I have a message for the Australian Olympic Committee: If you’d like to win gold medals this year in Rio, you should probably cut down the Neem Trees in in the town of Derby, Western Australia – at least I’ve heard that this would be a good start.
I just came across a story in my notes from fieldwork, which I found entertaining at the time but had since forgotten. I relay it here as entertainment, rather than suggesting it is in any way representative of Kimberley locals or weed managers (or anything, besides one guy’s ramblings).
It involves an encounter in the town of Derby, following a presentation about Boab trees that had been delivered by this project’s very own cultural attaché ‘Dame’ Pat Lowe. During the customary refreshments that followed Dame Pat’s presentation, I was approached by a fellow who had been told that I was a weeds researcher. Evidently this provided him a platform to aggressively demonise every non-native plant he had encountered in ‘his’ town – he particularly disliked Neem Trees.
Our meeting occurred just after the London Olympic games, where the Australian team had famously underperformed (as though it is every Australian team’s responsibility to win an increasing number of gold medals each Olympics ad infinitum). Although it seems a stretch even just writing it here, this fellow connected the lack of gold medals in London to the proliferation of Neem Trees (among other non-native plants) around the town of Derby. The presence and tacit acceptance of Neem Trees was symptomatic of a lack of patriotism, which he suggested had crept into Australian culture and was closely related to an acceptance of biotic cosmopolitanism. He was quite serious – asking how ‘we’ could be proud of our country if we weren’t proud of ‘our nature’? And if we don’t fight for ‘our nature’, why should our athletes fight for medals?
I listened to him, but I didn’t engage, mostly because I really didn’t want to, there were more interesting and enjoyable people around to speak to that evening. I kind of wish I did though now – I’d love to know how much of the Neem we have to remove for two or three gold in the pool.