Wednesday, November 25

In his masters steps – Reverence for life


Schweitzer’s world view was influenced by Spinoza, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Native American religions and aimed at providing a bridge for Christianity to be revitalized; to return to the ancient mystical links for a naturalistic worldview. His ideas embrace life (life affirmation as he calls it) to share with all living things in the world in which we live. His ideas came from his concern about civilization which he thought had lost its spiritual roots because of our lack of reverence for life as in the post enlightenment worldview which had become too reliant on reason. His philosophy was not a utopian ideal nor could it be quantifiable, as was the case for Nietzsche in terms of given values, outcomes, behaviours or morality.

Rather he encouraged a way of thinking which would return us to our spiritual roots, a way of being to share in the communal ancestry of all living things which he referred to as ethical mysticism. His thinking is much more deep seated than a casual observation might first conclude. It requires crucial self-examination, to ensure the values we hold show reverence for all living things, in respect to how we might lead more purposeful lives.  His first major work was the ‘Quest for the Historical Jesus.


The Quest for the Historical Jesus’ -


The mistake was to suppose that Jesus could come to mean more to our time by entering into it as a man like ourselves. That is not possible. First because such a Jesus never existed. Secondly because, although historical knowledge can no doubt introduce a greater clearness into an existing spiritual life, it cannot call spiritual life into existence.”

History can destroy the present; it can reconcile the present with the past; to a certain extent there was a danger that we should offer them a Jesus who was too small, because we had forced Him into conformity with our human standards and human psychology. To see that, one need only read the Lives of Jesus written since the 'sixties, and notice what they have made of the great imperious sayings of the Lord, how they have weakened down His imperative world-contemning demands upon individuals, that He might not come into conflict with our ethical ideals, and might tune His denial of the world to our acceptance of it.

Many of the greatest sayings are found lying in a corner like explosive shells from which the charges have been removed. No small portion of elemental religious power needed to be drawn off from His sayings to prevent them from conflicting with our system of religious world-acceptance. We have made Jesus hold another language with our time from that which He really held.

Schweitzer asserted that the historical Jesus stands as a concrete historical personality, but remains a stranger to our time, but His spirit, which lies hidden in His words, is known in simplicity, and its influence is direct. Every saying contains in its own way the whole Jesus.

The very strangeness and hsi non- non-judgmental way of thinking makes it easier for individuals to find their own personal standpoint in regard to Him.

Modern Lives of Jesus are too general in their scope. They aim at influencing, by giving a complete impression of the life of Jesus, a whole community. But the historical Jesus, as He is depicted in the Gospels, influenced individuals by the individual word. They understood Him so far as it was necessary for them to understand, without forming any conception of His life as a whole, since this in its ultimate aims remained a mystery even for the disciples.”  

After he had obtained Doctorates in philosophy and theology felt the call to be a jungle Doctor. It was during his time in Africa that he abandoned his incomplete work on the Mysticism of St Paul to return to the Philosophy of Civilization in an attempt to provide a philosophy which would guard against the terrors of war which he witnessed first- hand.


In his work on ‘The Mysticism of Paul Schweitzer’ argues Paul's worldview was based upon eschatology (the expectation of the imminent end of time). Jesus was to reappear to establish the prophesized new Kingdom.  

Believers literally were to become a member of the body of Christ by the mystical death and resurrection inherent in baptism.  His doctrine of being-in-Christ was meant to be taken literally, to work regardless of whether the newly baptized believer comprehended or not the process or intention.

Schweitzer demonstrated Paul's ideas were all based on a Jewish/Christian eschatology.


Schweitzer in Africa

In 1913 as a qualified Doctor he departed for Lambarene with his wife (whom he had married the previous year) and who was to be of incalculable support in the Hospital and as a research assistant over the next 40 years. His base remained at Lambarene for the remainder of his life except for internment during World War 1.

However it was the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 that triggered within him the change of heart to abandon his nearly completed work for publication on the Mysticism of St Paul and return to the Philosophy of Civilization. His writings in this book contain his famous Insight” on the "Reverence for Life” principle.

His achievements were recognized in 1952 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and later he formed collaborations with the leaders at that time including Bertrand Russell and John F Kennedy.

In 1958 he made calls on radio Oslo for the abandonment of nuclear tests and the production of atomic bombs.

He passed away in 1965 but his spirit continues today in enduring ethical thought and work.

His philosophy – Reverence for life explained in more detail

It is difficult to describe what is meant in a few sentences but his theory acknowledges the reality of our own conscious will to live and all that is around us. Reverence for Life is the end result of a fusing of ethical principles within our conscious will to live and hence world and life affirmation. It is the spiritual act in which one ceases to live unreflectively but adopts a reverence for all life in order to raise its true value. Its aim is to create values, and to realize progress of different kinds, which shall serve the material, spiritual and ethical development of mankind.

At first glance one might regard these ideas as somewhat vague but on further analysis they represent much more deep thinking than appears at the outset and his philosophy becomes very interesting. I will attempt to expand what I think he meant in a little more detail.

Firstly Schweitzer was a believer in rational thought and as a Scientist his philosophy followed a rationale that sought to find a way through the fog of the present day decay of civilization as he saw it evidenced in the ultimate horror of War. Schweitzer abhorred philosophical abstract thinking and believed in the reality of life and the will to live that enveloped all life. I am life he said ‘in the midst of all life that wills to live’.

In that respect as I mentioned in my introduction he shared similar views with Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer insofar as either adopted a will to live or will to power in recognition of our natural biological reality.

But there is where it ended for Schweitzer who contended that such a will to live in itself cannot be confused by attempting to obscure its reality with abstract values that nullify our existence or conclude that the only way forward is withdrawal from the world we live in. Hence he wanted to introduce ethics into philosophy but not of the kind that attempts to define them in the sense they become simplistic rules or represent enslavement to someone else’s abstract values. Similarly Schweitzer resisted any attempt to grade life based upon whether or not that life might have feelings which in turn would determine our ethical stance towards it but rather his ethics were based upon mysticism; a seeming contradiction in itself. Schweitzer contended the values of compassion and empathy for all living things will become self-evident when we adopt a reflective reverence for all life which in essence is a spiritual dimension based upon a practical life affirmation.

Reverence for life harnesses our emotive compassion for all living things that will to live as we will to live in our ongoing relationship in the world which will be manifested instinctively in our service to humanity.

Hence reverence for life includes a reverence for our own lives and Schweitzer was not against self defense and common sense dictating some form of killing but only as was necessary for survival.
Rather what he wanted us to avoid is the ethics of expediency.

Schweitzer’s philosophy concluded that the failure of civilization was due to the failure to show reverence to all life (not just human life) which has led to the decline of civilization and the decimation of our spirituality. In that sense his philosophy has some affinity with Buddhism concerned for all sentient beings but he also contended it made no sense for one to conclude the only sensible thing is to withdraw from the world, since his philosophy is life affirming.

Hence his insight to show reverence to all life involves a change in thinking to embrace the ethic of love in life to live our life to the fullest in the service of life within its midst and to alleviate suffering in the most practical ways possible in accord with our natural spiritual dimension or instinct in harmony with nature.

Selected Quotations and extracts

Schweitzer was also influenced by Goethe who he admired and completed 4 studies into his work.

Here is an extract …..
Goethe is well aware that in all the thoughts of guilt and guilt-consciousness with which we are occupied we are touching upon a great secret which we cannot comprehend and cannot fathom. He surmises, however, that the power which guilt seems to have over us is not appointed to destroy us, but in the end must contribute to our purification. ... When guilt begins to operate in a man he is on the way to salvation through the unfathomable secret of love, which penetrates into the darkness of earth like a beam of eternal light."

On Life

Anyone who proposes to do well must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they roll a few more upon it.

The most valuable knowledge we can have is how to deal with disappointments.

Religion & Philosophy

Any religion or philosophy which is not based upon a respect for life is not a true religion or philosophy.

It is good to maintain life and further life, it is bad to destroy life. And this ethic, profound, universal has the significance of a religion. It is religion.

When we observe contemporary society one thing strikes us. We debate but make no progress. Why? Because as people we do not trust one another.

Because I have confidence in the power of truth and of the spirit, I believe in the future of mankind.

Nature and the Environment

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world any more. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.

The deeper we look into nature the more profoundly we know that it is sacred and we are united to this life.

The effect of his writings on religious and secular communities.

His quest for truth and the spirit of “liberty” as he put it at times led him to conclusions on biblical interpretation at variance to accepted orthodoxy. Indeed they cost him some considerable hardship with the Parisian Missionary Society for his strict instructions as a Jungle Doctor was to refrain from any form of religious discourse with the locals for fear he might introduce them to some doctrinal errors.

However at the insistence of the missionaries at Lambarene the Parisian Missionary Society relented on their embargo as the realization slowly sunk in that his views in no way contradicted the simple gospel of salvation understandable by the local inhabitants.

His attitude to African culture was not to try and change their way of life to ours but to serve their physical and spiritual needs. His approach was the forerunner to to-days generally accepted missionary objectives seeking to include cultural aspects and tradition within worship and Christian life practices.

His life as a devout Christian had a profound effect on the Christian community at large as although the shadow of sacrifice hung over his life he was able to “find his life.”Whosoever loses his life for my sake shall find it”.

When he left for Africa he was prepared to make 3 sacrifices.

1. To lose his financial independence and become reliant for the rest of his life on donations from friends.

2. Discontinue his career as Concert artist.

3. Renounce academic teaching and lecturing activities.

However, to his great joy found himself in the same position.The Paris Bach Society donated a piano with organ pedals specially adapted to the tropics.

He was able to return (between long intervals in Africa) to Europe as an esteemed professional as his performances continued to grow in popularity.

He was only totally reliant on the financial help of others for a short period as his publications and acclaimed recitals soon made him financially independent.He was also highly acclaimed and sought after as a Lecturer in Europe and in the leading universities in the USA.

Effect on Society.

Schweitzer was clearly ahead of his time in calling for the human treatment of animals in medical experiments and in food production and today many such organizations continue to quote selectively from many of his publications.

His reverence for life principle continues under the Albert Schweitzer Foundation supporting ethically based aid and educational projects.His work is of appeal to any group that has a common interest in the general wellbeing of peoples around the world. However in the earlier post 2nd World War period his thoughts were of great appeal to a society ravaged by war and mindful of the need to establish a new “world order” to prevent a recurrence of past atrocities. Invitations flowed to him to give lectures abroad from world-renowned academic, ecclesiastical and musical bodies.
His view was eagerly sought after and at times he must have felt some satisfaction as it is recorded “He dashed off a letter to John F Kennedy congratulating him on his recent peace initiatives”.


His enduring legacy of thought contained within his writings on “Reverence for Life” provides a “Bridge over troubled waters” for to-days contemporary society.

Its enduring interest is in the bridge his philosophy creates between Christian orthodoxy and a naturalistic world view which contends plants, animals, and humans all interact in complex chains of interdependency, thus we are all united with nature and dependent upon it for our existence.

He was a philosopher that both acknowledged that competition and killing were essential elements to the survival of the food chain but perhaps of far greater importance was the cooperation and tolerance which have evolved in the shared struggle of survival. The ethical consideration as to ultimate sustainability can have no better focus than that aligned to the "Reverence for Life" principle. It blends in with concerns over “Mother Earth” and her ultimate sustainability in the face of depletion, waste and pollution attributable to mankind.

The missing link is the principle that establishes our conscious “will to live” that affirms our relationship with the world but requires us to create values that in turn generate outcomes sustainable to all life. In essence Schweitzer was ahead of his times and one of the first modern day philosophers to introduce to us a life affirming bio centered ethics.

The ethical basis contained within the "reverence for Life” principle is then the essence of the way forwards as the global village becomes more and more interwoven. This is essential if globalization is to become civilized and deliver benefits in a uniform manner to all mankind.

Thursday, November 12



Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the American writer, philosopher and poet stated loyalty is what you have on your "must have" list as a reference point as to character. No doubt he makes a valid point since it rates highly in what one expects in any relationship in line with such traits as kindness, empathy and strength. Yet it's not usually mentioned as a desirable attribute as we are more likely to reference such attributes as caring, kindness or appreciation and so forth, despite the fact someone being unjustifiably disloyal is highly injurious to any future relationship. Inevitably in the aftermath of what's left is a feeling of unreliability or uneasiness to fracture future trust.   


Surprisingly, also in philosophy, loyalty is a subject which is often overlooked, possibly due to the difficulty in determining principles such as whether or not it might be considered a virtue or otherwise.


Momentous events throughout history occur when loyalty to the customs and culture are suddenly jettisoned in favour of a new beginning.  One can recall the more recent hideous events such as the Cultural Revolution in China.


What has also been missing is the support provisions to individuals desirous of removing unethical practices but lacking the power or influence who then become whistle-blowers.   




For the purposes of this paper I will define it as the expression of an affinity or allegiance one feels as a devotion or dedication on a personal level.  Modern day ideas about loyalty have been expanded to include the affinity towards Institutions, group(s) or indeed to a philosophy or brands.

Examples of Loyalty is the devotion to family, the affinity to an employer, to centres of influence or service organisations and so on. Loyalty will always be contingent in the perception it has an intrinsic value of one kind or another, in compensation or in a feeling of satisfaction in terms of existential meaning.    


But already one gets the sense as to how loyalties can quickly change when relationships are placed under severe pressure. Then there can be the blind type of loyalty that wants to cover up wrongdoing. In such a culture where there is intransigence towards weeding out unethical practices at the leadership level, there is the loneliness of the whistle-blowers, who can be subjected to persecution, intimidation or retaliation of one kind or another.


This discussion paper will talk about the interaction of Loyalty in our culture and the role of the Whistle-blower   


The philosophy of Josiah Royce – Loyalty as a virtue


Josiah Royce contends loyalty relates to all of the virtues. He asserts that loyalty is linked to all of our causes as a determinant of subsequent choices. Therein we have a duty to our conscience to remain loyal to the

defining existential commitments.


Where differences in commitments arise these are to be delineated according to the loyalty principles that hold true to the morally justifiable outcomes. In this respect Biblical references talk about the impossibility of being loyal to two masters. Religious loyalty for Royce is tied to atonement as the saving grace which underpins all meaning. Loyalty is expressed in the normative, duty and consequential ethics in relationships with others to define the choices we make. 

But his idea that our will is totally defined by its loyalties would be challenged by the postmodern philosophers. In fact the will which was a term used to define our consciousness is seen as a floating amalgam of ideas that are influenced but not controlled by past loyalties. A loyalty then would dissipate if the idea of holding such allegiances no longer was perceived as having any intrinsic value. 


Changing Cultural loyalty

Cultural loyalty is embedded in societies but can be disrupted by conflict from within and external forces seizing power. More often than not the conquering empire will seek to substitute its own culture. But the more successful will only demand loyalty to the authorities in exchange for a freedom of retention of their culture unless it impinges on their power.   


One of the more notable horrendous changes in loyalty was the Great Patriotic Revolution in China of 1966. Mao inspired the Youthful Red Guards to rally against all of the ancient traditions: to tear down old customs, manners or anything connected to old culture. Hence the Cultural Revolution turned against Buddhist monasteries, Taoist Temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches which were destroyed.


Those patriots persisting with the old ways were persecuted, condemned to forced labour, imprisonments and so forth up until Mao’s death in 1976. The attitude to religion subsequently softened but this uneasy truce has been fractured once again under the present regime to give rise to the so called re training camps.  


In the modern era China has largely been secularised, spurred on by modern industrialisation and urbanisation inherent in the moves to embrace a market driven economy under the mantle of a communist state. But for the people there remains the remnants of Confucianism and other religions represented in the sense of loyalty to the family, the cosmic unity of Taoism and personal conscience of the individual. Many of the customs and manifestations of old folk style religious practices persist, unable to be squashed by many decades of communist rule. This indicates the strength of resolve that can persist where strongly held loyalties are capable of surviving in a hostile environment.  


Changing cultural influences to loyalty in terms of long service.


Turning to the west under a democratic system we nevertheless are embracing a change is our attitude to loyalty in the workforce. In the past long periods of service was a cause for celebration but staying too long with one employer today is generally regarded as a weakness. The idea of a company paying for such a celebration with a generous gift is largely related to a past era.  

The question then arises: does loyalty still make good business sense as an essential ingredient to a meaningful existence?


Decades ago we are all familiar with many working to retire and receiving typically a gold watch. But for this generation those ideas have all but disappeared and time will become the arbiter as to what benefits, if any, are forgone in the growing trend for there to be an absence of long service loyalty. Notwithstanding, the current rejection of loyalty as a value in the modern sense is already making a modest comeback as its benefits are gradually becoming identified. 

Perhaps their generation will rediscover it as if it never existed before and hail it as a new revelation. 


Consumer Loyalty and Capitalism

Value of Loyalty to customers in business

Loyalty to existing customers used to be the hallmark for good management as the cost of acquisition takes a number of years to be recovered. Today new customers more often than not are offered much better deals than existing long term customers which causes angst amongst consumers and damages the previous brand of the particular product or service. The resultant churn of business creates excessive costs and a fall in productivity that ultimately disadvantages not only consumers but investors in entities that embrace disloyalties to long serving customers. 


Cheating and unethical behaviours in a high pressure cultural environment  


When we consider aspects of human behaviours involving corruption or cheating psychologists have found healthy competition actually reduces its incidence except in very extreme cases. But where the pressure is intense such as the imposition to achieve targets that are totally unrealistic the conditions are likely to act as a catalyst to fracture loyalty and ignore ethical standards.   


Systemic Failures and a false sense of loyalty


Then there is the extent to which loyalty to ideals of good governance breaks down when a fear arises that the previous goodwill will be dissipated if the truth is revealed of systemic failures. 


Examples abound such as where scandals and wrongdoing is covered up protect the previous good name of the institution. Therein the role of the whistle blower assumes critical importance where previous avenues for remedy are not acted upon. This then is exemplified in a bad culture and errant leadership. 


Loyalty then is a feature of formative normative, duty and consequential ethics as it defines our relationships with others and ideals that determine the choices we make. Where this breaks down at the top of an organisation it can quickly permeate the ranks and the only escape can be by way of the whistle-blower.   


Brand loyalty  


The indirect relationships to services or products provided in any economy invoke a loyalty or otherwise associated with recognisable brands.

Loyalty to an institution providing generic goods or services can become sullied if false claims are subsequently proven against it. On a personal level one might say there is a propensity to remain loyal until such time as there is good reason not to be loyal. The importance of loyalty in modernity is critical as rapid changes in technology and obsolescence challenge the allegiance to well established brands of products and services. 


Employee Loyalty  


A feature of modern day capitalism involving some large or multinational firms become involved in massive layoffs where small towns and even cities can be devastated by the sudden loss of employment. Whilst some reduction in the workforce is inevitable, during downturns, the reactions often are swift and arbitrary which breeds disloyalties.

The questionable nature of these redundancies prompts one to ask how firms can continue to function efficiently in the absence of the skills and knowledge of long serving employees suddenly made redundant. 

The answer is they can’t and the response is often that the same work undertaken by the so called redundant worker becomes assigned to corresponding sub-contractors and consultancy arrangements, particularly in the government sector following continual restructuring.

Genuine reductions in labour as a consequence of productivity are a different matter entirely but their incidence has shrunk dramatically both here and abroad. This is as a consequence of the degradation in terms of loyalty extended to employment and reciprocated by those employed who fail to embrace productivity.  

Yet economists continue to scratch their heads as to why productivity is falling in the midst of a technology boom predicated on the reverse in terms of more efficient outcomes. Much of the massive rework that relates to the technology industry relates to the continual churn of employees and redundancies where technical skills and human capital is eroded.    


The Whistle-blower

Despite recent discussions outlining the importance of whistleblowing, many employees continue to be subject to retaliation after revealing wrongdoings. Once exposed the penalties imposed and loss of respect may damage many organisations whose investors bear the brunt of subsequent poor returns.


In Whistling While They Work 2 the Australian Research Council and 23 partners, and led by Griffith University's Centre for Governance and Public Policy, the three-year project surveyed 700 organisations and more than 17,000 employees, managers and governance professionals. The report comes at a time when new laws and protections are being introduced. It confirms there is still much to be done to improve how whistleblowing is managed.

Despite the importance of whistleblowing in uncovering wrongdoing, we found continuing levels of poor outcomes for whistle-blowers and the prevalence of informal, collateral impacts such as stress and isolation,” says associate professor Eva Tsahuridu, an industry fellow at the School of Accounting RMIT University, and a researcher involved on the director side of the study. “More than 80 per cent of the reporters of wrongdoing experienced some form of informal repercussion, while almost half of them suffered some form of direct retaliation.”

Sylvia Falzon FAICD, chair of Cabrini Health, says the new laws can be viewed in two ways. “The improved protections can be seen as a regulatory stick to enhance whistle-blowers protections and looking to bolster corporate responsibility — or, for those boards with a strong culture and a supportive, open and honest environment at its core, the new law is an extension to what already exists... enabling and encouraging a culture of continuous improvement.”

Tsahuridu also warns directors that organisations can suffer from overconfidence. “This overconfidence may lead boards to mistakenly think they do not have anything to be concerned about or need to improve. Governance and oversight of whistleblowing is necessary in all organisations.”

Whistle while you work



I used to advertise my loyalty and I don’t believe there is a single person I loved that I didn’t eventually betray.” – Albert Camus, the fall

The scholar does not consider gold and jade to be precious treasures, but loyalty and good faith.

CONFUCIUS, the Wisdom of Confucius

“Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.” – Confucius, the Analects

“Strength may win a kingdom, but loyalty holds it together.” – Elizabeth D. Marie, Seeking Giants

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American writer, philosopher and poet:  

Loyalty is what you have on your "must have" list as a reference point to character.

I'll take 50% efficiency to get 100% loyalty. “Samuel Goldwyn (1882-1974), American film producer.

We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence.

CORNEL WEST, Breaking Bread



Loyalty is the ingredient that underpins our culture and in the modern context involves indirect devotions or affinities to brands as well as institutions and personal relationships. That culture will be exposed to continuous pressures from internal and external sources so that safeguards to maintain ethical outcomes need to be included and strengthened by provisions to support whistle-blowers where this action is justified.

Loyalty needs to be justified by normative, duty and consequential ethics as it defines our relationships with others and ideals that determine the choices we make. 

Josiah Royce contends loyalty relates to all of the virtues. He asserts that loyalty is linked to all of our causes as a determinate of subsequent choices, whether they be small or large. Therein we have a duty to our conscience and to remain loyal to the commitments that provide a meaningful life. But one might also argue there is a need to question loyalties regularly. Over the centuries we have discarded loyalties as they have turned out to be based on false beliefs. In the postmodern world many would believe they are a continuing work in process as defined by our ongoing narrative and the moral compass we seek to follow. 
Modern day capitalism is undergoing a transformation towards improved governance which needs to continue to rediscover the benefits of establishing a committed workforce who can remain justifiably loyal.


Sunday, November 1

Call of The Reed Warbler – Messenger to the anthropogenic age


 Paul Keating once famously remarked one can always rely on self-interest when dealing with State Premiers, who will invariably yield on policy at the prospect of getting a bucket of cash. 

 Similarly the best prospect of attaining a more sustainable future for this generation and the next is to illustrate the economic benefits both now and stretching into the future, in addition to its ethical underpinnings. 

 “Call of the Reed Warbler” does that very well and has the added weight of a narrative from a lifelong farmer whose research into large scale farming both here and in similar dry continents such as in Africa is based on a combination of modern science, observation and practical experience. His concept of sustainable farming promises greatly enhanced yields based on an organic style best described as having a covenant to coexist with nature herself. 

From a purely financial perspective it is the equivalent of putting a value on your principal asset which of course is the land and those related natural resources one can call upon to ensure a natural constant rejuvenation. This is in stark contrast to the activities of the early settlers whose farming and tree clearing weakened the landscape and denied its ability to cope with naturally occurring drought. The result, only too easy to observe, are in the pictures of massive erosion and large stretches of salty unproductive land. 

In fact it raises the question of past drought declared natural disasters were more a feature of degraded lands inability to cope with an age old cycle rather than the perception of an unexpected disaster.  

This summary will be divided roughly into sections covering the author's ideas but I have also added in other material where I think it is relevant.  

Introducing the author Charles Massy – 

Massey has interviewed regenerative farmers across Australia whose stories appear alongside his own self-deprecating journey of discovery, where he talks about earlier mistakes he made using traditional farming practices that put too much pressure on the land.

His baptism of fire arose at an early age following the death of his father when he was fresh from graduating with a science degree, was thrust into the position of managing the large family Merino and cattle property. He returned much later in 2009 to the ANU to complete a PHD in human ecology.

His lifelong association with the land saw him firstly focus on genetic advisory services that ushered in a superior new type of merino sheep before turning his attention to regenerative land care management. He subsequently managed much larger properties and additionally served the local community as a bushfire captain. 

 By way of a succinct introduction to his work I am including his reported speech at an RCS Forum at Beef 2018 in Rockhampton in 2018. In a nutshell he is advocating to farmers it is their job to get out of the way of Mother Nature!   

  “It is a huge mind shift, and there was no empathy or understanding that came with that mind,” Mr Massy said. “The current industrial paradigm (is one in which) we see nature as the enemy to be dominated.”

It is only in the last 10 years, he says, that thousands of scientists around the world have put together a more complete picture of the earth’s systems and how they interact.

Industrial agriculture has been implicated in destabilising seven of those eight systems.

But counter to that is significant evidence that regenerative agriculture offers the best of all solutions to turn around those Anthropocene problems. A key message was that “you can’t fool around and interfere with one cycle without all the other ones being destabilised”.

Turning it around involves increasing ground cover and nutrient rich shrubs to get “as many solar panels on our landscape for as long as we can, to pass those sugars into the soil to build the carbon to feed the bugs and to bury those long-term carbon polymers”.

He offered several case studies to demonstrate how quickly things can be turned around – examples of country that was previously bare and flint-hard after over a century of set stocking transformed in 10 years to regenerated grassland with soft and absorbent soils, a greater variety of shrubs “which have thousands of additional nutrients in them”, collectively maximising the ‘solar panels’ on the landscape.

“Once you drive the solar you get a deeper-rooted variety of plants, more air pockets, more active soil biology, and it leads to an enormous increase in water holding,” he explained.

Several pictures demonstrated the “fence line effect”, one showing the result of three inches of rain in two hours on two neighbouring paddocks – on the set-stocked paddock the water is pouring off, on the holistically managed paddock it is all being absorbed into the soil.

“If you think about it, here we are on the driest continent on earth, where we often get hard rainfalls, and in 24 hours one neighbour triples his effective rainfall.

“It is all pretty profound stuff.”

Mr Massy said these results have been achieved in “incredibly tough” seven to ten-inch rainfall areas in Australia and South Africa and Mexico, where graziers have been able to triple their production essentially by increasing groundcover and shrubs.

One farm revegetated and measured by an ex-CSIRO scientist near Canberra for the past 30 years has been shown to have sequestered 11 times more soil carbon than its total farmed emissions in that period, and has moved soil carbon levels from one to four percent in the same time.

“A lot of the research now into these cycles shows that if we can just put one percent more carbon into the soil we can store an extra more than 140,000 litres of water per hectare just by doing it.”

Mr Massy said that with returning to scientific study after 30 years came an understanding of complex adaptive systems – earth systems, water catchments, even the world wide web – which if destabilised have a capacity because of their complexity to adjust and ‘self-organise’ back to health.

“This concept of self-organisation in natural systems and even the world wide web have an in-built capacity if they’re destabilised or if there is a new factor such as a drought or change in management, to reorganise if allowed to reorganise back to health and resilience. “

Old land and new landscapes

The Australian land mass was once part of a much larger one which remained submerged for nearly 4 billion years beneath the sea to accumulate vast salt deposits below the water table. Our soils are generally poor since the sea washed out most of the soils nutrients except for a thin rich top soil. Remarkably the Australian landscape had adapted to harness and store meagre rainfall and thrive in what would be considered untenable conditions in other countries. So that it is a fragile environment that requires a unique application of farming skills to ensure it remains sustainable.

Conventional thinking held that such a fragile land was unsuited to the existence of hard hooved animals but Massey found that animals could actually enhance the sustainable ecology of the land. Counterintuitively he discovered that as long as these animals only grazed for short periods and were moved on before exhausting the grasslands their presence actually enhanced the natural outcomes. This necessitated much smaller paddocks and the availability of water not being far away. The reason being their hooves aerated the grasslands and they fertilised the land. It was important to provide long rest periods for pastures that were able to rejuvenate. In fact properties employing this methodology actually dramatically increased their stocking levels and became impervious to drought. He also proposes mixed farming, such as cereals cropping combined with livestock which yielded superior results. The downsize is it involves a much heavier investment in fencing to support rotation, but this is more than offset by either less input or no input at all for herbicides and fertilizers.   

Questions arise over whether our finite water, land and infrastructure systems can sustain the projected level of population. Nobody has the definitive answers as there are any number of futurists willing to stake a claim both for and against Australia being able to support an increased population scenario. To reiterate, one can not only draw comfort from the stories of increased yields by Massy but equally in the positive lead from overseas countries like France and the Netherlands.

For instance France’s agroecology policy aims to move agriculture towards the objective of combining economic, environmental and social performance.

The ministry forecasts by 2025 most  French farmers will sign on to the concept, which includes practices such as rotating crops to improve soil fertility and cutting reliance on chemical fertilisers.   

Pre colonization

Living on a large island which had become separated from the mainland Australian Aboriginals are thought to have enjoyed a period of 60,000 years of isolation prior to colonization. Like many indigenous societies its oral and visual history does not reveal definitive records of changing climatic and land mass conditions although it has been gauged they were involved in extensive burning of bush land to seek out game in what is known as fire stick farming which permanently changed the landscape. 

Aborigines also engaged in some agriculture using water channels for irrigation planting of a variety of wild grains which were cultivated into regular crops. They also engaged in seasonal eel framing. They erected stone cottages where they lived during the time of harvest. There is no doubt this was a type of sustainable farming just as their seasonal food sources were guided by movements in the heavens. 

Aboriginal people would have had a very practical reason for their interest in astronomy: the sky is a calendar that indicates when the seasons are shifting and when certain foods are available, says Roslynn Haynes, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales and author of Explorers of the Southern Sky, a history of Australian astronomy.

"Constellations appearing in the sky, usually at sunrise or sunset, were very important. They helped [Aboriginal people] predict what was happening in the world around them," says Haynes.

For example, at different times of the year the Emu in the Sky is oriented so it appears to be either running or sitting down. Depending upon its position people in the western desert knew it was time to hunt for emus or collect their eggs.     

It is difficult to ascertain population levels at the time of colonization due to their rapid decimation from the newly contacted diseases and ensuing wars but estimates vary up to about a million. 

A feature of the Australian bush is many of the species require the intense heat from a bushfire for the seeds to burst from their pods to later germinate. Evidence points towards Bushfires being an integral part of our landscape for a very long period of time- possibly caused by periodic manmade burning and lightning strikes.

Many have argued the more recent tragic bush fires would not have been as ferocious had periodic large-scale burning become more widespread beforehand.

What we can learn from the aboriginals is the land owns us, not the other way around. It is only in partnership with nature that modern methods can be effective which the overarching view of the author.     

Hence, the idea is also to work in partnership with nature by setting aside connecting corridors of land and vegetation to maintain biodiversity which he ably demonstrates will sustainability enhance yields of existing land use.

A Farmers lament -Rain no longer follows the plough!

The early settlers reshaped the landscape with extensive tree felling and overgrazing by sheep and cattle unaware of the consequences of their actions as if Australia was an extension of an English county. During the early periods buoyed on by a repeat of unseasonably good rainy seasons an errant philosophy took root from successive good harvests – the rain always follows the plough.

The repeated cycle to clear the land gained momentum to the extent more and more marginal areas were opened up for farming with disastrous results. Soon landowner’s optimism gave way to despair as they were forced to walk off the land which was destitute as a consequence of the inevitable drought cycle which took them by surprise.

In the more immediate post war period the same pattern was to occur. The then liberal government created solder settlements; small farming land parcels granted to returning servicemen. Although many of these holdings through amalgamations and capital improvements continue, many were forced to walk off the land heartbroken. I remember vividly, the anger and frustration in my uncle’s voice, as a youngster staying on his farm, to hear him berate the government for their foolishness. He did everything in his power with letters and consultation, knowing full well there was never a hope in hell they could become sustainable farmers from such small uneconomic land holdings.

Fortunately today a few of these lessons have been learnt and larger scale amalgamations have occurred in most agricultural sectors to ensure farms collectively are viable holdings. However, encouragement to use irrigation for water dependent crops such as rice and cotton were examples of continued bad policies which are correctly condemned by the author

A perspective on modern day agriculture and farming in Australia

What has changed over the last few decades and identified by the author is the growing realization of a new spirit that at last acknowledges the land it is not here for us to do with it whatever we please. Rather, it is a dry fragile country that uniquely can rejuvenate itself by the propensity to retain water and vegetation plus trees to bind the soil and contain nutrients.

There currently exists a mixture of the large scale technologically based farming more reliant on chemicals versus those in favor of a more bio diversified approach that relies more on nature for its sustainability. But overall, despite our poor beginning most farmers today are becoming more environmentally minded and intent on preserving the land in perpetuity for future generations. One aspect I think that has tremendous potential to continue to yield outstanding results is Land Care.

Local LandCare groups ensure farms are not only sustainable, but set aside corridors of up to 12% of the land as sanctuaries for nature. Land Care, introduced in 1989, is an exciting government funded initiative which enables groups to receive grants and technical advice to help better maintain the native landscape and set up the vital corridor sanctuaries which interlink the properties within each respective land care group. There are 4,000 community LandCare Groups currently engaged at many different levels. Such moves facilitate improved farm yields.

Australia’s approach to farming is diverse, like the physical landscape itself. According to the author the future for the bush in the sheep and wheat belt, represents an ecological opportunity. Hard evidence exists where the rejuvenate methods are being employed the resultant higher yield and improved landscape will surely lead to a transformation in the agricultural sector.

To reiterate the need for smaller paddocks and more intense use (but not to degrade the vegetation) are suggested by Massy as methods that mimic the past rejuvenated outcomes inherent in nature. Paradoxically the thrust of evidence points to more intensive stocking of animals. That is based on smaller areas of stay for short durations, but not sufficient to denude the grassland. But the key is to allow a longer recovery period afterwards. This is in contrast to the traditional large scale paddocks and only occasionally moving stock once the area has been exhausted of its sustainable grassland. Rather obviously this will involve investment in additional fencing or a way found of corralling animals in smaller areas. It's of equal importance areas are not left too long without the imprint of animals which the author proposes can be so organised to mimic the prior effects of grazing wildlife. 

It is in effect facilitating a relationship with nature that one seeks to attain and for which yields will continue to surprise on the upside.   

The anthropogenic age

A feature which distinguishes us from the animal world is our innate ability to tell stories about ourselves

But it is only over the past several decades we have realized the extent of the severe climatic instability and uncertainty that underpinned our evolutionary journey over the past few million years. What we can say with a high degree of certainty, is we prospered due to an extraordinary ability to alter the landscape and adapt.

In turn, that shaped us in our evolving identity, in the sacred practices, values and expressions of what it is to be human. That is; ‘the sense of self’. 

So here we are in the Age of Humans, known as the Anthropocene, a new era with attendant greater risk for sustainability requiring another narrative.       

This is the message of Massy who cites the error of the mechanical mindset, a legacy of the enlightenment philosophes such as René Descartes.        

What is it that can lead us to a new moral sense of meaning in this new world? This provides plenty of room for discussions and rather obviously the impetus it also makes much more economic sense to change practices and policy.

Is there a link between culture and our survival and if so what is it?

Does our moral sense of empathy need to change?

Is it essential to develop new values to ensure one engages in a meaningful way.

Ultimately that comes down to politics and behaviors because the Anthropocene is of our making. We have, in the past, changed ourselves, in tandem with adaptations to the new environment, so in this age that needs to be repeated with a much greater sense of urgency.

The Author is appealing for this change away from the mechanical mindset that prevailed no so long ago and mostly continues, although encouraging signs are emerging.     

Understanding the water cycle, soil and ecosystems 

The thirsty camel and water shortages

Most of us love water which is possibly the most valuable of all resources – to enjoy the refreshing sea, river, stream or lake. But the bulk of our fresh water resides in the polar ice caps which are now threatened by global warming. Water occupies about 70% of the earth’s surface and is 75% of our human body mass.
The author points to improved vegetation to avoid excessive runoff. This is achieved by natural grassland and landscape contours sculptured into the land to facilitate catchment areas. The connecting corridors of vegetation complements biodiversity and riparian zones that interface the land to the rivers and streams, to create rich vegetation made up of hydrophilic plants.

But as Australia is the driest continent on planet earth and given a continuation of the over use of water, it is not surprising shortages have remained one of the most crucial of issues. The question asked frequently is how one can best support a burgeoning population demanding more water from dwindling sources.   

One of the worst areas affected is our largest river the Murray which has seen the corruption of measurers introduced to increase the so called environmental water flow, depleted by irrigation.

The Murray flows along the eastern side of South Australia, and part of the New South Wales and Victoria borders. Irrigation from the Murray sustains this region which produces 50% of Australia’s fresh fruit and vegetables, but at a terrible cost to the river and its ecosystem. Although flows improved with flooding, earlier periods have resulted in degradation to the extent there was so little water remaining in the once mighty river its flow was insufficient to carry any fresh water into the ocean.

This environmental position for the river, if practices had been allowed to draw out unstainable amounts for irrigation, would have a devastating effect on its biology, eliminating many species dependent upon brackish waters.   

But the future for the Murray Basin exists for both sustainable agriculture combined with the preservation of swamp land, vegetation and trees essential to biodiversity that will support that landscape.  

Overall we are slowly learning from past mistakes and some progress is being made. For instance the per capita use of water in Australia has reduced over the past few years. In 2019, according to the Department of Meteorology, the nation used 10 % less water per capita than the previous year. Groundwater storage has remained steady over the past decade after falling precipitously over previous periods. 

Soil management and avoiding the ravages of drought     

To reiterate as per previously outlined Massy maintains if we want to avoid the ravages of drought it is essential to rotate stock regularly. This is the key as the grass protects the soil and enhances health whilst facilitating the plants ability to trap water and provide housing for natural pest control.

He also talks about drilling as opposed to the more invasive ploughing of fields in preparation for sowing that underpins solar power as in photosynthesis with less reliance on fertilisers and herbicides. . 


Massey provides plenty of food for thought and an air of positivism that we can in fact farm sustainably and at the same time become much more profitable.

The world needs a new transformative narrative that has to be tailored individually to each country's or regions ecological settings. I would like to see more research funds supportive of advancing these ideas, inclusive of the flexibility for some modification in the process.

I don’t think Massy thinks this is the only one best way. Such is the complexity of nature that learning more about its remarkable creative power is never going to present an absolute answer. But we can achieve far better outcomes than the past sometimes woeful practices have delivered. The proof is in the pictures and narrative both here and abroad, as his narrative ably suggests. They suggest it is morally reprehensible to continue down the traditional road when we know it isn’t working and there exists evidence based science of viable alternatives.  

Lindsay Byrnes 31/10/2020 

For further reading and references

Charles Massy | ANU Fenner School of Environment & Society

Transforming landscapes - Griffith Review

Beef Central Forum


Creating a sustainable Murray-Darling