Monday, April 27, 2009

Malcolm's Magical Gardens

1. "Home Among the Gum Trees", by John Williamson
2. "Sounds of Then", by Ganggajang
3. "DILLIGAF", by Kevin Bloody Wilson


It's often the simple things in life that yield us the most satisfaction... I've spent the first weeks in Melbourne enjoying the crispy autumn air, sleeping in and relaxing in the magical garden that Mum & Dad have created over the last ten years. The southern sun has been breaking through the clouds at around 9 o'clock each morning, and I have been sneaking outside to enjoy the morning sunshine with a hot cup of tea, crumpets and toast, and a great book [currently "Shapes on the Wind", an autobiography by Kiwi explorer / adventurer David Lewis who, among other feats, sailed on the Hokulea and helped prove that early Polynesians were capable of navigating, and populating the Pacific].

Melbourne's weather, however, has been typically Melbourne.... beautiful one day, bloody hopeless the next...turning cold and blustery just in time to welcome my brother home to celebrate his 30th birthday.

"Sustainability" seems to be so much more ingrained into the psyche of your average Melbournian: Mum explains to me one morning as we search for a good latte how the city's dams are only at 27% capacity, putting everyone on water restrictions as a result. This seems to be common knowledge, with the data being talked about on the nightly news and in the daily newspapers. There is even a massive billboard outside a major train station with a digital update of Melbourne's water catchment system status - an awareness born out out of necessity.


Only 1 month ago, Melbourne was experiencing unseasonably warm days, in the 40s [100+ F] and with drought-like of the factors contributing to the massive bushfires that the state suffered just a little while ago. Thousands of acres of farmland and bushland have been burnt to a crisp, entire townships were leveled and many lives were lost. The cleanup and recovery efforts will likely continue for years.

The recent cold rains, therefore, while not conducive to family reunion barbequeues, have been a welcome relief to locals. It is interesting to experience how this level of awareness seems to strengthen the bonds of community, a sense of "we're all in the same boat"; our survival depends upon each other.

There has been a behavioral shift, which has affected large-scale social change... on a level that makes it unacceptable for one to be a "Wally with water"; ie wasting water. To be seen by your neighbors watering your lawn on a restricted day would be akin to casting yourself as a social leper - it is a great working example of the Pooper Scooper Effect can be used to affect positive change in our community.

In Mum & Dad's neighborhood, watering of lawns is only allowed on Tuesdays and Saturdays. So, in order to keep the lawns green and the garden veggies growing, they have installed a rainwater catchment: two 500-gallon drums in the back garden catch rainwater from the shed roof, while two massive garbage bins collect water redirected from the house's roof in the front yard.

Mum tells me that people had taken to posting signs in their yards declaring: "RAINWATER SYSTEM IN EFFECT" so that suspicious neighbors envious of green grass growing next to their brown yards wouldn't report them to the City Council.

There is also a very high-tech greywater system that has been installed: more garbage bins collecting greywater from the laundry room. After each shower, we are to carry out the bucket which lives in the bathtub to collect even more greywater; these soft, soapy waters are used to wash the cars, water the lawns, and srub down the patio to keep it clear of all the lovely bird blessings which accumulate.

Curbside recycling, which was instituted well before I left Melbourne for Hawaii, is a given. We were wheeling city-issue bins filled with empty beer and wine bottles the mornings after our infamous Lynch BBQs as eighteen-year olds celebrating our newfound ability to drink alcohol legally - over 12 years ago!

Back in the garden, an olive tree is fruiting in the front yard, hibiscus and plimerias are blooming next to the herb and veggie garden, which features [of course] parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme... well ok there's no sage but it rolls off the tongue so much more nicely when you say it that way... the spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce, are doing well, as are the oranges, tomatoes [pro-nounced toe-mah-toes in Oz], and peppers in the backyard.

There are even a couple of possums living in the tarps which form the roof of the tent in our backyard BBQ area! On my first day back, Dad shows me a conspicuous bulge in the roofline underneath the tent and tells me to push up on it. The lump is warm, and squirms grudgingly when I lift gently to feel its weight:


Aussies are obsessed about their yards and gardening - local celebrity Don Burke made his name with the iconic TV show Burke's Backyard [now a popular magazine and radio show, with weekly re-runs], which ran from 1987 - 2004, was one of the most beloved shows on Aussie television, and inspired many spin-offs [and take-offs (watch both videos!)].


How about "grow food...and lawns" instead of "grow food, not lawns"?
"Great Social Transformations - the end of slavery, the women's and civil rights movements... the birth of environmentalism - all began with public awareness and engagement" - Jeffery Sachs, author of "The End of Poverty"-
Perhaps sustainable living practices like planting our own gardens would be more readily and widely accepted if it were considered by the mainstream public to be less "extreme".

Now don't get me wrong, I agree that extreme and drastic action is necessary in order to effectively address climate change. Al Gore's Nobel-prize winning "Inconvenient Truth" was perhaps one of the greatest recent catalysts to raise massive awareness of the environmental crisis; there is little doubt that we are aware that change needs to occur...

However, awareness ≠ action.
So many of us, myself included, are often left wondering "What can I do? What difference will one person make?" It can be so overwhelming...

Climate change is something that this community is experiencing first-hand - Melbourne's water catchment system is running well below capacity, the experience of the hottest summer on record is still raw, with the Black Saturday bushfires the worst in recorded history,

I wonder what other lessons we, living on our tiny island paradise, can learn from our continental-island neighbors across the Pacific? Do we need to experience our own version of Black Saturday before we can achieve widespread acceptance of such drastic - and simple - measures as watering our lawns and gardens only two days per week?

I hope not.

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