The environmentalist and politician Bob Brown gave this farewell speech on the day that a firestorm threatened to overrun the last outpost of humanity, a small settlement in Tasmania’s south-east.
Are you OK? Is everyone OK back there? Alright then, let’s rest here awhile.
First, I want to thank all of you – my fellow Earthians – for being here with me today. You’ve come so far, achieved so much, to be here this afternoon. To the survivors of last summer’s Victorian holocaust, I salute you. Those who made it here after Sydney was cut off from food supplies, who escaped the slaughter of Surry Hills, I can only imagine the horrors you have seen. And the orphans whose parents sacrificed everything to get them here as Brisbane went under, I’m sorry we couldn’t do more for you. All of you have contributed so much to our little community, and I thank you all for your self-sufficiency, your resilience and your undimmed hope.
Well, this isn’t is how I hoped to say goodbye to you. But the fire is coming – it’s just over that hill – and it looks like today we’re going to have to do that. Say goodbye. There’s so much more I wish we could have done. But in the end – because it does look like the end is here – we still have an awful lot to be grateful for. All our days on this wonderful Earth. We still have some tea, don’t we? That Kevin Rudd blend? Yes, thanks, that would be lovely.
I’m sure you all have your own memories you hold dear: the things we’ve done, the people we’ve been. What do they matter, now that the minds they’re held in are about to become dust? No one will come after us to read our books, watch our films, water our gardens or wrap themselves in the blankets we’ve knitted. We have only a few hours left to relive the time we first saw our baby’s fingers curl around our own, and then that memory will, along with us, be gone. I can’t say I’ll miss being told that people like me were too perverted to raise children – but hey, it was something, wasn’t it, to have had this life? To have known, seen, felt so much. Trevor Chappell’s underarm bowl. Kate and William’s wedding. The Big Banana. Camp Gallipoli. Economic rationalism has given us so much.
Still, it hasn’t all been defeat. You know how much it meant to me that we got so close to world democracy towards the end there; so close to kicking off that brilliant global career in togetherness. Remember when my colleague in the Senate told me it would never be a goer? Good old Freddie – does anyone know what happened to him in the end? Really? That’s horrific! Well, fate works its surprises in both directions and I certainly take some comfort in that. . . . Where was I? Oh, yes: ‘Do you know how many Chinese there are, Bob?’ he said. I knew how many there were. Well, round about. I couldn’t have said exactly. But I’m not sure he was questioning my mathematical prowess. I think his point was there were far too many Chinese for his taste. At any rate, I suppose what he was saying was that it just doesn’t do to hand votes out willy-nilly. Look at what happened in South Africa: you give everyone the vote and some black bloke ends up running the place. Imagine adopting that globally! One person, one vote – well, we’d be bound to end up represented by a Chinese fellow, wouldn’t we? Or, God forbid, an Indian. Better off, he reckoned, letting the multinationals figure it out between themselves. One share, one vote, ‘a new birth of freedom . . . so that government of the people, by the Board, for their profit, shall not perish from the Earth’, as I’m sure Abraham Lincoln would have said had he won a seat in the 2013 federal election.
Well, government of the people has perished, or it soon will. I can hear the fire now. I suppose the wind must have changed. Those embers aren’t good news; we’ll need to get going soon. I’m sorry to say that it looks like none of us will be here to see whatever the Earth dreams up next. But someone will be here to see it. Not the tigers – the tigers are gone, of course; the tiger quolls too, though that didn’t make quite the same splash. No more penguins or prawns or pied oystercatchers; no oysters to catch, for that matter. But we shouldn’t be so selfish as to think the end of us is the end of it all. Optimism, friends! Optimism, fellow Earthians! There are endless species ready to step in where we have failed.
I’d always hoped that once we reached the state of one human, one vote that we’d pause for a moment, congratulate ourselves and then realise that we had come, still, such a little way. What about everyone else? What of all our fellow travellers on this small blue dot?
One creature, one vote: it was my fondest hope. We all have to live here; it seems to me we should all get a say in how the joint is run. I’m sorry I didn’t get to campaign on this point. Andrew Bolt would have had a heart attack; I mean, had he survived the Eastern Suburbs Sewage System Explosion. What hilarious columns he would have written: ‘Bob “Bonkers” Brown demands ant-sized ballot papers for insect voters’. And I can hear the House of Reps now. How would we tell the difference between the celery-top pine candidates? And how would they even make their way to Parliament House, Bob? You wouldn’t want us to have to cut ’em down and chuck ’em on a flatbed would you, Bob? Thank goodness the country was run for so long by such rational, level-headed folk. We can look around us now and revel in the wonderful society they’ve created. Jemima, I think Oliver’s hat is on fire. You might need to stop it spreading to his hair.
Of course, Canberra is gone now and all of the honourable members and the press gallery with it. I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Instead, I’ll explain why today is a happy day, and not just because we’ve lost the Murdoch press. It is a hopeful day, the start of a wondrous journey into the enticing centuries ahead. We may be the last outpost of humanity, but we are not the last intelligent life. Humans have done wonderful things; of course we have. I think fondly of Middlemarch and Edith Campbell Berry, of New York’s Chrysler Building and Launceston’s Holyman House, of the songs of Eric Bogle, Paul’s buttered scones, hot baths and GORE-TEX boots: I’m not diminishing our magnificent achievements. But on what appears to be our final day it is important we remember that we are really not that special, and that our ordinariness means we are not alone.
Humans have always searched the stars, run our radio receivers over far-distant galaxies in the hope of hearing a blip, a peep, some stoic signal that has travelled hundreds, thousands of light years to tell us there is someone else out there. Up, up, away – we have always cast our eyes heavenwards. But life is here, fellow Earthians. It is all around us. Intelligent life; loving life. We have longed for someone we could talk with and never stopped for a moment to learn the language of the creatures who surround us.
The dolphins are gone now, the whales too. We had so many opportunities to learn from them and they from us. We could have joined forces, shared our experience of life on land, discovered the intricacies of life underwater. We missed those opportunities but, more importantly, the universe has now lost them too. We enslaved the pigs to keep them quiet; we won’t see a porcine empire on Earth any time soon. We could have learned, surely, a little from our primate cousins, but instead we sacrificed the bonobo, the chimp, the gorilla for mobile phones and tablet computers. As the wonderful Mr Vonnegut once said, so it goes.
Still, despite the destruction, all is not lost. The cuttlefish, you see, give me hope. The octopuses, ever-evolving, that wily Common Sydney Octopus extending its range and demanding a rebrand as the Common Freycinet Octopus – they give me hope too. And the squid. These cephalopods, with their advanced problem-solving skills, their complex communication and their ability to get used to warmer water and shifting prey. We pride ourselves on our intellectual abilities, but the ocean has clever creatures to rival what we’ve achieved. The world may lose humanity, but the grand experiment of intelligent life on Earth is not over with our passing; how arrogant of us to ever think it would be.
And intelligence isn’t everything. Of course, we value it: it’s what sets us apart. But it is just one of the many brilliant strategies for survival that evolution has developed. Cooperation is just as important. Empathy; care for your fellow creatures. Who knows what kinds of minds are yet to come? New species for this new world, the descendants of today’s algae, cockroaches, pine beetles, mosquitoes and snakes. Remember there was a time when the dinosaurs would have scoffed at our ancestors: they’d have looked down on our little ratty forebears the way we dismiss the lives of houseflies and chooks. But look around you – look at the faces of your friends and your family, those beautiful smiles, those treasured hands and eyes – and see how far those little rats have come. If we can be sure of one thing it is that evolution will bring fresh miracles, a joyride of new life.
It’s getting hot, isn’t it? I think it’s time to go. Has everyone had something to drink? Good.
Push on towards the water, friends. Battery Point might make it through – that old sandstone has seen a lot in its time. You might yet live to see tomorrow. But even if you don’t, this isn’t the end of us. Remember Kevin Gilbert’s immortal words, ‘Creation flows to me, through me, within me . . . the universe is part of me as I am part of it.’ We are not just our species – we are a tiny segment of the whole brilliant experiment of life on Earth, our DNA shared almost entirely with every other living creature. We are tangled up with everything that has been and that ever will be. As long as something lives, we live too.
Go well. Head for Salamanca Place. I’ll stay here in case there are stragglers. Hurtling to death, friends, I am alive.
This project was made possible by support from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund