VICTORIA’S High Country will play host to the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association Annual Festival this weekend, when thousands of people come together to celebrate the proud tradition of
our mountain cattlemen.
Graziers have taken cattle into and across the mountains of Victoria’s Alpine regions as far back as the 1820s. Some families, like the Stoneys and the Lovicks, still farm and live in the area. I am proud to be the granddaughter of a High Country cattleman. Such men and women have contributed to local and national culture, history and indeed our national identity. High Country cattlemen are celebrated in the poetry of Banjo Patterson and every year in events that test skill, speed and horsemanship.
Aside from Aboriginal culture, our relatively young nation has few traditions as strong and poetic as our cattlemen and women. The decision to ban a cattle grazing trial by the previous Labor government to shore up vulnerable seats in inner Melbourne was blatantly political.
Since the 1990s, mountain cattlemen have been progressively forced to surrender licences and so compromise their position on the grazing of cattle in the High Country. Over the years mountain cattlemen and farming groups have sought to take a positive approach to the management of cattle on public land. But the former federal government flatly refused a request from the Victorian Government for the reintroduction of cattle grazing as part of a scientific trial. While the former federal Labor government and the Greens declared war on Alpine cattle grazing, little has been said about the tens of thousands of deer and horses in the Alpine National Park. Indeed, the people who complain about the damage cattle cause to the area are the same people who are opposed to humane and efficient culling programs.
When announcing the ban on grazing in our Alpine National Park, federal Labor environment minister Tony Burke said grazing was “incompatible with values relating to aesthetics and recreational use “. Whose values? And whose recreational use?
And what of the various international treaties, which recognise economic and cultural use of our natural environment?
The international Convention on Biological Diversity, with 193 member countries including
Australia, supports the “use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices “, if done sustainably. It aims to preserve and maintain knowledge and customs of indigenous and
Similarly, ratified more than 37 years ago, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora recognises that as well as its intrinsic environmental value, flora and fauna have “cultural, recreational and economic” value. Values cemented in international treaties and held by the community were ignored when Labor joined the Greens in voting against a notice of motion in the Senate. The motion reiterated Australia’s commitment to those treaties and the concept of sustainable use of the environment, showing the former Federal Labor government selectively ignored aspects of international treaties to suit its political purposes.
There are many people who live in our Alpine areas and across the nation who value mountain cattlemen and women as pioneers, as guides, as contributors to fire suppression, as land managers and environmental stewards. Many Australians view sustainably managed cattle grazing on the high plains as an important tradition and recognise it as a legitimate use of the Alpine area.
We can get the balance right between protecting and enjoying our national parks.
UNESCO says social practices shared by communities are important because they reaffirm identity and remind that community of its history. Cattlemen and women need to graze cattle in the High Country to maintain their culture.
While this weekend’s event is a celebration of a living culture, it might not be long before it is commemorating a lost one. The many skills associated with grazing in the High Country – knowledge of the bush, horsemanship, survival skills or using working dogs – could disappear from use.
It is timely to reconsider the decisions of the former Labor government, which assumed it could impose the values of people in Brunswick on people in Benambra. We can get the balance right between protecting and enjoying our national parks.
Caring for and using our natural resources does not have to be mutually exclusive concepts.
I support the Victorian Government’s application to the Federal Government seeking approval for a trial of cattle grazing in the Victorian High Country. It is important to preserve this significant part of our national culture, and our environment, for the benefit of future generations.