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The Future Of The Kimberley - Vestey Revisited?

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Ned K.

The Kimberley country in the north of Western Australia is rich in rugged natural beauty, cultural history and significance to indigenous peoples. Parts of the Kimberley have been taken over by big cattle station owners, mostly foreign owned corporations following in the footsteps of the notorious Vestey in the Northern Territory. Vestey of course met its match when the Gurindji workers went on the now famous and successful strike at Wave Hill cattle station.

Now in 2016, the Kimberley is following an increasing trend in Australia of ownership of land by a new player on the "Who owns Australia?' stage. 

On 3 August 2016, the Australian ran a story on the purchase of Carlton Hills cattle station in the Kimberley by Chinese company Shanghai Zhong Fu. The Shanghai based corporation bought the 476,000 hectare cattle station from a British multinational, Consolidated Pastoral Company for about $100 million. 

There is a certain irony represented in this change of ownership, albeit within the "imperialist families". British imperial interests in land ownership stretch back to the colonial invasion of the continent from the late 1700s and 1800s. Back then the only "Chinese interests" in Australia were not big landowners but individuals seeking to make something out of the gold rushes in Australia. Many of them stayed in Australia to build their lives and have enriched Australian life, despite extraordinary racist treatment stretching over many decades.

New Kids on the Imperialist Block

However, will the latest "Chinese kids on the block" such as the new Shanghai Zhong Fu corporation contribute in the same way as their fellow country persons from the 1800s?

Or will the profit motive drive what they do, leaving the Kimberley a worse place with cash crops and environmental damage, not to mention export of profits for a new capitalist class in Shanghai?

According to the Australian, the change in ownership of Carlton Hill is 'opening the way for massive new cropping development and food processing in the Ord irrigation region on an unprecedented scale" in the Kimberley. The new owners trading as Kimberley Agricultural Investment plan to grow sugar, cotton, sorghum, chia and other grain crops as well as build food processing factories in Kununurra. Most of the production will be for export to China. It will create jobs, but for whom is not yet known and under what working conditions?

The Chinese government many years ago published via an article in Beijing Review called "Peaceful Rise" in which it claimed that it intended to "match" the western imperialist powers in the area of overseas investment and purchase of land and businesses in overseas countries. The article said this would be done in a way that was of mutual benefit to the Chinese and the peoples of the countries in which they practiced their economic expansion and that would not lead to imperialist war or environmental destruction.

If this is true, then the new owners of Carlton Hills, Shanghai Zhong Fu, will agree to all demands and concerns about their latest 'development' plans raised by the Indigenous people of the Kimberley, of course! 

If they do not, they will be seen by the Indigenous people and the great majority of Australian people as being no different to Lord Vestey of the early to mid-20th Century. 

They would do well to read history of Australia and listen to the music of Paul Kelly and his song "From Little Things Big Things Grow"! 

As that song tells so well, imperialist plunder whether under the guise of "peaceful rise" or some other term, is bound to fail.


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