This play for the center is a significant challenge to Australian political culture and social tradition, and the Australian Greens would not be the same organisation should they win a share of the Australian mainstream.
We know this because emergent groups challenge traditional structures all the time. The usual result is that both change and a number of compromises are established. However, the challenging group generally changes more and the values of the traditional structure are reinscribed upon the emerging popular movement – rendering it noticeably different.
Between 1857 and 1934 such a process was evident in Australia.
A proto-conservationist movement sharing much with the modern day Australian Greens emerged. It had a wide base that included hobby botanists, scientists, middle-class advocates, public servants, workers and literary types. Indeed the pre-environmentalist ethic was spurred by the fear of industrial scale destruction of the environment, much like the modern day movement has been invigorated by a concern about global climate change.
The first wave conservation movement has a traceable development over 77 years. During this time the movement confronted an Australian radical nationalism that was informed by settler colonial narratives of the environment. As the Australian historian Ann Curthoys has argued, the white male settlers of the frontier considered the natural environment as the adversary of man. Frontier ideology underwrote an ethic of improvement, competition and submission that defined colonial interactions with the environment.
While the first wave conservation movement developed a philosophy antithetical to this environmental understanding, many other aspects of the movement were either informed or defined by their relationship with mainstream frontier ideology.
The two movements of frontier ideology and first wave conservation existed together at the turn of the twentieth century – one mainstream and one emergent. So what was the result of the emergent challenge to traditional ideology?
To answer these questions it is necessary to trace the development and progression of the nascent first wave conservation movement from its very misty origins in Australia in 1857.
In this year Gertrude the Emigrant was published by the native born botanist, Louisa Atkinson. The novel is one of the first coherent testaments to the tension between the appreciation of the unique Australian environment and the tribute to the social structure of the ‘bush.’ Atkinson places a social order comprising of noble bushmen, dependent wives, mothers and daughters, dishonorable squatters, and fascinating savages, amongst the setting of a worthy and appreciable Australian bushland.
Atkinson’s characterisation is complicit with the dominant conceptions of Australian radical nationalism that developed towards the end of the nineteenth century. However, her depiction of the environment is exemplary. The author incidentally establishes some of the earliest positive descriptions of the Australian bush during a thorough tribute to the very structure which perpetuated its destruction.
Atkinson did not seem to associate the two ideologies directly. Her novel shows that they existed contemporaneously, while closer to Federation public figures and intellectuals were making an explicit connection.
In 1876 Revered William Clarke of the Royal Society of New South Wales identified the ideological tipping point in first-wave conservationist thought – “that civilisation has destructive as well as conservative tendencies.”Clarke linked environmental improvement with social conditions by concluding that forest clearance was bound to have “various effects on climate and sanitary conditions.”
Some thirty years later, Walter Froggatt, the president of the Naturalists Society of New South Wales expressed an intellectual critique of frontier ideology. He derided the bushman for thinking that the “lizard is a wood adder abounding in venom, and should be killed on sight,” and other “queer ideas that are just as incorrect.”Froggatt represents the emerging field of scientists and public intellectuals who contrasted learned attitudes with the ignorant ones inherent in traditional Australian mythology.
Despite this complexity, scientific and naturalist societies remained the domain of the wealthy urban classes and in no way represented the mainstream.
By 1934 Myles Dunphy, a recreational bushwalker and environmental activist, was able to communicate a very confident, sophisticated and sustained critique of the results of traditional environmental attitudes to the mainstream. He drew upon the science of Clarke and Froggatt to engage with the ethic of improvement, but his writing evokes the complexity of Atkinson’s 1857 novel.
While Froggatt attacked the figure of the bushman, Dunphy’s Mountain Trails Club embraced the ‘practical mateship’ of fraternal equality that this figure represented. Those in the club even commonly referred to one another as “bushman.”
Dunphy helped establish multiple National Parks in the Blue Mountains and popularised recreational bushwalking. However, the reason he achieved this was because he took the conservationist message to the mainstream in regional newspapers and general meetings, and explicitly tied it to the key figure of frontier ideology – the bushman.
If the Australian Greens are to fulfill Bob Brown’s ambitions and move into the political mainstream, the organisation needs to adapt some of its more strident criticisms of Australian society. In the way that Walter Froggatt’s disdain of the bushman was abandoned in the pursuit of more important environmental aims, the Australian Greens need to be prepared to sacrifice some significant and hard won intellectual principles in order to become a mainstream political force.
 Ann Curthoys, ‘Expulsion, Exodus and Exile in White Australian Historical Mythology’ in Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 23 No. 61, 1999, pp. 1-19.
 Rev. William Clarke, ‘Effects of Forest Vegetation on Climate’ 1876 in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, edited by A. Liversidege, Sydney: Charles Potter, acting government printer, 1876, vol. 10, p. 180.
 Walter W. Froggatt, ‘Presidential Address’ 1906, The Australian Naturalist Journal and Magazine, edited by J. Rainbow, Sydney: S.D. Townsend and Co. Printers, 1906, vol. 1, p. 6.
 Myles Dunphy, ‘The New Conservators’ 1975, in Myles Dunphy, Selected Writings; Compiled and Annotated by Patrick Thompson, Sydney: Ballagrin, 1986, p. 9.