The 1998 Great Walk Charter

The Great Walk from Denmark to Perth in 1988 was initiated by people from the southwest of Western Australia, to express in a simple and direct way their appreciation of the land which sustains us all.

It was a fitting celebration of our unique and beautiful environment, in Australia’s bicentennial year.

The Great Walk was also an expression of deep concern about the detrimental impact that we have made on our environment over the past 200 years – contrary to government commitments to sustainability, made under various national and state conservation strategies since 1983.

The Aboriginal people, who have inhabited Australia for more than 60 000 years have an innate reverence, love and connection with the land, while in 200 years of European settlement we have exploited the wealth of the natural environment for the building of our society. The land has given us everything, and we have taken of it freely.

Like the first Great Walk, the tenth anniversary walk from Perth to Denmark is a symbolic step into the next decade and the next 200 years – towards a period of healing, replenishment and achieving a sustainable relationship with the environment – a treasure beyond value, found nowhere else on Earth. But it is a fragile environment, with a finite capacity to withstand human exploitation.

The Environment

What remains of our environmental wealth today balances on a knife edge, with the added pressure of global change a factor with could change the balance forever.

Less than one percent of Western Australia now remains under native forest cover. Up to 50 percent of the original jarrah, marri and karri forests have gone, mostly as the result of clearing for agriculture.

The quality of water resources has been severely degraded, with all but two major river systems in the lower southwest now saline and unfit for human consumption – two more than in 1988.

Of the 18 million hectares of land cleared for agriculture, only 36 percent is now regarded as stable.

More than 320 West Australian plant species are now listed as rare or endangered. OF these 85 come from the southwest; while 27 species are classified as extinct, most of which were from the southwest.

The state’s fauna is in a similarly precarious position, with at least 67 known vertebrates listed as rare and endangered.

Our environmental problems must also be seen in a global context: Western Australia is a very dry state, in the world’ driest inhabited continent. Climatic changes caused by the Greenhouse Effect are already evident in the southwest, where annual average rainfall has been decreasing over the past 15 years.

With natural ecological pressures already beginning to fail, deferring action will only compound the problem. We are at a point where fresh directions are essential; where our only choice is to foster a common spirit, dedicated to achieving solutions through far-sighted policies and sustainable practices.

We recognise that there cannot be a healthy economy without a health environment; and that it is the responsibility not just of governments, but of each and every person to help restore environmental wellbeing.

Directions for the Future

It is in this spirit, and with the condition of today’s natural environment widely accepted that the following recommendations are put to the government and the people of Western Australia.

Overall Policies

  • renounce ‘economic rationalism’, corporatism and all paradigms which concentrate wealth, land and knowledge in the hands of elites
  • introduce positive measures for a reduction in the consumption of key resources such as water, energy (eg electricity, petrol) timber and some rare minerals (eg mineral sands, uranium); and implement alternative energy technology
  • substantially reduce pollution of the environment, incuding the emission of gases which affect climate and the ozone layer
  • ensure that waste reduction and recycling are integral to waste disposal policies and practices.

For the Forests

  • What little old-growth native forest remains must be left unlogged and intact, and placed in secure reserves for all time
  • intensive management practises for timber production in native forests must be refocused towards restoring the forests’ health
  • urgent expansion of research into forest ecology, including a major assault on the spread of ‘jarrah dieback’ disease
  • the focus of timber harvesting must be shifted immediately to existing and future plantation resources
  • in the selection of plantation species, due consideration must be given possible climate change before trees reach harvestable age
  • greater sensitivity must be exercised in determining the season and frequency of prescribed burning

For the Water

  • reinstate water catchments so that rivers and streams will once again supply water fit for human consumption and sustain freshwater ecosystems
  • put an immediate halt to land clearing in all forested water catchments
  • tackle the problem of salinity with greater urgency, and additional technical and financial resources.

For the Soil

  • reduce the alienation of prime agricultural and horticultural land for urban development
  • Create incentives for farmers and other landusers to adopt sustainable practises
  • instigate a massive program of replanting degraded farmland with appropriate native trees and shrubs; and promote agroforestry
  • vigorously research alternatives to chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers.

Flora and Fauna

  • create additional viable reserves, linked to natural corridors
  • develop more informed and caring attitudes towards indigenous flora and fauna outside reserves
  • develop clear policies for the retention of greater areas of native vegetation on private land, as a matter of urgency.

To Conclude

It is clear that we have been living beyond our means for some time, and have accumulated a substantial environmental debt. This debt must be paid if we are to | achieve a sustainable society and heal the damage to the natural environment.

To do this will require a great deal of initiative, political will, community participation and money. We may have to accept some changes to our way of life but | the rewards will include an improved quality of life, for present and future generations.

We urge governments to accept and fulfil their responsibilities to educate and lead all Australians back from the environmental brink, and to help find and implement pathways to sustainable solutions.

It is only by acknowledging the current state of the natural environment, and by applying knowledge and understanding, that constructive change and true progress can be made.

With this new understanding we can all begin to feel a sense of belonging to this wonderful land, to which we are inextricably linked, and upon whose health and wellbeing our very existence depends.

We do not inherit the Earth from our parents:

we borrow it from our children.