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Don't Feel the Sting of Extinction

Brand. It’s a big deal – and Tasmania has spent considerable time cultivating its clean, green image. All of us, in our own ways, are invested in this branding about ourselves. It goes to the core of who we think we are as Tasmanians and therefore shapes the actions we take to uphold this idea about ourselves.

Or does it? Sometimes this branding can feel like shoes we put on for someone else - a bit too tight and a bit uncomfortable, but we put them on anyway. Because we think they look good. Because we have told a story about ourselves. We put the shoes on, even if the story does not match the reality. Even when we are having a hell of a time trying to walk.

And this is where branding fantasy and branding reality meet – tottering along a road made bright with gas lights.

The Tasmanian Tiger became extinct in the 1930s. We are the only state in Australia to use this image as a celebration of who we are. And the image is pervasive. We are constantly reminding ourselves about a time that is long gone, and yet we celebrate this history, this extinction, as part of our brand. Are we clean and green, or do we make things extinct? Further, do we celebrate this sad extinction, as if it’s something we should be proud of?

I get it, the past can be attractive. It can hark back to a better time, when life was easier without the complex pressures we all face in a modern society. But in upholding the past we can sometimes fail to see what is right in front of us. And in doing so we miss the message.

Tasmania contains some of the last pockets of ancient Gondwanan rainforest in the world. In these forests, Leatherwood trees dwell as part of a connected ecosystem. Leatherwood is uniquely Tasmanian. It is documented that since 1960 we have lost/destroyed 80% of Leatherwood forests. Beekeepers rely on these trees to feed our bees at a time where nothing else is in flower. It is a reliable nectar source; something we desperately lack here in Tasmania.

Our $10m honey industry alone is part of a broader bee industry economic success story. Bees underpin our food security through pollination, and this is worth $200m every year. When we consider the consolidated value realised through Leatherwood forests remaining in the ground, we are looking at an industry worth $210m annually. Add to this the state government’s $10bn 2050 AgriVision target, and we are talking a real story – a story that Tasmanians could be telling if we choose to step into this space.

It’s a true story about how to build a successful island economy.

As an artisan producer I have experienced the worth of Leatherwood honey firsthand. In partnering with Save the Bees Australia, we effectively value-added to a national and international market and I am now collaborating with local artists to celebrate our unique Leatherwood product, in addition to a book written by children in Tasmania for children everywhere about the importance of Leatherwood to pollinators.

In stark contrast, we have a forest industry that, according to John Lawrence, in the 20 years since the Regional Forestry Agreement, has incurred a loss of $1.3bn (The Mercury, May 24 2021). Add to this scenario the President of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association happily lighting the gas lamps by telling us that “we would not have a beekeeping industry without Sustainable Timbers Tasmania” (The Mercury July 1 2021). No wonder Tasmanians have been confused and felt poorly informed.

We are now at a crossroads. Will we be custodians of a future that unlocks our potential, or will we continue to grip on to a nostalgic past? The problem with nostalgia is that we too readily only remember the positive things that have past, as we handily erase the negatives, as with the hunting down of the Tasmanian Tiger.

These are the questions all of us need to ask ourselves, and certainly 22,000 signatories to my petition have considered and have come to their own conclusion – Leatherwood in the ground is worth more than Leatherwood forests that have been logged. Let us not make extinction our Brand. Tasmanians we are far better than this. And we also need to put on our sensible shoes and experience this wonderful state and its forests, which exist thanks to pollination.

First published in The Hobart Mercury, 29 July 2021

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