The Permaculture Person

I’ve been having some challenging times recently, some conflicts that came, as they do, all at once. It’s great that they come all at once. If they came drib by drab I’d assume that other people had big problems. If they come all at once I begin to see myself as the common denominator and, therefore, I become the person to do something about. The good news is that it is entirely in my power (and no one else’s) to do something about myself! Yay! Right?

I experienced some massive social anxiety during a recent camping trip that I could do nothing about so I forced myself during one insomniatic night to breathe through the tension in my body and really feel all of that anxiety building up, seeing where it was placed and allowing it to just be: There, in my body. In a way it was a fun ride to embrace, and breathe, through a terribly uncomfortable feeling that I am usually reflexively resistant to. Because I was less resistant the feeling lost a lot of its discomfort and just became, well, a bit of a ride. I discovered that the feeling was safe – that is, it couldn’t, and didn’t, hurt me.

I’m not sure what effect this dwelling-with-the-feeling had. With the immediate problem there seemed to be little change but with two subsequent, similar-different, social issues I went straight to the physical feeling (of anxiety) faster and then released it more quickly too. There are some things that I am dwelling with a lot better now – but it’s early days, I’ll walk this road step by step.

The other thing that I’ve been dealing with is outright conflict from two major but quite different sources. I’m not so sure how much I am directly contributing to this conflict or how much “other people’s problems” are contributing. All I know is that I have to be responsible for my own part in it while also being gentle with other people. This has been a puzzle to me to work out.

In each case I have reacted, even though I have thought that I have been responding. I thought I was being respectful with my words but then I realised that I was not truly engaging in listening and hearing the other souls involved. I allowed my own reflexive feelings to dictate my responses.

It’s been timely to finish a Community Development report where I have been dwelling on the words of my favourite philosopher, Martin Buber, and his dialogical I-Thou approach to human relationships, community relationships and the relationship with the Divine. This is a big one to unpack, so if you’re interested, just go Google it for now!

I’ve been challenged. I’ve seen how task oriented I can be, how difficult it is for me to slip into a more relational way of existing and – more importantly – to stop myself from otherising others (a short step away from judging others) and spend time in the space between two souls, fishing for that precious common ground of shared humanity and using that as a platform to produce those things that people really need: being understood, being heard, being believed, being free to be, being free to change, being free to change their mind, being held with an open hand.

Part of this has to do with something I’ve long thought: let me be free to be me, to change. Don’t box me in. Sure I’ve had struggles with mega envy in the past, but I’ve worked through that. If people continue to think: “her, she’s a jealous person” it makes it harder for me to grow my identity past that and worse, it stops the other person from getting to know me as me, who I am now, in this moment.

I have to remember to do this for other people. Thankfully I think I do get better and better at this skill as I go on. Winning.

In the future I may remember that, sure, I used to have inappropriate social-anxiety in the past, but I moved past that. In the future I’d sure like to be that person who never feels socially anxious and who always creates space for other people to feel safe to be themselves. Cheers to that!

Recent conflict has shone a mirror into this area and I’m using my God-given will to choose the path of transformation. If life is in the living then I have to live through those painful emotions as well as the fun ones. I can’t ignore what’s there, if I do that those densely embodied feelings stay with me forever (For more on this I highly recommend the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der Kolk). If I face them and accept them, welcoming the memories that they invoke, reliving these, forgiving these and then realising that, even though the memories are vividly embodied within my body, they are in the past and I’m still ok. They can’t hurt me anymore because I’ve shown myself that I’m still ok.

I think this is part of what that word “repentance” is about.

It’s been an interesting internal journey over the last say…fortnight…when all these waves came crashing over me. It probably had to do with being at the beach without phone reception for 12 days and having the space to be confronted with myself. What a gift that is!

 

Now – why mention this here on a public blog that is, in many ways, an investigation of more external, professional interests? Because I am a part of the system and thinking about myself as part of the system is how a permaculturalist thinks. When it comes to me being effective professionally, or in any capacity, it is those inner anxieties and tensions that affect my practice most of all. The truth is that who I am effects everyone who I come in contact with and also it is the thing in the world that is most in my own power to influence.

I am going to end with something that I am reading right now for my final Community Development major report:

“We dream of a community-oriented world, but often we want to withdraw into our private space and avoid the inevitable conflict and pain of difficult relationships. We find ourselves caught up with parts of our complex self that we cannot understand or even relate to. 

Many forms of therapy have assigned themselves the task of unravelling
the contradictions of the many parts of our self that make a very complex ‘us’. The therapeutic challenge is to learn to welcome, relate to, even befriend the many parts of the self, and explore a richer texture of self than we may have known existed· before.

When people start in therapy, they often subscribe to a way of viewing themselves, a relatively stuck perception of who they are. This view of self essentially becomes the story (one could imagine it as a fictional story as opposed to fact) of how we imagine ourselves to be and how we describe ourselves to others. We could call it our own mythos. It is not a story or myth based on facts, but only on perception-a memory of our lives, filtered through all sorts of lenses. In response to this the therapeutic task is to ‘broaden’ the myth, “open up the presented story’ (Gibney, 2003, p120), to fill it out, creating what psychologists like Carl Jung and James Hillman (1983) have called a healing fiction.

The therapeutic task is to awaken imagination in such a way that people do not limit self-perception to the realm of old stories, often stories imposed by damaged parts of ourselves or inherited from others; this can lead to tension. However if people can hold an on-going dialogue with the emergent stories-the other parts of self – then a more creative, dynamic and whole person can emerge.”

Westoby, Peter. 2009. “Training for Transformation: the Possibilitators”. Dialogical Community Development: with Depth, Hospitality and Solidarity. Ed. by Westoby, P. & Dowling, G. 187-210.

A Study in Bark

I have been spending more time than usual lately out in the bush. Generally this is during my morning run where I am constantly surprised by new trees. It’s not that they appear, but I suddenly see them when I didn’t previously. Though I run the same route every day (near Mt Ainslie) I “meet” new trees every day. It almost feels as though they’ve been waiting for me to notice them and then suddenly I do. I suppose this is, in practice, what it is (in part) to deeply know a place, to connect with a location.

This is the complete opposite of being a ‘tourist’, who can only ever gloss over the surface of a land and who never has the time to really learn from a place. Tourists are merely occupied with their own pleasure and needs and they simply don’t have the time to notice everything about a place. This makes tourist saturated places incredibly one-dimensional as the things that are enhanced are simply the things that tourists (think they) want.

Nature is not one dimensional and it takes more than just sight-seeing or picture taking to really take in all the nuances of nature. I am learning this even now as I notice new things at every turn along my little trail.

It’s also often only when we stop and get down to nature’s level that we can actually see what it is, whether that’s to peer at tiny, perfect plants on the ground or to be silent – as I was this morning when I saw a fox (breathtaking!). I noticed this on Mt Ainslie yesterday when I hiked up with my children. All of a sudden I became enamoured with the bark on all the trees. I’d known but never really noticed before, and taken the time to take note of, the huge variety of tree form and bark formation of each tree. They were all completely unique! So then, a study of bark.


I thought this tree was rather amazing. The bark appeared to wrap its way around the tree as though the tree twisted as it grew. Does this happen? I don’t know enough about the growing habits of trees to know this, though I do know that the bark of a tree is indicative of the grain of the tree’s timber. I thought this was pretty cool, but it also makes sense when you think about how a tree grows (outward in rings).

It hailed while we were out on the mountain! I love catching Canberra’s rare hail drops. It was just a bit magical to be on the mountain at this time.   It’s fitting to finish with these two lovers:

 

Creatures of Place

I’d just like to share here a beautiful little video of a beautiful family who live in Daylesford, VIC. Some of you may know of them, and I hope that that is the case. I have been following their story for some time and been inspired to change my own life a step at a time along the way as I can.

Somewhere on their blog I read that each major economic investment they made into their house and lifestyle was to enable them to be further independent of the industrial system.

It can really be a struggle to know how to deal with living within a system that you see problems with, particularly when you see it actually compromising the things that you value – and that are clearly vital to existence as we know it – I am speaking of course of our one planet home, but also of the bonds of community which certainly are compromised when a competitive, fiscally oriented system is dominant.

I see a lot wrong with that. One absolutely legitimate response is to live another way and that is the way that Artist As Family demonstrate. Personally, I am torn between wanting to “work for good” (if that is even possible) within the current economic system and pulling out and living more self-sufficiently or, ideally, communally sufficiently.

It is important for me to remember that the reason to live in any way really is because it “fills us with joy.” I know that I could not live with joy if I compromised on the value that I place on the life of the ecosystem which supports us. While there are many ways to go about this, this one here is definitely appealing…but more than that, it is educative. I don’t think we should ever lose sight of the fact that people can live quite differently to how we assume they can or should or would live. To me that is quite a dangerous position. I think it is good that people have the ability and the “permission” to live outside our economic system in a healthy, functioning way.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

I had a job interview last week and, as expected, there were many questions that I had not prepared for. One of these was, “what are your strengths?” followed by “what are your weaknesses?”

Now, maybe in daily life I have a vague idea of what these things are but it’s a rare moment to sit down and articulate these things to myself. It was a great prod and I thought it would be worthwhile to sit down and reflect to find out what the name of my strengths and weaknesses are.

This practice is something that has actually been encouraged within the tertiary Community Development studies that I am currently tying up. I have been delightfully surprised by this focus in a tertiary Major – that of reflective practice. It’s personal and soul-searching, but does not seem particularly at home in a business environment, though perhaps it should be, which is the point, I guess!

We can not divorce the person from the activity, whether professional or personal.

There is one issue here though, and it is that I don’t think it’s as black and white as all that.

Something I may see as a strength, you may see as a weakness. For example, I see my deep appreciation for the natural world as a strength, something that guides my decision making and values, but in the business world this could be considered a weakness as it stops me making hardline decisions that prioritise the economic “bottom-line.”

Also, strengths and weaknesses can swap places depending on context. Focus is great when it comes down to the crunch line and an important project is due, but terrible when you are in an environment where constant interruption is a mainstay. Learning quickly does not always mean learning deeply. A high degree of autonomy is not valued when you are expected to purely follow orders.

So, maybe this is why it is hard to label certain characteristics ‘weaknesses’ or ‘strengths’, basically they are merely characteristics, but they are vital to be aware of in order to navigate the varying situations of life to the best of our ability.

This whole discussion also ties into the key sustainability aspect of resilience. The industrial system which our economy relies upon, and which has boosted economic growth profoundly, has proven itself to be extremely efficient, this is its greatest strength, and also it’s greatest weakness.

While many natural systems are extremely resilient, they can be quite inefficient at certain things – such as providing great amounts of food. Monoculture provides us with large quantities of food, but the system is so fragile and so dependent on external inputs that it is very low in resilience.

While our industry reliant economic and social systems produce things and pump money around efficiently they meanwhile degrade the support systems we actually depend on, such as community, the environment and even personal happiness, which means that the whole system becomes more and more liable to collapse as these support systems wear thin. It is neither good to be too resilient or too efficient, both must do a merry dance between them to uphold the health of the systems they maintain.

So there is more to simple ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ than we might first assume. We are not living in a black and white world and as we creep ever closer to the tipping point in a fragile group of systems I think we can less afford to see the world in this black and white way. It is an efficient way to dissect and understand things in brief, but it does not capture the complexity of people or of the situations we find ourselves in.

Nevertheless, I did undertake this exercise in reflection and it has brought great clarity and, hopefully, set me up better for the next job interview, but more importantly for the next step, and the next, and the next…

Living sustainably is a little bit like going on a diet.

Diets can get a bit of a bad rap, but I’m not sold on writing them off entirely. If we’re overindulging it seems to be an obvious step to reduce some of that indulgence.

i-yunmai-617618-unsplash

Photo by I yunmai on Unsplash

While supermarket shelves are overstocked with all sorts of food type products, we have to exercise more self-control than would be necessary in a natural state. When it comes to food it’s not so much that we need to eat less food, it’s that we need to eat a normal, appropriate amount and simply deny ourselves the things that are not actually food, just empty calories. It is the Capitalist driven entities that needs to stop greedily selling us things that have no place in a natural, balanced system.

ola-mishchenko-524446-unsplash

Photo by Ola Mishchenko on Unsplash

The real problem here is not you or me, it is the activity of an industrial system which aims simply to make money with no other agenda. This is unbalanced.

In this sense then, adopting a sustainable lifestyle of less deleterious activity is just the same as adopting an eating pattern of less processed food substitutes full of nutritionless calories.

markus-spiske-139525-unsplash

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Transposing this diet analogy to an overall lifestyle, the changes that would need adopting in order to bring our lifestyles back within a state of balance would be to relocalise our lives, adopting natural exercise that is not conducted in airconditioned rooms and eschewing the assumed entitlements that have come to define the lives of well-off Westerners (here’s a list: fossil fueled aircon, heating, travel (including air – which is one of the most destructive forms of travel), food from afar, packaged food, food processed in factories – many steps from its original form, clothes from afar produced in sweatshops, plastic in all its forms – fabric, boxes, thread, duvets, shelves, shoes, cups, toys, toys, toys, bags, instruments, disposable plates, paint and so on and on).

The sustainable ‘diet’ recognises the problem as being one of the systems that the modern world is founded on, it sees the future earth as one which is expanding beyond a place that is healthy, and the only and most sensible course of action is one of individual, corporate and national self denial.

This goes against everything that the modern mindset has programmed in the modern person. This programming has happened through commercials, advertising, marketing and the competitiveness encouraged by a market-driven society. The modern person is told to seek their own pleasure, their own benefit, their own well-being without looking at how their individual actions affect the world at large, their communities and the lives of those who are yet to come on this earth.

Astute individuals will realise that if all of us continued to live in this way then we will soon eat up and pollute and poison our planet, our only home, leaving absolutely nothing for anyone else both now and into the future.

Climate change optimists like to hope that technology will deliver us out of this, but deliver us out of what? Out of a mindset that is clearly poisonous? No, they hope that technology will allow us to cling onto this toxic, self-first, way of life, giving us leave to continue living callously, disregarding our planet and other persons, as we seek our own benefit above all in an extension of capitalist thinking.

But this is like being unwilling to get up off the couch and stop eating fries, hoping that technology will come along that allows us to stay on the couch, continue eating fries and still maintain a state of health – somehow – almost miraculously.

So, there is no other option. Collectively humanity has to ‘lose some weight’, some industrial weight, some weighty privilege, some inefficient and ineffective modes of living that are actually leaving people sadder and more disconnected than ever, more unhealthy and prone to addiction than ever and wasting the world as fast as has never been anticipated.

It’s a problem needing fixing and the only way to fix it is to change a global mindset individual by individual.

Connection

In the modern world we live in a kind of limbo, a tension between what is required of us from the machinations of society and what we are drawn to as physical, spiritual and emotional beings of this earth.

Our society has emphasized mind over matter but we can not get away from our matter as it informs us, informs our minds and has vital effects on our workings in every way.

While I have invested my mind in that of a Sustainable Development degree I find myself daily drawn to the living things around me, my garden which holds European edibles and flowering natives, the bushland around us whose wide, natural spaces provide a real freedom of movement and whose environment tunes my senses as my body conforms to the terrain around me.

I can not also deny that there is a longing to commune with nature in a way that is not understood by our mind-focused society. It would be best described as a relationship, a love between flower and the smeller, the observer of that flower. A deep appreciation of a tree, its towering height, what it gives to the atmosphere, the wildlife and to me and the many cycles that it is a part of.

These things can be qualified with what is accepted: science, literature, poetry, but when we take it down to the level of love, a profound knowing with body and soul it seems to traverse into something that is “kooky”, but only because it is so foreign to our mainstream ways of knowing.

I do not think it is strange to love nature. In fact I think it is essential. It is essential when making choices that seem to go against our own personal freedom: freedom to travel at will (in car or plane), freedom to buy food or items wrapped in or made up of plastic, freedom to earn more money than we ever need and then to spend it as we wish, freedom to build buildings that are not sensitive to the landscape around us.

It is the love of something other than ourselves that saves us from making these choices with a sense of impunity. The love of people is, as yet, still accepted and it is the love of others that has driven us to invest in health care, free education, affordable housing, good urban planning, buildings that contribute to wholistic lifestyles. The love of nature and the greater world takes our positive decision making a step further and can not be harmful when we choose things out of love not greed.

In the pull to journey deeper into love or money it is usually money which, sadly, wins – out of necessity in many cases, but it is so deeply important to return to love, to invite love into our hearts in order for us to experience the connection of being truly human in an earth that supports us and is formed by us.

We can not be too arrogant to believe ourselves above this. If we are and if we seal the disconnect between our species and our planet, content to live a surface life on this planet, then we can only expect the loss of it all out from under us.

Should we begin rethinking our travel habits?

For a very long while cheap, quick air travel has been accepted as a normal part of twentieth century life, seventeen years into the twenty-first century and it might be time to rethink this.

In the twenty-first century we are faced with all manner of environmental impacts from humanities activities (if you’re a denialist I don’t want to hear from you. The evidence is 100% in the bag and you just need to get on board because it’s already becoming too late). This has led the environmentally conscious to point the finger at overconsumption, cheap manufacturing, plastic use and what are essentially little changes that do not affect our lifestyles all that much, simply redirect our cashflow onto more worthy products. For cashed up westerners, “eco-consumerism” is an easy game.

Less easy is self-denial, but if possibility presents itself, if that possibility does have widespread and major negative consequences, if those consequences do not immediately affect us and if the supposed benefits that we are consuming are too attractive for us to resist then perhaps regulation from the structures which are supposed perceive the external costs that are invisible to individual sight. Some things which might fall into this category are: tobacco smoking, sugar consumption, car use, air travel. All these things have invisible short term and visible long term negative repercussions on people, society, the planet but all are presented to consumers as attractive ways to make their lives feel better. Unfortunately, currently, government intervention falls in the wrong direction (except for Australia’s successful campaign against tobacco smoking) through fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

What this means is that the consumer is not even paying the true market price for something, let alone taking the non-market costs into the equation.

Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash

For a long time the environmental message has focused on physical consumption, even telling us to “buy experiences, not things.” It’s all been steps in the right direction but as time and the-destruction-of-the-environment-through-human-activity marches on with visible effects increasing, such as a Summer lasting well into Autumn, more heads must roll.

Hopefully we’ve reached the point where we might actually begin to think about how our preciously guarded fun times have direct impacts on the people, the places and the stratosphere that we visit.

I was pretty happy to listen to a broadcast from the inimitable Radio National, on Life Matters, about Carbon Offsetting air travel and I was also pleased that they took it a little further than that and even almost meekly suggested that we might want to rethink our own personal or business trips – you know like, maybe a Skype call will suffice? Maybe a bush bash in some local wilderness will refresh just as much? Or maybe a jaunt at a local, shwanky hotel will provide you with that glam-international-traveler-vibe you’re going for, without the senseless waste emitted from all ends of that business.

Are you going to take your beeswax wraps with you on flight N7589?

There are ways you can “save the planet” at home that you just can’t do when you are spending big in another country. There’s a richness and depth to growing roots and loving your land that we absolutely must rediscover and invest in. It is unnecessary and frequent travel that must cave to this need. And it is a need. The planet needs us to do this and, I think, our personal and collective humanity also requires it. It’s a profound shift from living on the earth – our infrastructure and society sitting on top of our planet like a little legoland – to living with our earth, enriching it with our lives and being enriched in turn. It’s a life that our modern society has not yet lived. But I think it must. It’s a rich, deep, locally lived life instead of a thinly spread, global life which makes paupers of us all. And I would just like to add that digging around in the garden and learning how to help things grow (creating life!) has proven to be the most satisfying activity I’ve ever indulged in.

This shift hasn’t happened yet and I get it (because we haven’t yet been enlightened): we all want to travel. It seems so exotic. It’s nice to pretend to escape our lives every now and then. It’s nice to come back with stories and feel just a little more superior to all the stay-puts. I feel the itch as much as any person does.

Oh but there are sooo many questions this raises. When we really start to dig under the surface of motivation and desire. Where to begin. It even raises questions of identity and disconnection. I mean how does a person descended from European stock but living in the Antipodes connect to such a different place? I myself grapple with this one and all I can say, so far, is that it takes time and education. It takes a lot of relearning. The Australian landscape is just not like a European pine forest.

Really, when you think about it, so much is just frosting on the same, ordinary old cake. International travel is frosting. A particular kind that is also toxic to the very earth that we are travelling on.

The thing is, if we don’t care about this now, if we don’t impose limits on ourselves then something or someone else will – this is something every good parent knows about. It’s the same with population growth. In cases like this where it’s a planet that is exploding at its limits then we’re looking at the planet imposing its own limits and you can use your imagination to figure out how that’s going to look.

Growing roots on Canberra’s mountains

Canberra’s mountains are only hills by anyone’s standard, still we regularly hike up “Mount” Majura, “Mount” Ainslie and Black “Mountain”, so say what you will. Someone else called it that.

Hiking up a hill with our children is one of the funnest things to do as a family. It is also pretty ecologically happy, providing we don’t commute too far to the place of embarking. Even when it is a bit of a drive – say down into Canberra’s National Park area, Namadji – it seems to be worth it for the love of nature it is, hopefully, instilling in the kids and continuing to foster in us.

Hiking one’s own hills is an important part of growing roots, something that is continuing to grow my own thinking around “Connection to Country” and what this means for us today.

While my own childhood was spent frequenting the hill behind my parent’s house – and it is still a place I could walk around during the night with ease, in fact I used to do that – our children tend to climb the peaks that are the closest to us. They already know ‘the bandaid plant’ thanks to an excellent bush tucker tour they attended through their school and we explore other varieties of plant and fungus which pop up along the way. It all excites me and I love sharing this love with my children and seeing them get fired up about it as well.

As a bit of a change, I thought I’d share some pictures from a recent traipse up Mount Majura.

The Trouble with Exponential Growth

There is actually a lot of trouble with exponential growth, but I think the major, major one is that we humans seem particularly unable to grasp it either mentally or emotionally. The best way, I think, to convey what exponential growth looks like is visually.

This YouTube video shows very clearly how difficult it is for us to grasp the simple idea of doubling.

I think, often, when we think of doubling we accidentally think of adding. It’s hard for us to really grasp, mentally, how quickly something can grow when it is simply doubled, particularly with large numbers. Think of the difference between doubling a teaspoon of salt versus doubling a pot of soup. Once you start doubling bigger and bigger volumes that thing grows real fast!

That’s exactly what has happened with population growth on the planet. We’ve just kept reproducing and when humans reproduce they typically double themselves and it’s hard to slow that sucker down.

If you have four kids, you’ve doubled yourself and your partner. If those four kids doubled themselves, you might slip and think “8 kids” but actually, it’s 4 x 4, that’s 16. Then if those 16 grandkids double themselves – most of you will not even be able to do that quick sum in your head. You might think “32” off the top of your head, but that’s just double 16. We’re talking about 16 people having four kids each here – doubling themselves and their partners. That’s actually 64. Before you know it, you’ve grown a city in just several generations.

I’d like to compare here how a two or three child person family stacks up against a four person family, assuming each replicates the procreation pattern.

 

Four Children

Three Children

Two children

Parents

2

2

2

Kids

4

3

2

Grandkids

16

9

4

Great Grandkids

64

27

8

Great – Great Grandkids

256

81

16

GGG Grandkids

1 024

243

32

GGGG Grandkids

4 096

729

64

GGGGG Grandkids

16 384

2 187

128

GGGGGG Grandkids

65 536

6 561

256

GGGGGGG Grandkids

262 144

19 683

512

Isn’t this difference astounding?

This is why, when Abraham only had two children God was never worried about him ‘populating the earth’, see God knew about exponential growth. I’m not sure Abraham did.

It’s this little trick that compounding growth has that has left the world with a population like this:

By El T [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, that’s a little scary, for sure. But as I said to my mum, is it better to ignore it? Pretend that this reality does not exist? Should we desist from having children out of fear? (Well, people often have children out of fear – fear of being alone in old age among other reasons) I’m going to leave that one up to you. What we each choose to do about something like this is up to each of us individuals. Whether we choose to remember and act as though our procreation efforts affect the world at large, is currently (particularly in a world with so few natural population controls) solely up to us.

One thing that I do think is that bringing children in this world is one of the most recklessly hopeful things anyone can do and hope is definitely something we could all do with around here!

But there are a few things I’d like to ask you to do:

    1. Can you continue to draw that graph? We’re up to over 7 billion now, draw this graph into the next couple of hundred years, go for 280 years, that’s 10 generations away. How is this graph going to look into the future? Think about it.

 

    1. Think about the world’s capacity to support such a massive jump in population. We’ve only hit 7 billion in recent times. Can the world support this volume of people indefinitely? – Compare it to how it has only supported way less that just one billion throughout all time. Think about plastic accumulation, species extinction, acquifer depletion, CO2 emissions – what are their rates of acceleration? Match that up with population increases. What could happen? 

N.B. I stumbled upon this article on this very topic and I think it’s worth emphasising a few things therein. We can’t change what’s done, but we can work toward the future and toward informing our own choices, which is just as important as anything else. In this respect learning to live within self imposed limits is a really important factor in extending the planet’s capacity to deal with our current population. Things like: avoiding flying (that’s not flying less, it’s avoiding it), driving less (or avoiding it) and eating less meat all help to bring a person’s activity within more ecological bounds.

Canberra City Planning – cycling

I get on my bike as often as I can. This can be tricky with three kids but my older two are competent cyclists and my youngest is very easy to put into either of my three options – front seat, back seat or trailer.

Having a bike trailer is a game changer for a mum – probably for anyone, but it makes a family so much more portable on bikes, increasing crucial lugging capacity, and, I have found, is well worth the investment!

So, we cycle around town as much as we can.

This is one benefit of living in the inner-north that I would not want to give up in order to settle out in one of Canberra’s sprawling suburbs. Being able to cycle to events, the pool, the library, the supermarket and friend’s houses enhances our lives is worth the sacrifice of extra space for a large garden. We are satisfied with our small one (which is jam-packed with veges) and more than satisfied with being able to walk and ride to close-at-hand amenities and luxuries, rather than guzzle up fossil fuel (and extra time) to get there.

So my cycling around town is an urban planning matter. It is closely linked to how we build our cities, how we are building Canberra.

Canberra is about as good as it gets for commuter cyclists in Australia. This is unfortunate because Canberra could be better. Fortunately, from what I can gather, ACT’s current government does seem to be pro cycling and active travel, pro medium to high density in parts  (personally I am more in favour of medium density over high density in this city) and, I am hoping, also in favour of creating human scale, hospitable, fun and friendly public spaces. These things are all key to creating equitable, friendly cities where people do not have to rely on a car to get around.

In my cycle from Dickson, through O’Connor, into Civic and on into the Parliamentary Triangle and back again I encountered a range of cycling conditions. From my house I have to cross a busy intersection. This can be a little frightening with a 7 year old dare devil who loves to scream down the hill, “check your brakes!” I often call to him, not that it makes any difference. Then it is a squishy ride down a narrow but fairly quiet path to the main riding throughfare which runs from Dickson College right into The Australian National University, and on to Lake Burley Griffin, where offshoots can take you into various southern suburbs along idyllic rides by the lake. This path took me just a few block from the city centre where, after navigating a couple of less than desirable paths (caused by tree roots, so I won’t complain, I’d rather have the trees) I easily parked and did some grocery shopping.

This leg, my friends, was a journey easier than a car trip in peak hour and having to find and pay for parking in some of the storied car parks attached to the shopping centre. It included the added bonus of feeling the wind in my hair and a particular feeling that I was truly alive! If there is any feeling closer to flying than actually flying do tell because riding on a hotmixed Canberra bike path on a bike feels as much like it as I’d care to know!

After this we went on to the triangle where I made sure to take the Eastern bike path along Commonwealth Avenue bridge so that I could slide off onto the bike path taking me (along with twenty-odd mums with prams and various joggers and people in business attire) right to the back end of the National Gallery where I parked my bike and took my bonny daughter in to their excellent play space.

Canberra-Cycling-Mum (1 of 1)

 

Truly, being a mum of a little one in Canberra does feel positively utopian at times!

The journey back home again was equally straightforward, except for finding a new, quieter, route home through Reid, which is yet another joy of cycling – adaptability and adventure.

There is certainly room for improvement in Canberra, living location is certainly one important factor to being able to make this choice. My point is that it is definitely, in my eyes, a choice worth choosing. I prefer this mode of travel above all else!

As Steve Jobs is attributed as saying: A bicycle is the most efficient form of transport. It is also, I argue, the most fun.

Linburn Handmade

I interviewed ceramicist Georgie Bryant on her work under the label Linburn Handmade, a copy of which appeared in Canberra City News (21/02/2018).


 

In her lovely backyard in Canberra where she works out of her home studio Georgie tells me that her ceramics studio, Linburn Handmade, is about providing functional, domestic ware that is contemporary, earthy and honest.

My focus has always been that ceramics can be beautiful but it is also really useful. I like that clay is so everyday and functional. It’s practical, and what I want to give people is something that looks good and that they can use all the time,” she says.

 


I wouldn’t say my pots are heavy and hefty, but there is a strength there, without them being too fine, I always try to balance beauty and function.”

Turning her ceramics practice into a business was an organic process. After moving to Canberra for work she took up a pottery class at the Watson Arts Centre. She was struck and developed a passion for pottery which soon saw her working with a production potter before starting her own business.

“I quite enjoy getting the detail right, the size and the form, which you need to do if you’re going to do production pottery,” she says, telling me that it becomes quite rhythmic over time.

The name, Linburn, is a nod to her childhood home near Mudgee, NSW, where she was surrounded by her mother’s cherished porcelain and learned to make things with her father.

“My dad is probably at the root of all this, unknowingly. He’s a really clever guy who can manufacture anything. He’s a farmer, and learned to build all sorts of buildings around New South Wales with his father when he was a young man. I couldn’t help but learn from them that I wanted to make beautiful and useful things.”

The location still features in her practice, as she has been known to dig clay from the area to use in her pots, “there’s some nice clay out that way,” she states and I can tell that this passion for good clay and fine pots runs deep, as her eyes light up as she speaks.

With a few large commissions in recent years it seems that interest in local, handmade ceramics is making a resurgence, something that could be related to a change in how food is thought about.

“Food has gone from being something that we eat, to something that we talk about, look at and photograph. It seems to be everywhere and – I would say this as a potter,” she laughs, “but it seems that the natural progression is to ask, ‘if we care about what we’re eating, what are we eating it off?’ It could sit anywhere along the spectrum of being something mass produced overseas or handmade locally”

I agree and we talk about how the slow food movement seems to have instigated a slow-made movement and we laugh over how this has almost intersected in our very plates as handmade ceramics merges with locally and mindfully produced food in our restaurants and cafes. It appears that Georgie’s work is an allegory for our times.

Canberra’s dining scene is replete with passionate foodies, something which resonates with Georgie as she matches her passion with theirs and has no problem meeting their creative ideas with their own to come up with the perfect, unique solution for their tableware.

The creative process is kind of fun. There’s a hunt for the right design, the right glaze and how it’s going to look.

I’ve stood in cool rooms with chefs, looking at pork knuckles, to understand what is going to go on the plate. They are all about the food being right and I’m all about the plate being right and then we have an overlap where we have to be right together which is not just technical, it’s got to be affordable, I’ve got to be able to reproduce it, it’s got to be attractive and it has to make sense with the food.

It’s like a puzzle and I enjoy working with others and challenging myself as well.”

In the end, she says, “It’s sheer delight when I wander past one of the restaurants where my plates are and see people having a nice time, maybe not everyone is thinking about the plates, but it’s all part of the picture.”

Georgie can be contacted for commissions and sales through www.linburnhandmade.com, she also stocks ceramics at the Watson Arts Centre, www.canberrapotters.com.au.

I don’t buy it

Over the years some have dismissed my growing, dirty passion of gardening as being “not for them”, or laughing it off with “we’re so different”, or saying, almost proudly, that they “don’t have a green thumb”.

All things that I’ve not really known how to take, because, actually, we’re not “so different”, we all have to eat and drink from and walk on the earth beneath us. The planet has to be fit and healthy to provide food, water, shelter and air for us all, not just the different ones among us.

Through history people have had next to no choice in sourcing their food from the land immediately surrounding them, it is only in the last fifty years or so that this has changed in Australia.

The “Dig For Victory” campaign in Britain during WWII had near on the entire population growing food so that they could survive the war. It is actually inspiring scientists to measure the contribution of own-grown food to national production in Britain today. There was no: “This is not for me” back then.

Because we actually are the same, they too have to eat. Their alternative to growing the food that they eat is to buy it. So, presumably, growing food is “not for them” but buying the food that other’s have grown, sprayed, shipped and displayed is “for them”.

Well, let me say that that’s not for me!  (Though I do buy what I can’t grow.)

Is this just an ignorant statement, as I find their statements to be? No. Because it is based on information. It is an educated response based on the possible destructive impacts of monoculture, the long-term impacts of pesticides (including on bees) and fertilisers on crops, our bodies and the wider environment, the impacts of transporting food hundreds of miles to a local grocery shop and the waste that is emitted from the supermarket backend due to unsaleable products and in our kitchens due to food that is undervalued in terms of personal effort.

I was not born a gardener. I’ve eaten food all my life as every other living person also has, in just the same way, thereabouts, as every person I am in contact with in my daily life.

I am no different, but I have educated myself about the impacts of my actions. I have not always known how to grow a carrot, in fact I don’t even consider myself very good at it today, because actually, it grows itself, I have just had to learn how to provide a favourable environment for it, though I still often kill things. My husband often groans at my slap dash approach, so if I can do it, anyone can!

It’s been year after year of learning and accumulating mistakes and lessons until I can finally cobble together a garden which does give me beans, tomatoes, corn, carrots, cabbages, squash, lettuce, herbs and numerous other offerings as well as a tranquil environment which soothes daily troubles and assuages the need to go out for my entertainment – while providing a venue for my own visitors.

It is a full on benefit in every way, there really is no downside!

It could be that this is a mere matter of semantics, in which case please don’t do yourself a disservice with your words, instead try something like this: “I tried that and I gave up” or “I’ve killed everything I’ve tried to grow”, or even, “I’d like to learn how to do that”.

You can do it! I believe in you! Growing things in a garden is just a matter of learning how (and it’s so easy) and a little bit of discipline.

* I will concede that modern pressures can leave us exhausted at the end of a full work day and pottering in the garden can feel like a torture best left undone. This is entirely understandable but does not leave growing a small plant or two completely out of reach!

The hardest part is to get started. Start small: a pot of Thyme on the bench, add some Basil in Summer. Next Summer grow one tomato bush. Leave the carrots for later.

Canberra’s Homeward Bound Women

It was a pleasure and a privilege to interview Susan, Nicole, Aparna and Madeline for City News recently. You can read the interview here.

When I met Madeline I was immediately enthused to learn about the leadership program which accepts STEM (the common abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) women from around the world to mentor and equip for future leadership in a world where “mother nature needs her daughters”. After a year of mentoring Homeward Bound then takes these women on a journey to Antarctica for further intensive training, networking and to fall in love with one of the furthest corners of the planet.

I really resonated with Nicole’s comment that, “of course it should be based on love,” because I believe it too. It is falling in love with our beautiful planet home that is the motivation for changing the ways in which we live, for taking what might seem like a sacrificial hit in order to mitigate the damage we might otherwise perpetuate.

When we develop an actual relationship with the energy of the life around us then it becomes easier to do no harm. We see better the effects our actions might have on other living things and on the systems supporting us.

It’s great that scientific knowledge supports this and now leaders are being equipped to bring this knowledge and, hopefully, this relationship, to bear on the realms of government, education, society, business and other fields.

 

Cities of Tar

They are resealing the block today. The air reeks of tar fumes.

In my backyard, which we have spent so much effort in turning into some kind of oasis, disguising the fact that we are mere metres from the next house over, I can smell it and it breaks the illusion.

It is not an oasis, we’re on an island surrounded by rivers of tar. Tar that melts and sticks, that suffocates the potential for life beneath. Things do not grow on tar. You will not find the odd weed in these rivers, unless a grain of dirt has found a place to lodge itself or, by some miracle, the tar has cracked through its inches to allow some waves of light to hit the dirt beneath.

Still, it’s nice to have flat roads to drive on, but is it nice to drive? It’s nice to have roads to map and navigate, but is it nice to always know what is around the next corner? It’s nice to have sewers to carry all that water away, away – to somewhere where we don’t have to deal with it. Would it also be nice, though, for the water to soak into the ground, fill the acquifers, grow the plants, soak in and turn our clay into a sponge?

There is nothing gained without some loss. What is lost from the ordered streets, the hot black tarred rock, the council that comes like clock work to reseal our streets? Spontaneity, any kind of connection to our landscape, a little bit of dirt, water that stays and soaks and grows, responsibility to our immediate environments.

These streets do a good job of containing us into nice, orderly lines: rows going this way and that way at a certain speed. Places for pedestrians – though sometimes not – and when not then there is no place for them and they must behave as rabbits in the shooter’s spotlight, dodging into dark burrows and hedges.

The council sends us a nicely worded letter telling us that in three days time they will turn up, begin sealing, “please clear the roads of cars”, “there might be delays of 10 minutes”, “please be understanding” and then, overleaf, proceeds to tell us in an informative way (with pictures) the benefits of keeping these roads in spiffy condition. (They fail to mention the potential losses because, of course, there are always losses, we must remember that.)

Of course, we can not send the council a letter saying: “we are going to use our street for purposes other than driving”, “please do not interrupt us”, “or prosecute us”, “there may be delays of several hours” and then proceed to elucidate on the many benefits of the community gathering to talk, share, whirl, paint, gad about together in the village square known as the intersection….with three days notice at that.

No, in this world, our world, the relationship is unequal. The powers that be, whom we pay taxes to, are allowed, nay – expected! – to provide services, resealing perfectly fine streets, giving only a few days notice, calling for an evacuation of the streets…but we, the community who lives and breathes in those streets, are not permitted the same. Are not expected to lift a finger to do the same.

The renegade citizens of Portland have rebuffed such expectations and have lifted many fingers, big and small, to close down streets, bring out the paint tins and fling their brushes around into patterns resembling murals. Yes, street murals, with the idea that the streets do not belong only to cars and stormwater, but also to the people who live there. Their argument: that people need places to meet, lest we turn into cubicular people living cubicular lives in little cubicles called houses in front of the cubes (now very flat) of container entertainment pumped to us from the centralised Entertainment Distributors in a similar way in which our poo is pumped out to the centralised Poo Processors. Because we citizens are assumed to be as incapable of producing our very own entertainment as we are at processing our own poo. In fact all we are supposed to be good at is in making and spending money (I’ll post about that another day).

The experiments at, to begin with, civic disobedience, turned into civic action with the consent of a city ordinance, (good work, city authorities, in recognising a good thing when you see it), proving that  it is possible for our city streets to belong to all, be used by all and be cared for by all with just a little cooperation.

 

Pots #1

Well, I’ve reached the end of my first comprehensive pottery class. I found it thrilling. To use age old techniques to create timeless, functional vessels out of something so base as mud without a computer screen or even the possibility of electricity in sight – well, that is just an incredible feeling. I loved this and I will do it again.

My goals are to create large, even-sided vessels, make my wheel-spun walls thinner and finer and create more pinch pot bud vases, as I just love those and can not get enough of them.

The bud vase I made below was finished in a Raku kiln firing, Raku meaning pleasure or comfort in Japanese as the experience is supposed to be a convivial affair with food and drink to celebrate the emergence of beautiful pots. My teacher, Georgie, finished the pots off in a bin of fire using newspapers set alight by the very heat of the pot itself. This produced differing colourations on the glazes, producing lustre and tones of red and purples, making the pots seem metallic as the fire left its indelible mark on the pot’s surfaces in licks and grooves.

It’s a magical process that culminated in the taking home of precious, one-off earthenware.

Here are the products of the Raku firing.

This little bud vase is even more stunning in reality. The treatment with fire following the kiln firing resulted in the exposed clay (the bottom of the pot and the cracks in the glaze – which is meant to happen, it’s a property of the glaze: White Crackle) drawing in carbon and turning black. It produced my favourite effect on this pot.

This pot did not turn out as expected, at all! The glaze, Superstition, was supposed to turn out a mottled turquoise colour. The flames did totally different things to it and instead I got these mottled, metallic tones over the outside of the pot (which I also love). The second picture below shows the turquoise colour, untouched by fire, in the pot’s interior.

This funny little monster was an afterthought in the last minutes of my pinch pot class. I adore pinch pots. There’s such a connection to the clay and it is possible to lose oneself in the process of moulding and forming so that the clay just does what it wants and you are a part of its creating itself in this world. If that doesn’t sound all hippy-dippy I don’t know what does! But it’s true.

Anyway, this fella is a gift to my boy (and he loved it). He lost a horn (we made another), and his features turned black instead of the white I envisioned (due to the added fire bucket step), but the extra luscious, oozing glaze on his backside makes up for that in spades. Delicious!

Portraits on an album

It’s been two years to the day since the release of The Burley Griffin’s eponymous album which, I am happy to say, featured photography by me of my father and nephew (also lead singer, Evan Buckley’s nephew). Although I am incredibly thankful to have some of my photography out and about in the world in this way I did nothing at the time to mark this occasion apart from attending and dancing at the album’s launch, which was, in itself, pretty fantastic. So here then, in gratitude and to mark the anniversary of what, I think, is a wonderful album, are the photos I took of my dad and my nephew.

It was quite an involved but thoroughly enjoyable process to work with Evan to get the feeling of these photos exactly right. We looked over literally hundreds of images and went through dozens upon dozens of edits to get it just right. In the end it wasn’t quite what he initially expected (he imagined getting the right image from an older nephew, but in the end his youngest captured the feeling he wanted in this album), but it was just what he wanted. We contrasted gritty and pure, weathered and fresh, sharpness and softness and darkness and light in order to create a package that reflected on all these things which are also contained in The Burley Griffin’s songs.

Photo by The Burley Griffin

The album is still able to be purchased through Bandcamp and Evan still actively performs as a solo act and occasionally under the auspices of The Burley Griffin as well.

Making things

I am currently in the throes of a pottery class, which I am totally loving. I’ve been wanting to do a pottery class since we moved back to Canberra, but then I fell pregnant – which rendered me useless, and juggling a newborn with hobby classes just didn’t seem very smart for anyone involved. It’s only just passable now.

The following artifacts, however, were made last Summer when I joined my children in a brief pottery class at the same place. Canberra Potters is one of Canberra’s little hidden treasures. Part of what I love about them is their relaxed, almost self-organising nature. While safety is observed, as it must be, there is a strong sense of community participation alongside freedom (“make whatever you want!”). Students participate in cleaning up the facilities following use in order to keep things flowing between the groups using the classrooms. They are shown how to use the facilities to participate in the ongoing life of Canberra Potters. The courtyard and tearoom are available during class, students are invited to take a break during the classes if they so wish. Within the constraints of a small class there is much scope for working at your own pace as the cathartic nature of working with clay and with one’s own hands is recognised and each potter I have encountered there has a love for the medium which they are enthusiastic to pass on.

In a day and age overwhelmed with digital noise perhaps clay has never been more important!

  

I fell in love with bud vases after seeing Cecile Daladier’s work. I love their perfect, little, organic forms. I am challenging myself to make a ‘perfect’ mug. I’ve got a slight mug obsession and I’m always looking out for the most perfectly formed and sized mug, they never seem to hit the right spot though, so I’ll have to conceptualise this sense and somehow make it work myself. This could be the sole reason that I am doing a pottery class. That and bud vases, because the kids are forever picking flowers for me that have very insubstantial stems. Out of necessity invention is born.

The importance of Light

If there’s one thing that I am glad that photography has taught me, it has to be how to read light.

Light changes everything in a photo!

When you are booking a wedding or portrait photographer this is the number one thing to think about for when you schedule your portrait session.

Here’s a quick run down on how different light affects photos.

 

Morning

I ADORE the morning for photos. The light is soft, colours are muted, the air is still after a night of rest. Morning photos are atmospheric and low contrast. They are soft and reflective. You can also get some beautiful directional light in the morning – if you’re quick and wake up with the birds!

 

Mid-day

As the day warms up, if there is no cloud cover, colours gradually grow brighter, stronger, harsher. Shadows deepen. Contrast is high. Colours can appear super saturated, green, especially, can really stand out. It’s no secret that full sun is the most difficult light to photograph in. There is no directional light for dramatic flare and shadows and bright spots on faces really do not show up well on camera. The best thing to do is to move into full shade if you can.

These photos were all taken in full sun, seeking shelter under shade:

These photos were in full sun, you can really see the strength of the colours here! I find, in this situation, that a more sculptural approach to photography works well. Shadows accentuate shapes. Not such a good thing for faces, but it can really highlight the body or structures in the landscape. If you are photographing faces have your subject turn away from the light if you can (if the sun is not full overhead) so that you can at least get even tones over the face.

And here you can see the difference very clearly between a photo taken in full sun (first pic) and the one taken once the bridesmaid took one step back into the shade of the haybales. Such a huge difference! Of course these have been edited to deepen the shadow at the back and really make her pop, but you can see the difference between the evenness of colour in the second (shaded) photo and the shadowy, high contrast colour in the sun-lit photo (where you can see that the sun is to her right), and the only difference is one step backwards!

Overcast

Cloudy days are some of my favourite days to photograph in. The light is even, there is no sharp contrast, shadows are almost non-existent. Colour is vibrant but not overpowering.

 

Dusk

This is when I book most portrait sessions, this is because, whether the day has been cloudy or sunny, you can pretty much work around any conditions (excepting really wet or windy) in the late afternoon. Similar to morning the colours are more subdued and you can get nice directional lighting, but there is a slight difference in light quality, I think it has something to do with air ions and the quantity present at different times during the day – just a guess! ;)

Here are a good deal of my afternoon portraits. The key characteristics here are muted colours, even tones (in spite of some being quite dark due to the late hour) and directional light in some cases.

When it’s Dark

This is a really fun light to photograph in. It’s so easy to focus on interesting details or to frame your subject using surrounding darkness. I love to use lamps or lights to cast unusual shadows or bring focus in ways you wouldn’t normally.

That’s a quick summary of many different lighting situations. I hope you’ve found this helpful. If anything it’s cause to have a little fun with your photography!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life. by Barbara Kingsolver, 2007. Published by HarperCollins.

Animal Vegetable Miracle

I found this book (and, coincidentally, its author) in the year of its 10th Anniversary – that is, 2017. Barbara Kingsolver, being unknown to me, appeared to be a passionate writer whose voice I did not find to be completely at ease in this tale of non-fiction, chronicling her first year as a Locavore in a small farming community in Virginia, USA. I found the narrative slow in places, obstructed by a few too many by-the-bys and overly wordy lines. Still, she skillfully weaves stories together, linking elements throughout each chapter so that by the end I barely realised that I had walked with her from Spring’s muddy swan song, through Summer’s dripping harvest and on to Winter’s comfortingly generous larder. A whole year of eating well and locally.

It’s a subject I’m keenly interested in as it is exactly what myself and Hendrik have in mind to do in the nearest possible future. As hopeful future farm dwellers I duly note with importance that, generally, it can be quite impossible to live sustainably in a rural setting unless one turns toward subsistence living in a major way (Moriarty 2002, 243). While the term denotes an aspect of just scraping through by the skin of ones teeth, Kingsolver’s testimony is that such a life is full to the brim! Busy and hard work it sure is, but nevertheless also richly rewarding, deeply satisfying and quite (and quietly) attainable.

Her account of “harvesting” her chickens seemed also well within reach. It is, in fact, this moment around which her whole year of living locally hangs because what’s a year of eating without a central protein source? And if it’s not tofu imported from Japan, rice imported from China or beans imported from Mexico or Italy then it either has to be beans from ones own garden or meat. Local meat. And the most local meat is your own. If you have land enough and excess produce enough then raising your own fowl or hoof is almost a no brainer, which is not to say that it does not constitute a good deal of thought.

Thought is what Kingsolver treats us to with this account. Thought about how GMO plants can cause more havoc on living creatures than the local slaughterhouse, about how pesticides dole out their own deal of death to innocent creatures, up through the food chain and about how the industrial food machine does not exactly treat the earth, and therefore its animal inhabitants, kindly, at all. Her issuing of Kahlil Gibran’s ode to the animal at slaughter is perhaps about as profound as we can get around the subject of eating meat ourselves, though some may find this wanting, which I do respect. It’s a tricky subject and I find no perfect solution.

“When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart:

By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed.

For the law that delivers you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.

Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”

I myself am a meat eater, and Kingsolver’s call to Locavory is the most genuine call to eating meat, in respect to the cycle of life, that I can so far imagine.

For someone wanting to know more about the how-on-earth-can-it-be-done of subsistence farming, or self-sufficient farming (which Kingsolver also renders a myth, as much of her ability to subsist depends on a close farming community) then this is a good book to turn to. With a tenth anniversary addition it even seems attainable for the long haul, in fact, much of the thrust of this book is that it is not only attainable, but it is essential and the reset point of much of history seems to be the return to local, family farming communities.

In such a time as this I find that claim the most comforting I have come across recently.

Reference:

Moriarty, Patrick. 2002. Environmental Sustainability of Large Australian Cities. Urban Policy and Research. 20(3). 233-244.

Citified Exhibition

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Rosy Wilson’s debut exhibition was held at the niche Anvil Design Studio in the hipster hub of The Hamlet. Sadly this well-loved nook has been bookmarked for development ‘upgrades’ which will see Canberra’s alternative crowd yet again bumped…but don’t worry, it’s so good, it’s reincarnating.

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Rosy’s Citified focuses on the fashion capitals of the world, New York, London, Milan and Rome with Sydney, Venice and Wellington also getting a look in.

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As an architect Rosy’s interest in cities is natural but her paintings veer away from merely harsh, architectural lines by involving a human element through figures in the motions of daily life, softening the built environment and drawing the viewer into the action of city life at eye level. In her cities life is good, the sun shines and buildings are resplendent in the acrylic coating she has given them.

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Favourites are the glint of light reflected off a passing London cab, reflections in the glass of a New York office block, the azure of a Wellington sea with tiny figures enjoying a sunny day and the relaxed atmosphere of a Sydney waterfront.

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One can not help but feel somewhat cheery and optimistic after seeing cities beautified in her paintings. They are clean, friendly and assertive. It is refreshing to see an artist with such lack of pretension and obvious talent drawing our attention to what is positive in the world.

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You can see Rosy’s work here and connect with her on Facebook or Instagram to keep abreast of upcoming work and exhibitions.

 

The Wife Drought {Book Review}

the-wife-drought-book-review

I have finally read the luminous Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought. Annabel Crabb is an utterly reassuring person. What she contributes to our collective, Australian psyche is hard, I think, to overestimate. The fact that she has also reproduced (both the paper kind and flesh-and-blood kind) gives me hope in our collective future. She is the new kind of Aussie Character, taking over from the “Aussie Battler”, smart, energetic, witty, well dressed and so, so nice with her self-effacing grin softening every probing question.

How could you not totally adore her.

I have long loved her via Kitchen Cabinet, that rare gem of good television (thank you, ABC, you little ripper), and this book firmly entrenches Annabel (let’s not defer to last names here) as my number three celebrity crush. (Adam and Hugh are alongside her in equal ranks. Adam because, like Annabel, he effuses a new kind of Australian: eloquent, engaging and erudite. Hugh because as much as I like to see upandcomers do well it’s also good to see a nice British toff get all environmentalist and reformist, though I’m sure he makes a bit of cash off the back of it. Nevermind. I like him.)

So, I guess you can see, I rate the book. I do. She offers stats, data and interesting little anecdotes supporting the need for more help for women wanting to get back into the workforce. She relates to our common humanity, my favourite line: “My definition of breaking point is when you communicate exclusively in shrieks and can only work while drunk.” Oh yes, you get us, don’t you, Annabel! You know what it is like to be totally and unshakeably human. She does not downplay the challenges in living a balanced, or even unbalanced, life in Australia. She knows the statistics tell personal stories. She knows these matters are complex, and often personal, so she gives them careful treatment in all their shades of grey.

Not least she skirts very close to something I have long held questions about. That is that, yes, people do need the fulfillment of meaningful work, people do need to invest in their super so that they can retire without having to go dumpster diving (though some might enjoy that…aging hipsters?) and yes, careers can be fun but…men too need lives…and so she flirts with the unstated question: Do women actually have it pretty good in being (culturally acceptably) able to take several years off work (notwithstanding what that does to one’s professional life), but are men, therefore, missing out? So, perhaps then the single thing keeping women out of boardrooms is not just inequality of opportunity (i.e. no wives). The opposite side of that coin is that, well…maybe women don’t want to be competing in the workplace, not because it’s too difficult, but actually because they’ve got it worked out: family life is the good life! (If only it paid Super)  It’s the unasked question that Annabel doesn’t utter. And in uttering it myself I can happily say that I gladly “took time off” to raise kids (eight years in fact) and didn’t doubt myself or utter curses at the universe in the process. I wanted to do it. I would do it over. It would be nice if someone had contributed some super while I was doing it but…it was worth it. Many of the other mums I’ve met on the giggle and wiggle circuit feel the same. When I’m still working at 70 I’m sure it will still be worth it, because I’d rather work then than then, if you know what I mean. In fact, now, spookily mirroring the words of this book, my husband wants a turn. Having Annabel’s words cheering me on and validating this new turn of events is giving me the confidence and empathy to, why not, let him have it! It’s time for me to move over and let a man have a go, to switch the terminology around.

Despite only fully unpacking one side of this coin, Annabel moves between stories like mine and national statistics (or lack thereof) taking us along on a rollickingly good ride with herself as the compere. She does a bloody good job of it and by the end she has us all convinced (not that we weren’t already) that yes, women do need wives! And also, yes, men need lives! I’m all for her advocacy of a little bit of switcheroo happening in the spirit of give-and-give so that we can all ride the merry-go-round together in a spirit of sharing the load, whether that’s domestic servitude or corporate slavery, power broking or block building.

Andrew & Sara

Andrew and Sara’s wedding was held in the tiny town of Bethungra where they run The Shirley Hotel B&B. They’ve put a lot of work into this place and it would have been a no brainer to hold their wedding there in the superb grounds. Sara’s immaculate attention to detail spanned every aspect of this wedding which meant that the day itself was reserved for partying – which they did, with great gusto!

Thank you for having me, Andrew and Sara, you built some beautiful memories on this day that I am glad to have witnessed!

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How to take Photos of Your Kids

While I do think a good family portrait session is due every year or two, kids grow so quickly that you want to be able to document their growth on the run throughout the year, at least I do!

There are two ways you can take children’s portraits:

  1. Force them, cajoule them, nag them, bark at them to “stand up straight and smile at the camera!!!”
  2. Let them run around while you play the stealth shooter taking snaps as they do their (beautiful, wondrous, magical) thing!

I’m a fan of the second method (can you tell?) and I’m going to give you a few tips that will have you photographing your kids with ease as you live your lives together.

To start with, the best camera is the one you have at the time! However, I’m a big fan of Fujifilm’s compact cameras. The x100s is a classic, compact and tough little camera. The versatility of the X-T1’s are also excellent for taking day-to-day family photos. They both have large sensors which means you are getting high quality, large format photos for a fraction of the weight (and cost) of the usual full frame DSLR cameras.

Tip 1.

Be conscious to take your camera with you when you know fun times are to be had, like picnics by the lake for example. Have it nearby-ish at home in case a beautiful, captureable moment crops up. Sometimes I can’t be bothered getting off the couch or exiting the moment to retrieve my camera and sometimes I do and the moment is over. It’s a judgement call. I think that sometimes It’s better to take a mental snap and forget the camera. It’s more important for your kids to remember you being a part of the action then always behind the camera.

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Tip 2.

While it’s good to leave the camera alone sometimes, I also find taking my kids out on a determined and purposeful photoshoot is a great way to have a fun time together, focused solely on them – my daughter especially loves it, and I’m sure my son secretly does!

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Tip 3.

Don’t just take photos of faces (There’s a tip about capturing faces following). Hands, body posture and activity are just as expressive and show the character of your child. A photo of their knees with grazes and all shows they were active kids and you’ll want to remember that too.

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Tip 4. 

Take photos of the details, a little flower in the hair, a cute hair clip or loved teddy, the detail of a well-worn shirt or dress. While the things in themselves may not be important, seeing them years down the track will bring memories of playing with hair, dressing your child, cuddling and even their cute voices and mannerisms from that time.

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Tip 5.

Get down to their level! An easy way to drastically improve your capture is to make sure your camera is level with your subject. This is particularly important to remember when photographing a baby. Get down to their level and you get a truer picture.

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Tip 6.

When taking photos of faces, don’t assume they must be looking at you. My favourite way to take natural photos of my children is to have them looking at something, searching for the bugs on a bush or drawing with chalk on the pavement.

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Set them up so your background is pretty or at least plain and not garish in any way and talk to them about what they are exploring as you quietly snap away.

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Tip 7. 

Photograph through some foliage. It softens the whole effect and adds colour and depth to your photograph. Just have it a little off to the side so it doesn’t obscure important details.

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Tip 8.

Embrace their ideas. Embrace the absurd. It might work out. More importantly it gets them on your side so you aren’t the one just directing them around…they might not play along if that’s the case!

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Tip 9.

When it comes to camera settings for kids make sure your shutter speed is adequate! Try photographing on a sunny day (but in the shade) so that your ISO (that’s your light sensitivity) is the best it can be (that is, the lowest it can be which reduces graininess). If you can set your shutter speed, do that – to at least 400 (which is 400th of a second), and let the aperture take care of itself.

If you’re a little more savvy with your camera, having a wide aperture (that’s a LOW number, 2.8 – 3.2) makes for some stunningly dreamy photographs.

But number one tip for all you novice photographers with a camera phone, just make sure it’s a sunny day and photograph in the shade, or a bright cloudy day is just as good (if not better)!

Good luck! I hope you take the time to have your own little photoshoot with your children. A professional can take photos like these with you included, but doing it yourself is an entirely different and special experience!

Merlo’s family

Merlo is Suze’s beautiful and beloved dog. If you follow her at Petticoat Studio (for the cutest handmade skirts and more) I’m sure you would be familiar with his face.

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Jordan & Nikita

Hey Guys,

I can’t believe this wedding was six months ago. A pregnancy and birth may have slowed me down, but this wedding was no more a favourite than any other wedding here.

These guys were ridiculously fun to photograph,  and such a riotous gang of people! We love getting back into country Australia – Young, NSW where my husband grew up. The open space out there is phenomenal and farmers know how to party, that is for sure! It was just lovely driving out to Jordan and Nikita’s house surrounded by paddocks on a day when Summer decided to let up a little. The weather could not have been more perfect! Apart from a delightful day spent with this couple exploring their home region, and farms which have been in the family and among friends for generations, I think I can safely say that Nikita is the the only bride I will ever photograph standing on a horse!

Thanks Nikita and Jordan for having us, it was a total hoot!

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Brett & Karissa

Brett and Karissa’s wedding was a vibrant and lively affair. The venue of choice was St Clements Monastery in Galong which is a perfect venue for a wedding. I love the idea of bringing guests away from their home town to continue the party the next day, everyone loves an excuse to party on, don’t they!?

St Clements hosted superbly. I was incredibly impressed with their facilities, the setting and the food! Quite amazing. I hope to see them host many more weddings (along with the retreats which are often open to the public and I think much needed in this day and age. Go to their website and check out what’s happening there.)

I was pretty amazed by Karissa’s ability to get everyone on task and organised, but as the co-owner (with sister, Nicola) behind Scissor Sisters in Young, NSW you’d expect nothing less than a powerhouse, and that’s what she is!

Congratulations, Brett and Karissa, it was a treat to see you married surrounded by such a loving family and community.

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John and Jocelyn

I somehow got myself all the way to Noosa for this wedding. There was no hesitation though, I knew I wanted to shoot for these two, they were both so relaxed and accommodating, giving me licence to do my thing, which I always love!

On the day they were equally relaxed, which was great for me as I bumbled around Noosa’s busy streets attempting to find a vacant carpark. When I finally arrived at Jocelyn’s space she casually shooed me away to photograph rings with John and grab some food and a coffee, and I happily obliged, if there is an Anti-Bridezilla, she was it, luckily for me!

Thanks, John & Joscelyn, for having me photograph your wedding. I consider myself privileged to have made the adventure up there to witness a snippet of your lives together, your beautiful, kind, conscientious, generous spirits have made a great impression on me.

They have kindly allowed me to share just a few of their photos, and so here are a few from the day and from our beach photoshoot (a nice change to have a beach as a backdrop!).

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