Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Review: The Noosa Story (1979), Nancy Cato

As a Noosa Heads resident, Nancy Cato experienced first-hand the overdevelopment of her domicile during the 1960s and -70s. As a writer and activist she was alert to its tenor and texture and was capable of framing it, in prose, in such a way as to generate disaffection in others.

But the story is flawed by the same curious double standard I have found while reading histories of Queensland. While the author deplores the way aborigines were forced off the land and killed indiscriminately for being "cheeky", she nevertheless applauds the resilience and fortitude of the early settlers in their efforts to tame the environment and make a living from the same land.

So you have the situation where, from the point of view of the aborigines the White Man was the aggressor but from the point of view of the development era of the 1970s the early settlers and their living descendants are the ones being disadvantaged because their intelligent stewardship is being eroded by capital. Cato wants to have her cake and eat it too.

NIMBY luvvies are thick on the ground, now, in 2009. If this book had been written in recent times it would just appear to be an unmediated gripe about the evils of development. But it was published in 1979, an era when concerns about global warming and aboriginal rights were the province of an elite few.

Cato was one of the elite. But she was also a dedicated Noosaite, an old-school radical surrounded by beauty and greed, rapacious developers and the great-grandchildren of the men and women who first settled the area in the mid-19th century. She inhabited Noosa Heads but her outlook was global and national. She was one of the elect, a soldier in the trenches of the evolving struggle for the hearts and minds of the blind majority. This book is part of her manifesto.

Cato was awarded an order of Australia in 1984 for services to literature and the environment. She also participated in the Jindyworobak Movement, which sought to promote aboriginal poetry. The movement started in Adelaide, Cato's home town.

Cato's love of the bush, of unsealed roads and fish-filled estuaries, is a refreshing wake-up call for Sunshine Coast residents sick of endless rows of white, 20-storey apartment blocks perched like refrigerators on foreshores all along the coast. Her sometimes-strident account of the bad ol' days of the 1970s, when Bjelke Joh sat, like a bloated cane toad, in George Street, oozes appeal.

This once remote and beautiful area, populated by a few fishermen and farmers, has deteriorated visually and aesthetically. However it is not only tourism that is to blame. It is our own apathy, our seflishness and greed, our indifference to what is happening to our environment, that have led to the rape of Noosa.

But the book is more than a partisan diatribe. It tells us that Noosa Heads has always been a resort area, initially servicing the rich and powerful of the Gympie goldfields: engineers, bankers and merchants. They set up holiday retreats in Noosa and Sunshine Beach. The main economic centre, until quite recently, was Tewantin, a town a couple of kilometres up-river with access to a rail spur on the Gympie line.

Noosa was developed earlier than more-southerly Maroochydore, possibly because its river was fully navigable from the sea, whereas the Maroochy River mouth is clogged by sand bars that make it navigable only for small craft like runabouts and dinghies. At Noosa, trees logged further upriver were floated downstream and loaded onto ships for transportation to Brisbane and other ports to the south.

The book also contains plenty of photos that help to chronicle the past, and highlight the changes that have taken place since Noosa started to be viewed through the gimlet eyes of Southern developers. It is a valuable book to have if you're interested in the history of this lovely area, this Noosagatta.


Anonymous said...

This is an appalling put down.
Sour grapes come to mind.

Anonymous said...

You are right. The book is sour grapes from an old lady that wants to keep her piece of paradise from the world. Byron bay and the grey army come to mind when reading this book. Absolutely no objectivity involved in writing it however the photos are great.