This year, tucked alongside hand-harvested dates and $12,000 liposuction gift cards, Oscars nominees found a license for one square meter of land in the Australian outback, courtesy of a company called Pieces of Australia. In order to get a tiny sliver of the country into the gift bags, which actually have nothing to do with the Academy Awards and are curated and distributed by a Los Angeles–based marketing company called Distinctive Assets, the company paid $4,000. So congratulations to Michelle Yeoh on winning Best Actress and for also owning a piece of land in Australia valued at $50. If you are wondering why this happened and if people are mad about it (yes), here’s what we know.
What was the gift?
For $79.95, Pieces of Australia sells a license to one-square-meter pieces of land on its estate in Western Downs, Queensland, as part of its Aussie Mate Conservation Pack. With your pack, the company — founded by 29-year old business developer Niels Chaneliere to ostensibly create “positive change in the world” by building “a carbon positive business that promotes conservation” — says it will plant two trees in the name of conservation.
Are environmentalists skeptical about this?
Yes. The Australia Conservation Foundation’s lead investigator told the Guardian that the land being sold in pieces is actually right in the middle of a coal seam gas field and that “the available evidence suggests the land in question is being exploited for coal seam gas.” Even if the land is being preserved, environmentalists say that saving land one square meter at a time is unlikely to make any real impact.
What do the Aboriginal people who live on the land think?
The Guardian reported that the handbook that comes with the Aussie Mate pack referenced the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network and included photos of Aboriginal ranger groups from the ICIN’s website. Meanwhile, Pieces of Australia’s website claims that it “acknowledges the Aboriginal People as the Traditional Custodians and Owners of the land,” but Chaneliere told the Guardian that he had not contacted the land’s traditional owners. Plus the ICIN said it has no connection with Pieces of Australia and that the company is using its name and photos in its marketing without permission. Chaneliere told the Guardian that he has removed all of the ICIN’s content on Saturday after it had “been brought to our attention.”
Is the company a nonprofit at least?
It is a for-profit company, but Chaneliere told the Guardian that it has “an impact that gives back to nonprofit.” Okay.
Why did anyone think this was a good idea?
Apparently, last year’s goody bag included plots of Scottish land that made each recipient a lord or lady, which was “a big hit,” according to the founder of Distinctive Assets.
Do you become a lord or lady if you own a piece of Australia?
Can you take possession of the piece of land?
Can you use the piece of land?
Can you set foot on the piece of land?
Not unless you get written consent from Pieces of Australia.
Can you get a refund?
Yes — Pieces of Australia’s website says that you can get a full refund within 30 days.