Thursday, January 29, 2015

Night commuting

Note to self...

Commuting by bicycle from Darwin to Palmerston at dusk is divine, the flowing water, the frogs, egrets, bright green spear grass, cool showers of rain, all lovely! Riding home through the wetlands at night... Not so great!

12 km of this path is through unlit wetlands... Lots of reptiles and amphibians

Returning along the bike path raised only centimeters above water level of flooded wetlands in the dark of night might sound romantic, but a discerning cyclist should be aware that what appears cute in the day can become hazardous by nightfall!

One of many Cane Toads enjoying the wet bitumen (apologies for poor quality image)

Tonight I narrowly missed squashing several frogs and some pretty hefty looking Cane Toads on the path... Unfortunately I was moving too fast to avoid running over one snake! I think it was a Keel Back or a Slaty Grey, poor bugger.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Edge - Life on the margins

This is a post about The Edge - Life on the Margins

Permaculture Principle 11: 

Use edges & value the marginal

The Edge is a Permaculture concept

In the words of Charlie Mgee “The Edge is where it’s at”
Some words relating to this highly fertile, volatile place: Edge, fringe, border, margin, verge, periphery, outer limits
There are many benefits to life on the fringes of a habitat (or society). But it’s not a ‘safe’ place.   
The edge is the interface between two worlds it’s a place where one niche interacts with another and borders are never truly fixed, there is a constant interplay and struggle for dominance. It is also a place which has potential to support a greater diversity. This can be viewed in terms of ecological / biological interplay but can be easily translated as a social metaphor. 

A lot of wild foods can be collected from verges and edges. Blackberries are often found on marginal land close to cities in southern Australia. Here in Darwin when weather becomes dry collect Rosellas from sites where the soil has been disturbed.

Kitchener Drive at Darwin's Waterfront. There is a steep drop off between the city and the waterfront in Darwin separating what would have been an open woodland environment from what was once mangroves. There is not much left of either of these habitats any more but the cliff face is a very different environment. Along the cliff is a thin strip of Monsoon vine forest. It is lush and green and provides an amazing fringe habitat for various species in Darwin City.

Cliff edge Kitchener Drive

Where the land meets the sea is an edge which is bursting with life where both land and water creatures converge. On the weekend we visited the fish feeding at Doctor’s Gully. Fish come to the edge of the water to be fed bread by the tourists, meanwhile there are various other opportunistic species waiting to prey on the unsuspecting fish.

Water's Edge

Mangroves provide a rich source of nutrient to crabs and other crustaceans and fish; these are hunting grounds for monitor lizards, tree rats, bats, snakes and many species of fish which live predominantly in this environment. The mangroves also provide crucial shelter to baby fish of various species, without which the sea populations would be greatly reduced.

In our permanent fresh water habitats land animals all converge at the edge of the water to hunt and drink. Creeks support a unique habitat called the riparian zone which is often only a few meters wide and has a biodiversity which is far greater than the surrounding bush land.Riparian zones often remain green and lush while the vegetation just meters away is dry and sparse.

Rapid Creek - Darwin
Rapid Creek (fresh water)

In the garden environment edges provide unique growing  conditions where well designed landscapes combined with complementary planting can provide ideal growing conditions for diverse crops, improved resilience and nutrient uptake which bring about increased yields.

Here's Charlie Mgee from Formidable Vegetable Sound System singing 'The Edge Is Where It's At'

If you like this song there's plenty more where that came from. Buy the CD
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The EDGE of Society

It’s fascinating that the very place which produces the most creativity and innovation is also looked on unfavourably by society. When people get close to the edge society gets nervous.  
Throughout the ages one of the greatest punishments for social transgression has been to ‘cast out’ the offenders, condemning them to leave the shelter of their society, without which they are expected to perish. Some do, but some actually find a way to thrive outside the restrictive confines of social conformity. Society uses terms like ‘Fringe dweller’, ‘marginalize’, ‘close to the edge’ to describe people who don’t fit with the conventions of their society. However from the outer edge people can gain insightful perspective of the society they don’t quite fit into. Prophet’s and visionaries have often emerged from the shadows with important messages…
The Archetype storyline of The Hero’s Journey is a perfect example of The Edge in a social context. I believe it is actually an outline for movement from the moribund dead wood at the heart of the tree of life to living dynamic periphery of bark and sap. Close to the surface, vulnerable to attack from outside but moving and alive!
When Bilbo took off into the unknown with a band of Dwarves he ventured well beyond the safety of the Shire and journeyed at the margins interacting with all manner of other folk and creatures. Great mysteries were revealed to him, many dangers and wonders the sources of life and death. While the fate of the shire was playing out at the fringes the shire folk were oblivious, asleep. Bilbo was awake. 

Henry David Thoreau actively sought solitude in the forest. He set out to live a year by a lake, away from the company of his neighbors and the hustle and bustle of modern life. From the outer limit of his society he was able to reflect on it's value and the value of simple things. In doing this and writing about his experience he taught us not to doubt our instinct or yearning to spend time in nature simply for it's own sake. It's OK to step aside from the madness of our society. 

So much great art comes from the outsider’s perspective, but we rarely acknowledge it. Some of what we would call definitive Australian or American music and literature is produced from the children of immigrants, first generation people who have had the experience of not entirely fitting the national identity. They paint the picture, we identify with it and claim it as our own perspective but we rarely consider where the artist stood to make such observations. Jack Kerouac, Irving Berlin,
 Paul Kelly, who could have written the theme for Australia during the late 20th and early 21st century, has this perspective. Bon Scott, Jimmy Barnes and Colin Hay whose songs have expressed the Australian experience so well are Scottish by birth they and many others have contributed to the Australian identity.  Explorers at the fringes dragged into the centre when their perspective from the edge has borne fruit.
But these are the ones who have succeeded. The thing about living on the fringes is that there are few safeguards for failure.

It is often difficult to be on the fringe. Sometimes we are forced to the outside in a violent way we are rejected. It's easy to see this happening all around me today. I only have to consider the 1,000s locked up in immigration detention, or the Aboriginal people living on the streets of Darwin, rounded up constantly by the police, or looked down on by people in the street. People with disabilities are subtly denied full membership in society, I'm sure there are a thousand other examples and many of them can simply come down to one's own perception. The thing is that by being cast outside the bubble of social acceptance we are given a very special opportunity to wake up from the illusion. To break out and take a look around from outside the fish bowl. To see what those inside are incapable of seeing while they '...stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're they're used to...'  (Waterfalls by TLC)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Australia Day

It's the day after Australia Day

Australia Day 26th January is the Anniversary date for the arrival at Port Jackson of the 'First Fleet' of ships sent from Britain to start the New South Wales colony. Of course at that time each of the colonies identified as quite separate entities which later grew into independent states each with their own relationship to the Mother Country, England. I don't believe 'Australia Day' was officially adopted as a National day of celebration until 1935.

According to the resources in the National Australia Day Council website Australian's first made a big deal about the Anniversary of British Colonization of Australia back in 1938 (The 150 year anniversary) 
Then there was the 1988 Bicentenary reenactment of the first fleets arrival. It was an absolutely spectacular event. I was spellbound by the sight of all those yachts on the ocean making their way to Australia (On TV, but some also visited Port Philip Bay where they sailed majestically past our camp at St Leonards). The romance of the sea is infectious but as the ships were on their way another story was emerging... Indigenous people from all over the country were mobilizing for a mass protest at their arrival.

I was 18, everyone was so excited but the whole event had an undertone of shame that would not be silenced. What a time to be Australian! Two worlds colliding! Australia hadn't really settled into being a multicultural society and I am sure many Australian's hadn't truly considered the implications of what they were celebrating, the invasion of a sovereign land resulting in the displacement  and deaths of 1,000s! As the protesters spoke out prior to the arrival of the ships I began to imagine what those ships must have looked like to the first people living around Sydney Harbor back in 1788 and what the colony meant to them. When the ships sailed into Sydney harbor I was no longer excited to see the boats, I began to feel a much closer affinity for the people whose lives were destroyed by their arrival. I empathized with the 1,000s of Aboriginal protesters for whom the whole event had a much deeper and more painful significance. I wondered how 'White Australia' could so callously perform such a reenactment without including some kind of treaty or attempt to make some kind of amends to the Aboriginal People... Otherwise the whole thing would amount to nothing more than one more kick in the teeth for Aboriginal people...  

We had an opportunity back then to change the meaning of that date and to make it a day for all Australian's. As a nation we chose to put on our boots, fire up the barbie and complain about the winging blacks for spoiling our bonza party.

So what does this day actually mean to Australians? I really don't know. I see a bunch of people driving around in utes, or dancing around full of piss draped in the Australian flag (Which although I'd like to see it changed I still find this a disrespectful thing to do), burning meat out doors etc...  Besides the loud but possibly few true believers I reckon it's a day which is quickly fading into obsolescence. The day a bunch of British colonists and convicts from England landed on the shores of a beach stuck up a flag and declared it and everything on it the property of England is not something that inspires National Unity for a country as diverse as Australia. For many Aboriginal Australian's this day is viewed as an obscene celebration of the theft of their land and all the atrocities that went along with it. It is a day often referred to as 'Survival Day' or 'Invasion Day', not a good foundation for creating national unity and we missed the opportunity for an act of reconciliation.

Personally I have no idea why, if we have to be Nationalistic, we can't come up with a day which is more valid to symbolize our unity... Or maybe we haven't done anything worthy of such a day? I dunno? Maybe?

Either way if I were a Patriot I doubt I would find much inspiring about the day currently celebrated as our 'National Day'. Although there are many people who love to get out and run around with their flags waving I doubt the events of this date have any real relevance to Contemporary Australians and I'm sure most of them wouldn't suffer too much if a new National Day were invented.

OK... Now I don't want to get into an ideological argument or cause any offense to those who are  committed to the 26th January, the point I wanted to make was mostly visual.

Here's something to think about. On the day when we're all supposed to be out having BBQ sausages with sauce and drinking beer out of Australian flag stubby coolers.....

many many many packets of sausages marked down to 1/2 price coz nobody bought them

Why is the supermarket full of marked down snaggs? If we were truly committed to our National Day surely the sausages would have sold out.

Is it possible we're finally ready to re-think what it means to be Australian and find new ways to celebrate? 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Long grass sinking

Long Grasser by Geoff McKenzie

There's a freedom you can't buy and a slavery you can't buy your way out of

There are a 1,000 sails calling me to sea and a crack in the earth keeping me here

I hug the earth

A bed of cans and foil plastic pillow

drinking sinking, no sailing today

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Vigil for Martin

A retrospective post from Saturday 17th Jan

It’s just gone 1am. We thought there’d be torrential rain all night but the weather has been incredibly pleasant. 10 minutes ago the sky opened and delivered us a beautiful 5 minute shower, now it is gone and we are cool and sitting comfortably in the shade of the Department of Immigration building in Darwin. I am at an all-night vigil in support of the 100s of people held in Immigration Detention Centers in Australia, Nauru and Manus Island. In particular we are here because a man who has languished in indefinite detention and has been on hunger strike for weeks is now in a critical condition and we'd like him and others to know that there are Australian's willing to fight for their rights and we hope this gives them hope enough to end their strike.

Why choose to sit out all night outside a closed Government office while drunks argue in the streets around us, cars spin their tyres on the slippery roads and some clown just let off the loudest fire cracker I think I’ve ever heard? Well what else can we do? We continue to communicate with our MP's and the government by the usual means. Letters and petitions have been sent by the truck load and still people's lives are left in peril on Nauru and Manus Island! Children continue to be imprisoned, refugees continue to be returned to harm or locked up indefinitely. As asylum seekers they have very few rights under Australian Law and in this country at this time there is very little regard for the international treaties designed to protect the worlds most vulnerable people. Australians must step up and take action because the people whose lives are affected have no power, they  have no choice but to comply with the demands of their jailers or suffer arbitrary retribution for non compliance. They are in this situation because of Australian laws which completely disregard our international obligations. The fairness of Australian law is completely dependent on the whims of morally bankrupt politicians. Holding them to account is the responsibility of the Australian People, if our laws are unjust then it's up to us to do something about it, sticking up for asylum seekers is our responsibility. 

We gathered on Friday afternoon at 4pm At 5 someone turned their car radio up and we listened to the terrible news of a stand-off on Manus Island. Similar news had been filing through social media. Hungry asylum seekers behind bars, meals withheld for the night while security forces in full riot gear stand on the other side of a high wire fence waiting for the signal to move in! The radio report warned of something big about to happen. The men on Manus have been on hunger strike for days, some have sewn their lips together, images have been leaked of their faces, bloodshot eyes they look beaten, grim and without hope. There are constant reports of taunting and abuse from outside the camp and from the guards employed to watch over them.

The new Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's voice (forgive me if I drop the Honorable) is broadcast, sternly demanding that Advocates stop supporting the hunger strikers! This is the first time I've heard him speak, I've needed to take a break from media and am quickly reminded why I couldn't bear to listen to or watch the news! Sounds like the new Minister for Immigration is just as big a turd as the last one!
Dutton went further and suggested that refugee advocates must have put the idea into people's heads that they could get what they want by using hunger strikes and self harm as a tactic! Is this guy kidding? None of the asylum seeker advocates I have met would ever encourage anyone to commit any kind of self harm! We spend most our time trying to comfort and persuade people to hold on to whatever hope they have, self harm is sure sign that they have lost hope! We all felt worried after hearing the news about Manus, the situation was obviously deteriorating. After the news, the radio was turned off and we resumed our places on the footpath. 

As the night rolled on people came and went, most spending more than a couple of hours at the vigil. By midnight those who were not staying the night had left and a core group of 7 of us remained.
I enjoyed being outdoors for the night, it was a rare opportunity to sit and reflect on the situation and affirm my commitment to seeking justice. We talked a little, but mostly sat quietly until someone would walk past and ask us what we were doing. Oddly throughout the night we weren't approached by police or security guards.

I was dreading a confrontation with the violent drunks staggering out of the pubs at 5am which fortunately didn't happen. Very few people approached us. Kind of unexpectedly most of the people who did come by to see what we were doing were drunk but quite friendly. They were all men, that's not to say there weren't plenty of drunk women on the street but for some reason they just didn't approach us. Of course there were the inevitable arguments about security threats and who is or isn't a refugee etc...but mostly people were not threatening. A couple of guys sympathized with the cause, some asked reasonable questions but mostly I heard the same old stuff.
Through the night generous supporters have dropped by for a chat, some even bring coffee. As we sit this vigil there are similar events taking place around Australia. This is just one of the many things that must be done to keep the pressure on our Government for justice and fairness, although these have fallen off the national agenda while people continue to challenge the cruel policies of our government we are determined to have them returned!

Dawn 17th January 2015. Photo courtesy DASSAN