Nature-Human Relationship 14 May 2024

William Lines


William (Bill) Lines has written numerous books on history, nature and conservation in Australia and is referenced often in T10, most particularly Section 5.9.

Always courageous and forthright, it is pleasing to note that his fine contribution is not at an end and he has just released another book – ‘Romancing the Primitive’ – which seeks to understand the latest environmental fashion or trend in Australia, and indeed around the world, that of indigenous environmentalism, or as Bill puts it, the myth of the ecological aborigine. This new wave of environmentalism has risen to dominance extraordinarily quickly, much of it after I finished writing the first iteration of T10 and I see it, at least in my home country, as the fourth wave of environmentalism, following on from: 1. Conservation; 2.  Sustainability; and 3. Climate Change.

‘Romancing the Primitive’ offers a fascinating read, covering in its 220 pages the roots of this religion in Western thought and its rise to pre-eminence, but if you do not have the time to read the whole thing, I suggest reading the Introduction which is just seven pages, but outlines most succinctly Bill’s withering deconstruction of this extraordinary present-day obsession.

Similarly for those short of time, a synopsis of the book has been provided by the publisher and is reproduced here:

“This book is about civilisation’s discontents, those who have idealised people outside of civilisation, imagining they lead happy, fulfilling lives at peace with one another and in harmony with the world around them. For most of this time, romanticising this ‘other’ constituted one strand in the thick rope of Western thought and reflection and knowledge of the human heart. Today, however, romanticising the primitive dominates Australian intellectual and cultural life, becoming an obsession and virtually a religion. The once single fibre now constitutes almost the entire rope.

“Romancing the Primitive: The Myth of the Ecological Aborigine traces the roots of this religion, surveying primitivism — the unending revolt of the civilised against civilisation — from Hesiod to Tacitus, from the Medieval Church to Montaigne, from Rousseau to the twentieth-century Australian environment movement and its apotheosis in the works of Henry Reynolds, Bill Gammage, Bruce Pascoe, and Peter Sutton.

“Romancing the Primitive defends science against superstition and liberalism against thralldom, seeking to reinstate genuine intellectual inquiry and discovery and build debate on real information. Along the way, the narrative critically visits the Uluru statement, the High Court and education in Australian schools and universities.”

Copies of ‘Romancing the Primitive’ can be obtained here:

At first glance inclusion of ‘Romancing the Primitive’ may seem a strange inclusion in T10 as T10’s central focus is always Nature and the natural world. But, a moment’s further thought reveals how important the above is to the conservation of Nature all over the world. Is this ‘fourth wave’ of environmentalism beneficial to this objective, or a hindrance? Very sadly, I think it is and will increasingly turn out to be, the latter, but that is the subject for a fuller article at a later day.

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