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Townsville isn’t an outlier. It shows with clarity what Australia could become

Jason Wilson comments in The Guardian (21.2.18) that in Townsville, the biggest city on the Great Barrier Reef coast, a focus on jobs that are no longer there obscures the facts about the death of the reef.

‘When I was a child in Townsville in the 1980s, the Great Barrier Reef still seemed immovable. It was a settled fact like the islands or the sea. As soon as we were old enough to swim the adults would take us out in tinnies to catch fish from among the gently swaying blots of coral close to shore. Later, with friends, I swam and snorkelled farther out, on the reef proper. I saw my first real ocean waves on its outer edge – among other things, the reef protected Townsville and its harbour from the wild moods of South Pacific.

‘Neither Townsville nor Australia has reciprocated that protection. The reef is dying. You can see for yourself in the videos and photos published by the ARC Centre of Excellence, based in Townsville, which studies the ecosystem that we will likely soon have killed. The videos are mostly taken from light planes. They show hectares of sepulchrally white, dead and dying coral spread out under their wings. The vision is accompanied by deadpan commentary from the crew. They’re doing important work, but the footage is pretty thin as a requiem for what may once have been the world’s greatest natural wonder. In our ecologically diminished future, people will be surprised that this was the best we could manage in the way of mourning.

‘In Townsville itself, which is the biggest city on the reef coast, it may be hard for some media consumers to register the scale of the catastrophe. The local paper, the Townsville Bulletin, has not really been treating this as the matter of world-historical significance that it surely is. Its coverage is one symptom of a pathology that runs parallel to coral bleaching: News Corporation’s lock on local news in large swathes of the country, and especially in Queensland. In the newsagents you’ll find the Bulletin sold along with the Courier-Mail, News’s state newspaper, and the national daily, the Australian. All three have covered the events on the reef with a mixture of equivocation, “scepticism”, and misdirection.’

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