Nothing polarises the Daintree Rainforest community more than the issue of power connection.
Why? In brief, we survive on limited renewable energy and diesel generators. This has been the status quo since the first settlers arrived in the late 19th century, and the issue of power has been hammered out for decades.
Whichever side of the debate they choose, there’s no doubt that for most of the 800 people inhabiting the coastline north of the Daintree River, it’s high time for a solution.
The purpose of this article is to focus on the human story that’s rarely told – to move beyond the ideology and politics that sweep the debate like fire, absorbing all the oxygen. The key to the solution must lie in the lived experience of Daintree Rainforest residents.
Living Off Grid – A Nice Idea
When I came to live in Cape Tribulation as a resident some four years ago, I was what you might call ‘anti power’. In other words, I was against any attempt to connect the Daintree Rainforest to a power grid.
By placing my confidence in renewable energy, I was effectively condoning the use of diesel generators to run businesses, and accepting that families were unable to sell their homes because banks won’t lend on properties with no mains power.
Accepting these as necessary truths, I went about meeting locals, dining at their homes and running a business while being mindful of our carbon footprint.
An environmentalist at heart, I elected to put my head in the sand when it came to the fact that many residents did not have the means, either financial or practical, to achieve a solid renewable energy solution.
Further, given the fact that 500,000 visitors come looking for Daintree Rainforest tours and accommodation each year, resorts and local businesses could not cater for their needs with renewable energy alone.
The Stories That Changed My Mind
Then I met Debbie (real name changed). Her family came to the Daintree Rainforest in 1976, well before the Daintree was listed as a World Heritage site. When Debbie’s family purchased 17 acres here, they were advised that power was coming.
So they worked for many years to build a business and re-vegetate their land with native trees that were nonexistent when they arrived. Over many decades they have taken care of cassowaries and made a commitment to the Daintree Rainforest. In short, this place is their home.
Debbie’s husband has now passed away and she runs the business by herself. At 64 years old, it’s becoming hard now to service a generator, fill it with fuel and maintain it. Debbie also needs a phone and refrigeration for her medicine.
With all the vegetation that has taken hold on the property, there is no clear space for solar panels or any other source of renewable energy.
Yet Debbie pays her taxes like everyone else; she and her family have rebuilt an area that was once desolate into a thriving part of the Daintree Rainforest. Who then has the right to tell her that (a) she should move or (b) she should not have the same reliable electricity supply as someone south of the Daintree River?
Another real human story that is common in this region is of the family who need to move south so that their children can go to high school. But they can’t sell their home because they are not connected to the grid which means the banks lend on a much lower percentage. So the family is forced to endure a two-hour commute every day.
These are the stories that changed me.
Are We OK With This?
The issue of power cannot be decided on ideology. The pro-power versus anti-power prism of thought is far too simplistic. There is a human level, a human decency that is missed in this entire debate.
Do we as a society think it is fair for Debbie, a 65-year-old woman, to look after her own energy needs? Do we as a society think it is fair that a family unable to sell their home have to travel so far to provide a decent education for their children?
Once we face up to the real human story, no reasonable person can suggest the current situation is fair or that living off grid is viable. Those who maintain that free power is only a solar power panel away are completely ignoring the societal impacts.
The issue of bringing power to the Daintree can only be dealt with effectively once all factors have been taken into account, and surely the human factor should be right up there.
To find out more about the region, go to Daintree Rainforest.