Thursday, November 29, 2012

Schoolies Week and Permaculture Design

My introduction to the world of Permaculture occurred just over two years
ago in 2010, when I volunteered as a WWOOF-er (willing workers on organic
farms) during my then September school holidays. I then backed up that visit
to the Permaculture Research Institute with another that November. Except
this time, I went there as a student.

The owner of the place was away at the time and so we had Canadian
permaculturalist Jesse Lemieux out here in Australia acting as farm manager
and taking the classes that otherwise would not have taken place. He is
probably more of a temperature climate specialist and maybe lacked some
familiarity with sub-tropical issues, but those two weeks of classes were
just so intriguing and an eye-opening experience. I went away having helped
compost a deceased calf (poor thing had tumours growing through it so it was
put down), completed an original design for a local property, milked cows
and chased a pregnant goat around the paddock in an attempt to get her back
in her pen. I milked her as well.

I am reminded of my two week experience just as the Gold Coast is flooded
with schoolies, school-leavers at the same point in their lives as I was
this time two years ago; Schoolies is a huge one-week "get off your face"
party in Surfers Paradise. It is sometimes referred to as a 'tradition' or a
'transition' to adulthood. Unfortunately, it seems that most people continue
to "get off their faces" in adulthood so it does not seem to be a very
intelligent transition. I also can't help but think that there are better
ways to celebrate the end of one's high school life. I suppose it is not for
me to comment on the decisions of others but events like these make me
wonder what has happened to society.

My musings here refer mainly to the use and abuse of alcohol. Back in the
good old days (I'm talking about 30-40 years ago - the golden years of my
parents' generation), apparently people would go out for a drink but they
wouldn't go out to get drunk. Call me old fashioned but I really don't see
the point of sculling box upon box of goon, particularly if the taste of the
alcohol is disguised by orange juice/coke. I'm told that it's not possible
to "have fun" without being totally off one's face but my [albeit limited]
experience in clubs and the like have proved to me that this assertion is
definitely not true. It is just a matter of trying it out.

On my Permaculture Design Certificate course, I also had a great time. That
was instead of going to Schoolies and I have never regretted the experience.
What that two weeks did was really infuse into me my already bubbling desire
to live on the land.

It truly was a unique experience and is certainly one that made me crave the
country more than ever. There is nothing better than going to sleep away
from the city lights and noise apart of course, from frogs and cicadas which
is very peaceful noise and under the bright stars. Then, to rise early and
throw yourself into the dam for a lazy morning swim; porridge with fresh
milk/cream from the cows also kicks off a day of great food with zero food



Monday, November 5, 2012

Spinning into the Future

For some reason, I have always wanted to live in Denmark. Even before I discovered Green Kitchen Stories, I was semi-obsessed with Scandinavian countries and considered applying for exchange to either Denmark or Sweden during my undergraduate degree. It turns out that unless I magic some credit points out of somewhere, my degree doesn’t really lend itself to exchange. When I first realised this I was disappointed but, as a result, I’m even more excited than ever for when the opportunity for travel presents itself.

I think one of the things that attracted me to Denmark in particular was not the Lego (for 5 years all I wanted for Christmases and birthdays was the newest Harry Potter Lego set) but the quaintness of riding bikes everywhere. However, by no means am I a cyclist… I have a theory that I am genetically predisposed to be slow and awkward on a bike, a theory which I began to develop at the age of 10 when I went on my first training-wheel-free ride and promptly crashed into a car that was parked 2m from the entrance of our driveway. Nearly a year before this, I had attended a road safety information session at a bike place of sorts as part of a school excursion. Of the 90 grade 4s, I was one of two who still had training wheels. I think it was this outing that inspired me to ask my parents for a bike and request lessons from Dad. They bought me a metallic purple Malvern star and a dorky red and black helmet, both of which I still use to this day; I love the bike but really wouldn’t mind a new helmet.

Whenever I hop on my bike to do a bit of shopping or to visit my grandma who lives a couple of kilometres down the road, I can’t help but think “WHY”. Each turn of the pedals hurts my legs and I still hobble for a good 5 minutes after getting off, no matter how short the ride. So why on Earth do I like the idea of riding bikes everywhere as they do in Copenhagen, Denmark? I have absolutely no idea! :-D

Social class, weather, dress code and destination are irrelevant for Copenhageners – apparently 50% of them commute on two-wheelers every day. There are even more bikes in the city than residents. Australian cyclists would surely turn green if they heard that. In the capital city alone, there are 400km of bike lanes with assigned traffic lights, including the world’s busiest which hosts up to 40k cyclists a day. This is all part of the city’s goals of becoming the first carbon neutral capital city in the world by 2025.

Some useless trivia about Copenhageners and their bikes:

  • 63 % of all members of the Danish parliament commute daily by bike
  • 50 % of all Copenhageners commute to work or study by bike.
  • 35 % of all who work in Copenhagen, including people who live in the suburbs and neighbouring towns but work in Copenhagen, commute to work by bike.
  • 25 % of all families with two children in Copenhagen have a cargo bike they use to transport young children to kindergarten, for grocery shopping, etc
  • In total Copenhageners bike 1.2 million kilometres a year, i.e. two trips to the moon and back (this is in contrast to the 660,000km travelled by Copenhageners by Metro)
  • The busiest biking lane in the world is Dronning Louises Bro in Copenhagen
  • Copenhagen was elected Bike City 2008 – 2011 by ICU.

Before I read the article from which I obtained these figures, I don’t think I had heard of a cargo bike before. You might even accuse me of living under a rock, for it seems as though they are becoming quite a big deal internationally.  I can’t say I’ve seen any being ridden around my neighbourhood but maybe that will change in the future. They certainly look like a lot of fun, not to mention convenient!

Without beating around the bush, let me just come out and say that I’m terrified. Terrified of the future and what the world is going to be like in 10 years time. I have been terrified since I was 10 years old, when I started to research the topic ‘weather’ for a school science project. Probably, only three or four years ago, I became 100% convinced that I need to find some land somewhere and bunker down before climate change seriously impacts the world we currently live in. The Mayans may have been wrong about the end of the world coming in 2012, but I’m sure they’re not far off it; I’m sure they are more accurate than the episodes of Doctor Who depicting the human race in the year one hundred trillion AD. It may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but I really believe that the Danes and their goal for carbon neutrality through bicycle transport is a step in the right direction. The future is full of unexpected things. Maybe the survival of the human race will be one of those?

- Matilda