My father Alan Tangey worked for the Lands Department and the Little Desert mapping project was a nice little earner for the Stawell Survey crew camping out in their new caravans being paid off by the living away from home allowances. As a 12 year old I was taken up there with the Surveyor’s son to amuse ourselves for a week on a school holiday break while the Survey crew mapped the Desert. It is fair to say that none of the Survey crew were gourmet cooks. “Who called the cook a bastard?” “Who called the bastard a cook?”
A voice in the (suburban) wilderness
An extract from Defending the Little Desert
In the Melbourne suburb of Greensborough, Valerie Honey read this letter and saw red. Sir William McDonald, the Victorian Minister for Lands, was proposing to put farms on the Little Desert, an isolated area of undeveloped country near her birthplace in Western Victoria. Honey had nostalgic memories of visiting the area near her uncle’s farm, where she sometimes spent school holidays:
I didn’t know it was the Little Desert . . . we used to call it ‘the scrub’ . . . It was sunset and the sun was going with rays across this little salt lake… There were birds and parrots and the salt lake had turned red . . . It was the most magnificent sight!
Geomorphologists tell us that the Wimmera’s Little Desert was last inundated by the sea some 200 million years ago. It remains a place where tides continue to turn.
Here, in 1970, we saw the end of the colonial cornucopia culture. Sir William McDonald, Minister for Lands in the Bolte Government, had been attempting to continue his predecessors’ work of carving up and handing out a seemingly endless supply of Crown land.
In addition to working for the Lands Department Alan was active in the ALP and very happy to get rid of Sir William McDonald who he pretty much despised as a nasty version of the jumped up squattocracy. Local scuttlebutt had it that the bitumen road ran all the way to Sir Bill’s front gate in the middle of nowhere.
At the Victorian State Election of 1970 the Liberal Party vote fell 0.8% statewide while Sir William McDonald lost the seat of Dundas with an 8.4% 2PP swing to the ALP. Eddie Lewis was a one term ALP member from Hamilton before normal transmission was resumed. He camped out on our couch a couple of times. Ahhh, the glory days of the unreconstructed, unelectable Victorian ALP.
Nonetheless the Little Desert campaign was a significant moment in popular environmentalism here in Victoria, and there is no way it should ever have been sold off as farmland.