A Warning From History

Migrating Geese. Wild birds must be kept away from chicken farms. Strathfield is a haven for wild birds. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com

Migrating Geese. Wild birds must be kept away from chicken farms. Strathfield is a haven for wild birds. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com

In plants, it is called monoculture; in animals: intensive production. In humans it has many names including overpopulation, overcrowding, high density and/or tenement living.

History has proven that where there is a large population of genetically similar individuals, the potential for destruction of that population by pathogens is a terrifying reality. A time bomb, ticking away.

Many times through history, food crops have been wiped out by disease. In 1845-6, a fungal blight destroyed the entire potato crop in Ireland, resulting in starvation of the population. Many died, others were forced into mass migration to survive.

In the overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions of 14th Century Europe, the Black Death cut a swathe through the population greater than any other known epidemic or disaster. The depraved murderer was a germ Pasteurella pestis spread by the fleas on rats.

Bird Flu is probably the greatest threat to our chickens farmed in Australia. It has a number of strains, some of which are capable of passing from birds to humans. Fortunately, the latest outbreak was not one of them. The closer the bird populations are to each other, and to wild bird populations, the more the risk of infection.

This calls to mind the proposal of putting a huge, intensive chicken operation (70 sheds, almost 3 million birds) on Strathfield, one of Manilla’s most iconic and productive irrigation properties. Being on the river, it is a haven for bird life.

There is an old saying about the foolishness of putting all your eggs in one basket; and another about your chickens coming home to roost. Sadly, in this case, I fear the consequences will be felt by many more than the proponents of this lunacy.

When the developers find that our beautiful Strathfield is unsuitable for their proposed intensive development(as we have been trying to tell them), they could do no better than to learn from these historic examples and seek advice from the intensive farming families of our district.

I commend these families for their excellence and best practice in their attention to:

–         animal welfare

–         biosecurity

–         environmental responsibility

–          and consideration for their community.

One family has gone to the expense of building their own road so as not to inconvenience the townspeople. This speaks for itself: Compare it to the disregard shown to our community by the ‘big business’ proponents of this hideous Strathfield development. These families are an asset to our district and valued members of our community. They should not be made to suffer for the wrong judgements of others, when they themselves are more than doing the right thing.

History has shown the unwisdom of having large populations in one location. Would it not be smarter to spread the farms around the district (on the abattoir side of town; and NOT in a sensitive catchment area): perhaps in the care of separate farming families who have a vested interest in the safety of our community; and thus minimise the health risks to the populations involved, both bird and human? It might have an added benefit of security of income for those on smaller properties in these difficult times.

My plea to the would-be Strathfield developers is this:

Heed this warning from history and don’t put all your chickens in one area. Because they won’t just come home to roost on your doorstep: It will be on mine and that of every other citizen in our community! And yours, too, Councillor Murray.

The Dreyfus Affair

Captain Alfred Dreyfus

Captain Alfred Dreyfus – an innocent man subjected to shocking injustice.

At its simplest, the Dreyfus Affair was the heart-wrenching story of an innocent man, framed by the real culprit, for selling secrets to an enemy; and an illegal cover-up by the military to hide its mistakes.

On a deeper level, it became the issue of the right to freedom of the individual being subordinated by the state, with Dreyfus as its symbol. Its incredible and far-reaching consequences tore apart the fabric of French life, including dramatic changes to the French constitution, the separation of state and clergy, and deep divisions between right and left that still reverberate today.

Depending on your point of view it was either the most shocking miscarriage of justice, or the acceptable sacrifice of an individual for the security of a nation. For many in a country that, one hundred years before, had fought a hard and bloody battle for freedom and fair treatment, this was not to be borne. Feelings ran so strongly that the whole country was polarised. The conflict, reflecting issues of anti-semitism, anti-clericism and anti-republicanism, was often violent.

Everyone living in France between the years 1894 and 1906, was forced to choose a side. There were two camps: Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards.

My characters, Angel and Elise, with their shared passion for justice, were, naturally, Dreyfusards and worked tirelessly behind the scenes with Dreyfus’ wife Lucie and family to free him.

Dreyfusards (pressing for the exoneration of Dreyfus) were mostly anti-clericals, Jews, left-wing intellectuals and radicals, their cause represented by Georges Clemenceau’s newspaper l’Aurore.

Anti-Dreyfusards( prepared to sacrifice Dreyfus for national security), mainly anti-semites, nationalists and conservatives opposed to republicanism, found a mouthpiece in the newspaper La Libre Parole, owned by Edouard Drumont, an anti-semite.

There is as much drama in this story as any fiction writer could desire; and movie makers were quick to take it up. A short summary of events include:

1894 – Captain Alfred Dreyfus convicted of treason for selling military secrets to the Germans and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.

1896 – Increasing evidence that another officer, Ferdinand-Walsin Esterhazy was the culprit.

1898 – January – Esterhazy tried and acquitted of treason. In response Émile Zola wrote his famous letter J’accuse, published in l’Aurore, for which he was found guilty of libel.

1898 – August – A sensation caused by the confession of Major Hubert Henry that he fabricated important evidence against Dreyfus. Esterhazy immediately fled to England. Henry committed suicide.

1899 – September – Dreyfus retried and found guilty of treason in an infamous court-martial at Rennes. The President, Émile Loubet, pardoned him to resolve an inflammatory situation.

1906 – Dreyfus finally exonerated by a civilian court of appeal. He was given the Legion d’Honneur and a rise in rank to major. He had lost twelve years of his life, his career and his reputation. How could it be given back?

I find it touching that one innocent citizen’s ill-treatment by a corrupt military galvanised a country into action. Fair-minded people, revolted by injustice and racial/religious prejudice, took up the cudgels in defence of a principle: the right to freedom of the individual.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: I love it. Vive la France!