Terraforming: managing the planet to order

August 17, 2011

A recent ad on Australian tv, which markets a land developing company – you know, the kind that create whole new suburbs to sell their house and land packages – begins with a typical Australian landscape covered in what looks like native grasses. These are then magically removed – almost shorn from the land – along with all the rocks, in a cgi makeover. Next, the now almost desert-like aridity is transformed to lush green grass; pleasantly undulating slopes are built in, or rather ripple like waves across the land, to be coated in ampitheatre style concrete steps; vibrant new shrubs adorn the curved and tiled paths; newly created wetlands are dug out of the ground, to be traversed by quaint wooden bridges; and as the camera pulls back towards a wider perspective on the newly created scene, the voiceover explains how it is all created with families in mind and lifestyle choices for everyone, “with space to explore, and grow; to connect, and unwind.”

I won’t give the company extra advertising by naming them, but the ad is called “Bringing Land to Life.” By the time the manufactured lakes are filled, streets have been added to the scene, which is now an entire suburban sprawl community complete with light traffic, schools and buildings for business. It’s all about, the pleasantly voiced spokesman tells us, “a neighborhood you’ll want to call home.” The first time i saw this as i was horrified. I love the Australian land and it looked as if it had been stripped bare and redesigned by a conservative hairdresser with access to advanced playing blocks, lots of plastic and no imagination except for what had been sold to them by a lifetime of television and corporate brainwashing. Then i tried an experiment, and watched it another time as if it were actually a pleasant makeover and i was a potential homeowner. It looked great. I could totally imagine myself, wife and 2.4 children settling in, wandering the parklands, feeding the ducks (not processed bread though, tut tut), and clipping the hedges.

This vision didn’t last long for me, before my original revulsion, now tempered by my newfound maturity (read: apathy in the face of the overwhelmingly popular mood that supports such developments), returned, this time turned down a notch to something like simple distaste. And, as always, i’m driven to write by my care for the land. Is this how we are going to keep thinking about the ecosystem? As a blank slate for our desires? So that we can all accept being molded to the same middle class, conventional lifestyles – with choices, of course – with the only other animals left to bother us our domesticated pets and the semi-tame ducks attracted to the otherwise anaesthetised “wetlands,” with the only plants left the ones that charmingly adorn the borders of our living arrangements… It is nature stripped bare and remodelled for the only creatures that matter, attracted to the sales pitch on the living room propaganda machine, concerned for our children and their education, convinced that the wastelands outside our cities are improved by house and land package developers.

The dominant way of thinking still buys this imagery, presumably. I think that is sad, old-fashioned, wasteful and stupid in the face of what we know about environmental degradation and the need for species biodiversity. I’m not saying we should only build rudimentary humpies out of fallen bark and get right back to nature; but surely there is a place for starting to think about the way we develop land that doesn’t strip it bare in order to plonk this shake ‘n bake manufactured plasticine doll manufactured lifestyle all over it? Human societies have got to get out of this habit of creating monocultural hives everywhere they go. It’s time to let nature have more of a say in the way we develop land – time to practice more loyalty to biodiversity and the needs of life, land, plants and animals beyond ourselves and our own selfish desires.



  1. Very good article! This blank slate mentality can also be used by the greens/permaculturalists etc who see land as being primarily to provide our needs. We do need to allow nature to have a stake in how things progress – the “silent” stakeholder needs to be at the table.

    • Hmm, thanks, i hadn’t really thought about the related issue of food for/and from the land as having the same kind of flattening effect. I guess i retain a certain admiration for the way permaculture attempts to cut out at least some of the carbon miles taken to process and deliver food to our megashop outlet bit of everything in plastic franchises. I wonder how a permaculture might look if it sat with your idea for a while?

  2. Yes, we have a larger version of this encroaching our wilder ways: quarter acre block divisions which, for the usual reasons of control and fear, require the complete removal of the existing rainforest and all the top soil, and then some manicured manufactured alternative imposed that requires acres of mown grass and the minimum building requirements of three car garage and air-conditioned electrification.

    • Thanks for the response. Where is the area you write about? The flattening effect of the ad makes it look like almost any of those kind of whole-suburb at once developments almost anywhere in the country (just change the clearing operation guidelines to suit), but i think it also looks like western australia to me. Melbourne has certainly not been shy to sprawl out over many more miles over recent years, although i think some developments are better than others at retaining at least a vestige of what was there before.

  3. tSpring me out of Caroline Springs, Caroline

    I had these dreams I’m in Soweto, around my neck a flaming tyre
    I blame it all upon the Government’s special grant for first home buyers
    We started out like any couple, but she felt trapped and left me
    I just sit here by the perimeter walls and wonder why

    Spring me out of Caroline Springs, Caroline

    We could run wild and free, nobody could tame us
    Just you and me and my repayments, Caroline

    My binge drinking was the problem, the towns folk gave me the cold shoulder
    I never was much good at mixing, here they all drank burbon and cola
    There’s this silence now shes left me, just mozzies on the man made river
    I miss birds singing in the morning, but theres no trees, so they don’t live here

    Spring me out of Caroline Springs, Caroline

    Come rescue me,
    I’m only twenty minutes from the CBD
    If you drive at 250,

    I see you at the office printer I guess that you dont even know me
    You work with the girls who think they’re it, I’m with the boys in IT
    They say you grew up on the golden mile, moved to Fitzroy just to slum it
    Now the market value is soaring high, come where its guaranteed to plummet

    Spring me out of Caroline Springs, Caroline

    Spring me out of Caroline Springs, Caroline
    Theres all these screaming kids, I’m ankle deep in crèches
    Get me out of here before they’re all teenagers, Caroline
    Caroline, Caroline, please Caroline, Caroline, Caroline

  4. Root the Band

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