Martin Knox was born in
He worked in the
He settled in
He wrote full-time for several years a published course in Senior Multi-strand
Science and went on to teach it on-line to distance education students.
Outside writing, he is active in public decision-making on development, population, growth, water and resources issues.
Abajoe had cared for them all their lives and yet they did not trust him at all. Sudden death was in their future. A white doe poised for flight, whiskers twitching and pink eye scrutinising his upper half, above the stable door of the lounge. What could she see of him? Tall, skin the colour of old hay, black hair, straight flat nose. Was his stillness gathering menace? Taking no chances, she thumped her foot once on the concrete of the fifth floor. It set off an explosion. Scratching claws shrieked on concrete as bodies hurtled into corners with percussive thumps. He squinted with pain as he watched 40 rossits pile up against the breakfast bar, clawing to bury their heads in the heaving mass of furry white bodies, like children hiding.
On this day in 2237, there were water restrictions, as usual. The water supply could only be used for drinking, hygiene, cooking and growing food. Since the Great Famine in 2220, when he was aged four, getting food had been Australians’ top priority. The family’s meat rabbits had died from disease and he had become a vegetarian. As an adolescent, he was a great success at growing vegetables but he grew tired of vegetables day after day and longed for meat. He experimented with a new disease-resistant animal, the rossit, with success. Today, at 21, he was proud to be preparing Australians for survival. He demonstrated his methods every week on the Government’s ‘Family Fare’ self-sufficiency show.
“In a famine, people have nothing to share,” he told their national audience. “It’s every family for themselves. Self-sufficiency should be a lifelong strategy. Start a vegetable garden and a rossit hutch now! They won’t let you starve!”
A rossit looked like a rabbit with a marsupial pouch and long bushy tail. They had engineered it with a possum’s immune system, which was resistant to endemic rabbit diseases, along with a possum’s reproductive system. Too bad, he thought, that rabbit genes for mob flight were integral with the genes for sociality. They were needed for intensive rearing and therefore couldn’t be knocked out.
He let himself into the room, crossed to the corner and gently pulled apart the struggling mass, body by body. His ministrations seemed to calm them and they nosed around for food in the sawdust on the floor. He left them eating the vegetable peelings he had brought.
Then he inspected the bedrooms. One of the young does had her white chin hairs streaked with blood. In her terror, she had scoffed all her hairless, pink, blind kindle, born that day. Angry, he went to grab her by the ears to pick her up cruelly. Then he told himself she had behaved naturally, recycling protein that might be lost. He lifted her gently, with his hand under her heavy belly and took her to the buck in the next room. He watched him sniff her rear, mount her and, as she yielded entry, thrust once, then fall back and to the side. The protein would regenerate. ‘Would she link the mating act with kindling again in 31 days?’ he mused. ‘What did sex mean to her?’
The Yabras did
not need to grow their own food. His mother, Transcending One, famed for her
dreaming and meditation, had been elected for a third term as Prime Minister of
Australia the previous year. His father was Deputy. They received modest
salaries. Their family’s food-growing activities were broadcast to the nation as
a model of self-sufficiency in a weekly nutrition show, ‘Family Fare’. The show
was based on the hydroponic gardens, poultry and rossits they grew in
Poultry were on the ground floor. The four units on Floor One were his, his adopted sister Paula’s, his grandparents’ and his great-grandmother’s. Floors Two, Three and Four were horticultural gardens. On the fifth floor were rossits. The sixth was storage. There were 14 empty floors above – no one had rented a unit during his lifetime. There was no electricity for the lift, and when they ran short of solar power for the pump, he had to carry water up from the basement.
vegetables with water brought from lakes dammed by the embankments along the
river. They prevented the sea from submerging the
Their crops were safe in the building. Abajoe knew from experience that if he planted vegetables in the bare spaces between blocks, people would steal the produce. Civil society was still in disarray from the Great Famine. He had been only four, but he could remember the lines of people, who had come begging for water from his father’s supply company and how he had shared their supplies until they went hungry themselves. Then he had guarded the building from the starving. Now, with the encouragement of the ‘Family Fare’ shows, Australians no longer crowded into cities and most people had a healthy diet of home-grown food.
grandparents, Zelta, the former Prime Minister and Hugo, an energy consultant,
had moved in when T One and Marko moved out to the prime ministerial residence
at the stadium. Abajoe’s great-grandmother,
Abajoe and his adopted sister, Paula, grew food for all of them. Paula’s parents had died in the Great Famine and T One and Marko had brought her up as his sibling. Also 21, she had studied with him, tutored by Marko and the elders and now helped with the animals and gardens for the shows.
Their weekly routine was to demonstrate the growing of vegetables and rossits and to research issues for the Middle Way Party (MWP) with John and Peter. They came to his flat every afternoon. As the nation’s most eligible bachelor, Abajoe attracted a large personal following. The statuesque Paula had a segment on growing poultry and fruits. She was very popular, and fans, who at first had little interest in self-sufficiency, kept chooks and planted trees through admiration for her.
“Why don’t more young people get into self-sufficiency, Chook?” asked Abajoe, using her affectionate name.
“Go on, tell me,” she replied.
“They ain’t figuring on starving!” he laughed. “It won’t happen to us!” he mimicked the fashionable speech and pose of a 16 year old, born since the last famine.
He and Paula also broadcast from the family’s market garden plot in a former football stadium nearby. T One and Marko lived there, in the prime ministerial residence under the grandstand. They occupied several former press boxes and studios built for football hype, that were now used for his mother’s participation in virtual meetings of the Parliament. Most of the time, they were away visiting places that had requested help from the national government.
T One was mostly
involved in making sure only essential developments went ahead because her
Government had been elected to bring in a non-material, spiritually diverse
society. Sudarta, who led the Opposition, had a different idea of the future
“Growth must be stopped,” T One told the media. “We can’t feed any more people – the drought could worsen. We have to prevent another famine.”
“Food can be brought from overseas,” said a journalist.
“By then it’s too late. Ships take two months to load and sail here, and another month for the little that isn’t stolen to reach the interior. Hungry people don’t last that long.”
“So how are you going to get food to them soon enough?”
“People have to be self-sufficient. That’s why ‘Family Fare’ has been our major strategy.”
“What else are you aiming to do this term?” It was two years until the next election.
“We will deliver on our promises. Anti-discrimination. Devolution. Population and water control. Co-ordination of the councils.”
“What about defence?”
“There is an old saying that people with resources need never lack friends,” she said. “On the contrary, we have resources and never lack enemies. We need good friends, who will come to our aid. I believe that we should share our resources with kin, people who will share their’s with us. We can help each other against enemies.”
Besides his work as an actor on ‘Family Fare’, Abajoe was learning and helping in the family business of national leadership through the MWP. He had inherited the Yabra’s propensity for inclusive leadership of opposed factions. His genetic make-up was extraordinary and his take on most situations was radical and inspirational. He had been elected Leader of the MWPs Youth Organisation.
He was preparing his keynote address to the Annual Youth Conference and had almost finished.
“Australia has four times more land area than our neighbour, Bhakaria, with only one tenth of the population. Our population of 50 million is therefore 40 times less dense. It is the least dense of any nation. This may not be a good thing. Bhakarians feel sorry for Australians, their lack of community and the emptiness of their social lives. Lifestyles are quite different, neither better nor worse – It’s a matter of what you get used to.
“Energy resources are also
unbalanced. Bhakaria was once the world’s greatest coal exporter but their
resources are nearing depletion.
“We do not have to feel lucky or
greedy or selfish about these disparities. The Australian environment is harsh
and unable to sustain much development. However, Bhakaria is campaigning for
sanctions against us for not rejoining the South
“Joining the SEU would allow people
to move freely between Bhakaria and
“But, Australians, who have experienced famine, reject industrial development and high density living because they were not able to obtain food in a drought and there was not enough water and energy for electricity production or for much industry or transport of supplies. Consequently, they have been reluctant to take on more mouths to feed and have been keeping the number of guest workers and immigrants to a minimum.”
Abajoe wanted to
finish off with discussion questions. If he could get people’s attention to
He had always
been interested in ideas about
People were buying experiences and technologies to develop exquisite and unique personalities esteemed within their diverse communities. For example, an Aborigine might follow tradition as one of a kangaroo tribe and learn their beliefs, didgeridoo music, dance and song, staying in costume and in role permanently. A person of European descent might train to become a conversation ‘cat’: cool, composed and soliciting those with resources. Creating experiences for these ‘characters’ to enjoy kept many people employed. Everyone had become their own work of art, with help from expert services and exotic technologies.
Abajoe had discussed this with his mother the previous week.
“Share? Why should we share with them?” the Prime Minister told him. “Property ownership is a sovereign right of our culture and also theirs. They don’t really expect us to share with them. They think they have the right to come and help themselves.”
“What evidence do you have for that?”
“They are demanding we join the SEU!”
“You are on that old yellow peril bandwagon!” said Abajoe. “Bhakarians wouldn’t dare come here uninvited.”
“They would if they ran out of resources.”
“They should be able to get them from us without invading,” he said in his soft, giving voice. “I believe in neighbourly sharing.”
“Hmph! I know sharing is in your genes, but the reason it is rare and recessive is because it has a low survival value. If a person shares their resources, they don’t survive. It’s that simple.”
“Not true. That is how our people survived droughts, by collaborating with kin. Collaboration is a survival strategy that has worked, through collectives. Humans have entered a new age of collectivity,” he said smiling, as if it was self-evident.
“Collectivity? History is full of failed collectives.” His mother’s voice was sceptical, hard-edged.
“Unless we share, we may not survive. We could share our mineral resources with people, who would help us with food in a drought,” he reasoned.
“It wouldn’t work because people are inherently selfish. They wouldn’t give us food when we need it.”
“Indigenous people are not selfish…Why are you smiling like that? I’m serious.”
“You’re so like
“He was a great man. Our family should take the lead again, in sharing with Bhakaria.”
“What have they got that we want a share in?”
“Food, when we are in drought.”
She thought for a moment.
“You may be right. Perhaps we should trade minerals for food. Can you bring me a policy proposal I can take to the Party?”
Abajoe was delighted. Their study group had discussed it and had a proposal ready. Now he needed the right words to end his speech. He dictated a closing paragraph into the memory of his communicator.
“Those are some of the questions we need to address during this conference.”
should nail it,’ he thought. It would give participants plenty to talk about. He
would like to have included a further question: ‘Would Bhakaria be able to slow
down their population growth as their resources ran out or would they obtain
He could test this with rossits. The role of environmental factors in controlling their reproduction might be similar to humans. Rossits raised in cages on pellets had artificially low costs of obtaining food. With abundant food, they could populate rapidly, reaching sexual maturity five months after conception.
He needed an answer to these questions: ‘Will the rossits slow down their breeding and keep their numbers steady if I keep the food supply steady? Or will they suffer a famine cycle of starvation and death followed by overpopulating reproduction? Would any famine-averting learning take place?’
When he proposed the experiment to Paula, at first she was against it.
“How many can a pair breed to?” asked Paula.
“Under ideal conditions, one doe produces 7800 adults after a year and after two years more than 3,000,000,000.”
“That’s unbelievable!” said Paula. “What are these ideal conditions?”
“Plenty of food and space, with no disease or deaths, with an average of five female kits per kindle of 10, every 46 days.”
“But humans control their own fertility,” she objected, “with abstinence, withdrawal, hormones, prophylactics or abortions.”
“So can rossits,” he replied. “Rossits have possums’ sixth sense of food availability. When conditions are bad they absorb foetuses, eject their babies from the pouch or cannibalise their kindle. These are three natural strategies, whereas humans have only artificial methods.”
“There’s also celibacy.”
“Ha-ha. It’s a cruel experiment,” she told him. “You could have rossits dying like flies from thirst or hunger. I really do not want to have anything to do with it. Isn’t there any other way of doing an investigation? Why do you have to use rossits?”
“I can’t do a controlled experiment on humans. Imagine the outcry if government food aid was withheld from a district, simply to see what would happen to population numbers. I could use mice or rats but they build up to plague proportions and migrate. I am more interested in capacity for voluntary population control. Rossits stay in their territories, like possums.”
“But rossits aren’t like humans. They’re dumber.”
“At talking, yes. But in self-control to avoid adversity, humans may be just as dumb. Take obesity. It can kill you but people are fatter than ever. Did you ever see an obese animal in the wild?”
“But rossits aren’t wild. Domestication may have lost them their self-control. They reproduce irresponsibly.”
“We are finding out whether self-control of reproduction is acquired and can adjust with the environment. If we get evidence, which refutes that reproduction is automatic in rossits, then if we assume that humans have at least as much self-control, we will be refuting that human sex is automatic. But without that evidence, human reproduction is out of couples’ control.”
“But setting up rossits to suffer droughts and famines is cruel.”
“We need to study reproduction in a controlled setting. The conditions are those they could encounter in nature. Nature is hard but it is not cruel by intent. We will euthanize individuals that are in pain and the animals will have the same standards of care that are normal in ethical scientific experiments.”
“Except that we will be deliberately creating hardship.”
“Only if they would be bringing it on themselves by reproducing... We are studying reproduction under hardship. We can’t get away from it.”
“How will you limit their pain?”
“We will monitor loss of appetite, weight loss, dishevelled appearance, withdrawn behaviour and response to handler. If three or more of these are unsatisfactory, they will be euthanized.”
“Okay,” said Paula. “I don’t like it but I can see how this data could be useful.”
“So, we’ll do it?”
They applied to Meannjin’s Animal Representatives Committee. Although the rossit representative objected to their use at first, Abajoe showed that the conditions would simulate conditions in the wild to understand their reproduction. Rossits were the most suitable variant species. He obtained a committee majority approval for use of up to 5000 rossits per year.
He and Paula set
up the experiment with a buck and a doe in each of two pens. The large pen was a
lounge room and the other a bedroom with one quarter the area. There was a wall
between them. He labelled the lounge ‘
“It isn’t a perfect model of the situation,” Abajoe admitted. “But it has the major factors.”
“I wonder what we’ll find out,” Paula said.
“We may find that cognition and voluntary control of reproduction is more important than geobiology and innate sex drives,” Abajoe mused.
“In which pen?”
“What if it
“We would need population control.”
“That’s unpopular. Who would take it on?”
“Someone with vision.”
“Someone prepared for a fight.”
“Someone with enough support.”
“Someone like me,” he groaned. “Would I have to do it?”
“Because you’re a Yabra,” said his sister. “It’s your duty to your country.”
He sighed. “I suppose it is. Okay. I’ll do it. But hopefully it won’t be necessary.”
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