. This is not some prosperity driven gospel of success. The flourishing life God wants for his world is that they thrive in his self giving gracious character. He wants us to thrive in being like Jesus.

…the essence of God’s grace is to give out of who he is, and what he has, to cause others to flourish…

This passage in Gen 9 speaks of the covenant the Lord makes with ‘all life on earth’. I believe one of the applications here is that God loves all life. His Spirit makes life abound! These words in v.17 get us thinking about our responsibilities, not just to human beings, but to all forms of life, and the environments in which they live. A few days ago, ABC’s Four Corners exposed horrible practices of some beef export companies. It was ghastly footage to anyone who viewed it. Imagine, then what God thinks! Maybe he was weeping. Maybe he still is.

Maybe God weeps at the indifference shown by some of his people to questions of environmental concern. We all know there are priorities: the well being of other people is paramount. But that does not mean God’s people can dumb down matters of environmental stewardship and the just use of land and creation.

Since we are images of God, we are called to care about the things God cares about. He loves life. He wants it to flourish and thrive. And Jesus his Son is his means of reconciling the whole cosmos to himself.

Q: Do you think Christians have typically denied their environmental responsibilities? How have you seen this?

Clarence River Wilderness Lodge

Some of the best things are found by accident. I say this because Clarence River Wilderness Lodge more happened upon us, than we it. Looking for some other place, I was paging through “Dirty Weekends” [a book of 4WD trips in Queensland – just in case you’re wondering…] when for some reason I spotted this little gem of a place.

Located on the upper reaches of the Clarence River in NSW, this upper Clarence high country hideaway is a great place to unwind. Some will come here to walk, others for off road adventures, others to kayak through the many rapids down the river, and still others just to camp. I come here to replenish the mind. There’s no mobile reception (unless you drive about 4km up the ridge), no email, very little power, and no shops. You need to bring all your food and equipment with you, and be reasonably self sufficient for the duration of your stay. The nearest supplies can be purchased un Urbenville, about 50 mins drive. While access is manageable for a conventional vehicle with reasonable clearance. Our Subaru handles the track with ease. There’s a bit over 30km of unsealed road after the turnoff after crossing Wallaby Creek, so you won’t want to be in a hurry. (pic: view down the gorge to ‘Twin Waters’ taken about 2km form Clarence River Wilderness Lodge)

Once you arrive, you find Steve & Sharon Ross to be fantastic hosts. We do not see Steve a lot. He’s out with canoe groups, or getting firewood, or maintaining the property, or chasing the neighbours cows after someone’s left the gate open. Sharon, on the other hand, seems to have mastered the dual art of near omnipresence and seemingly endless conversation. She’ll drop off wood for your wood stove, tell you when to see the resident platypus, give you advice on walks and tracks, fill you in on local history, and if you happen to spot some of the more reclusive wildlife, Sharon positively lights up!

We occupied one of the two self contained cabins. These are compact, rustic units with huge outside living/dining areas. Tables and bench tops are constructed from solid slab eucalypt. Our ensuite was small, complete with a galvanised iron shower base and an eco-friendly (and nose friendly) composting toilet. Sharon and Steve have worked hard to make their property ecologically responsible, and by my observation they are pretty good at it. Each cabin has a small slow combustion wood heater which, once going, you find you’re down to short sleeves, even in mid winter.

Sharon told us that late in the afternoon, which at this time of year is 4pm, you can sometimes see a platypus along the sides of the waterhole. So, a few afternoons we wandered down to investigate. This time of year, the last direct sunlight is about 3:50pm, so not only did we become quite cold, we saw no platypus. On our last night we decided to take a few canoes and drift down the river, hoping to spot the elusive animal. We managed some glorious sightings of an Azure Kingfisher, its electric blue form diving and darting. We saw a small herd of beef cattle crossing at the rapids with typical bovine indecision. We saw a Little Cormorant deciding whether to fish or not (he was cold, too, I think). No platypus.

Platypus or not, the river is so incredibly peaceful. The rest of the world seems to evaporate, and the mind’s eye narrows so that it is just you, your canoe companion (in this case, Leonie), the boat, the river, and whatever you’re looking at. The canoe cuts the mirrored lake, sharing ripples either side, there’s the occasional paddle gulp, and just for a while you are impossibly lost in it.

Not everyone likes this sort of holiday. Some want restaurants, espresso lounges, clubs, shops, home comforts. For me, Clarence River allows me to back off and unwind, to loose myself from the demands of career and calling. Today the thought returned, that I should just come here and write. Come here and think. For when life’s noise is left behind, I can hear more clearly my own life voice. Things become more certain. And I get to hear and see, without distraction, the voice and the heart of the one who made it all in the first place.

How much can a koala bear?

We have just had a wonderful few days visiting Colin & Wendy Warren. They have a bush block in Cape Otway, just off the Cape Otway Lighthouse Road. They’ve had the bock for a few years, and have done some work clearing a small section. One day this will be the site of a holiday home, but at the moment, there’s a caravan, a bush shower, and a fireplace (see image), a rope swing and a drop dunny. Very simple, and very relaxing.

We have great memories of coming here with our entire family about 10 years ago. The block was much the same, a little less cleared than it is today. Our girls loved exploring, and playing with their cousins on the amazing rope swing. Occasionally we would hear a koala, and better still, see one.

One thing we noticed this time around was that there were plenty of koalas. Around the perimeter of Col’s cleared area, which might be 1000m2 or so, there were about 12 koalas visible. Now for many, this would be wonderful, and in one way, it is. Who would not be captivated with the sight of these furry little creatures, who are probably the little darlings of Australian tourism? What we saw, though, told another story. These koalas have actually reached plague proportions in this part of the world. Constant feeding on Manna Gum leaves, such high numbers are depleting the stands of Manna Gum in the vicinity of Col’s property. Several trees are dead, most are distressed, few are healthy.

I am no environmental scientist, of course, but my observations were that this was not just a problem on Col’s block. All through the vicinity the Manna Gum stands are under attack. On one excursion to Parker River, we could see tall Manna Gum skeletons standing above the tree canopy (see picture, above and to the left of the beach area). Is this further evidence of koala blight? Driving from Cols block in Otway Park through to Blanket Bay, the picture appeared consistent. These cute, furry little critters were doing a great deal of damage, and in some cases bringing irreversible change to the environment.

It’s interesting that even in places of wonderful natural beauty, you can still see that there’s something wrong with our world. Creation seems to groan here as much as anywhere else. How can something as cute and cuddly as a koala be the cause of such damage and degradation?

And what interventions, if any, should be undertaken? Is this just nature doing its stuff, and we let it take its course? It seems that the effect of this will eventually be the destruction not only of the local manna gum population, but also the koalas that feed from them. Who would want to lose both? What else could be done? People have started banding trees with a plastic/polymer jacket. This prevents any animals from climbing the banded trees. Or should there be a koala cull? Can we bring ourselves to cull this iconic Australian species? Sounds terrible, but this might ensure the survival of a healthy koala population, the manna gums as a food source, and a balanced environment. These are thorny questions that defy easy answers. Whatever happens from here on will cause grief and pain. For the environment in trauma, for the koala population, which will probably die out once they’ve depleted their food source, and for the people who see this terrible story unfolding every day.

Grace and peace,