A few years ago I tried to get elected to an ecotour subcommittee of the
regional tourism association. But ecotourism was the flavour of the month
as the time and I lost out in the stampede.
But another reason for my failure so I was told, was that not long before
I'd run a campaign against errant operators - believe it or not they were
doing things like ramming crocodiles with boats to make them jump; one
was chipping bits off 2 billion year old stromatolites at at Aboriginal
sacred site to hand out as souvenirs. My letters were published in a
couple of dozen magazines and newspapers though not the NT News - the
editor saw them as 'defamatory!'
The tourism industry here was furious. I was warned off, threatened.
One operator went around telling visitors not to go out with me as I was
'mad' (apparently the reason was that I took people to the sewage ponds
and only a madwoman would do that! But I got off lightly. Another fellow
in the industry who tried to introduce some change had his vehicles'
tyres slashed, several times I believe, and eventually went out of
Things are changing although not as fast as I'd like. When a pylon
holding an osprey's nest was removed from the mangroves at Stuart Park
last year I protested to a man who'd been a senior officer in the NT
Tourist Commission and now works for the Minister for Tourism.His
response? "Who would want an untidy thing like that hanging over their
backyard?" The bird then went and built a nest in a pylon above a busy
highway where everyone could see it; the NT News ran a story in response
to queries, Sea Scouts took it on board and with the help of sponsors
built and erected artificial nesting sites around the place. I think the
birds are safe now in that any move to displace them would probably
result in public outcry!
When the bottom fell out of the Asian market the NT government
desperately wanted to attract American and European tourists so they sent
off a delegation of pollies. I fired off a letter pointing out how big
the birdwatching market was and suggesting they tap into it. Asking too
much I believe of Shane Stone and the other bureaucrats who went. Not
even a reply.
Birdwatching is a huge industry overseas and has the potential to be so
here. For instance for the 25 million North Americans who travel abroad
to watch birds, Australia and NZ are the most popular destinations after
the Americas and Hawaii. But birdwatchers are not highly visible, one
reason being they tend not to use travel agents. This is understandable
as many such people don't know what they're doing (one couple ended up
being offered a typical backpacking holiday complete with rubber mattress
trip down to Twin Falls). And yet of the 25 million or so Americans who
travel to bird, Australia ranks higher on their lists than any other
place outside of the Americas and Hawaii.
For some years I've been trying to interest the Australia Tourism
Commission in birdwatching but again no interest. Then yesterday I
responded to a message from ATC who are having a forum on Japanese
tourism in Feb. pointing out just how big birdwatching is there. For the
first time ever I got a response to my email, from the co-ordinator.
"Your comments are valid and I have passed this onto the Industry Liaison
Dept who will be looking after segment travel. Your comments will be
on board for review in regards to the agenda format. In the meantime if
have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me."
I'll let you know if anything happens.
Rangers run the gamut. I've had some dear friends among those up here,
and many whose level of knowledge I respect. Some, not so knowledgeable
try really hard to learn. But others leave me dumbfounded like one who
responded to cries of delight from birdwatchers at Nourlangie Rock,
Kakadu when they spotted Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeons, with a bored, "Oh
those things are there all the time."
But one man, a ranger at a wellknown local park took the cake last year.
Friend Monica Yeung of Gondwana Dreaming approached him, and indicating
the Aboriginal women nearby working at their crafts, asked if they helped
in the running of the kiosk, and if any of their people were interested
in working in tourism. According to Monica the ranger was not only
disinterested but made a number of unhelpful racist and sexist remarks
along the lines of 'they'd be too stupid'. So she told him that I was a
friend and she'd get the information from me to which he replied, "That
Now I happen to know some of the Aboriginal women of that area and I
cringe to think of them trying to work with this man. The only way things
will change is if birdwatchers make themselves visible eg with a birding
card like that proposed by Ian Temby. And anyone should jump up and down
when they meet ignorance. Up here in the past it's done little good; one
ignorant tour operator officially complained about seven years ago is
still in business and people are still making the same complaints. But
as I said, times are changing.
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