Hopes and dreams for a fragile homeland

Rose Elu

From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia www.archive.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

Torres Strait Island Elder Aunty Rose Elu reports on her time in Paris during the first week of the COP21 climate change negotiations. The trip was sponsored by the Australian Anglican Board of Mission and the Climate Frontlines collective of Friends of the Earth Brisbane.

I thank those who supported my trip and my activities in Paris. It was a thrilling yet scary experience to present to thousands of people, passing on stories and information about the impacts of climate change in the Torres Strait. I drew strength from the fact that I wanted the world to know what’s happening in my local area. It was an honour to be able to point out that what people are worrying about in remote parts of the world, like our brothers and sisters in the Marshall Islands, is actually happening right now in our own backyard.

In Paris, I had the opportunity to deliver a Powerpoint presentation about climate change in the Torres Strait and attended many events. Some highlights of my week at COP21 include:

  • holding a private lobby meeting with Australian Environmental Minister Greg Hunt to discuss Torres Strait and climate change issues. This meeting saw the Minister commit to new Torres Strait island research and an ongoing partnership,
  • delivering the keynote speech at a press conference for affected communities,
  • attending meetings of official Australian climate negotiating team and asking questions about impacts on the Torres Strait,
  • speaking at the Citizen Climate Conference on climate impacts on the Torres Strait and Indigenous peoples,
  • participating in meetings and events of the Friends of the Earth International delegation,
  • an interview with Real World Radio (www.radiomundoreal.fm),
  • attending sessions and networking with interfaith groups present at COP21,
  • participating in Paris Cop21 mobilisations, included the human chain for climate action on 29 November, and
  • attending COP21 official negotiations and side events on Indigenous rights at the COP 21 venue during the five days of the conference.

The pictures in my Powerpoint of the impacts in the Torres Strait were very shocking to many who saw them. I am happy to report that the Australian federal environment minister Greg Hunt commented on the shocking nature of the photos and made personal comments to me. Those comments were heart-warming. It was encouraging to see a personal, emotional response from one of our own politicians who actually has the power to respond. The question now is: what will it take to get the response needed to address the following:

  • our trees failing to bear any more fruit because the soil is now too salty,
  • other foods not growing healthy anymore on my home island of Saibai and other places in the TSI, and
  • loss of grave sites and land to the sea when we get storm surges.

I’ll be waiting to see what action our government’s words will produce. The test from my perspective will be how well they recognise that some of us Australians are losing our homes, our land, grave sites, sacred sites, and ancient historical places of great importance to the people of Australia.  

So far the government has thrown a few thimblefuls of cash at a gigantic problem, giving us false hope. We need seeds of hope that can grow into trees producing real fruit. As an Indigenous woman from the Torres Strait I am conscious of how small and fragile my hopes and dreams are. We need to see the seeds of hope grow and multiply to compete with the hopelessness and powerlessness many feel in this battle for the wellbeing of the planet we all call home.