Democracy defined on Wikipedia:
Walking barefoot through the forest
Feeling earth beneath my feet
Sensing the softness of the mosses
the cold water from the creek
The rough serrated edges of the banksias dropped leaves
Form a variegated carpet with gum nuts, twigs, wind-scattered seeds.
Charcoal blackens out my footsteps
marking rock and moving soil
ants are following vibrations
Lizards runaway, recoil.
Birds watch on anticipating
A tasty meal worm or some grubs
That my clumsy human footprint
help unearth with every thud.
And in an instant I am it and it is me and we are one
walking barefoot in the forest
like we did when time began.
First I saw just greens and greys
and then I saw the trees.
Then flowers showed their colours bright
but the pollen made me sneeze.
It took a while for me to learn
my place upon this soil.
But now I’m home
There’s no more need to toil.
The forest opens up to me
One layer then another.
She loves me like a daughter
and I trust her
She’s my mother.
This is a Swamp Tiger Tail (Synthemis Eustalacta) Dragon Fly found in my garden in the Blue Mountains.
I hear this said a lot lately. Especially in circles objecting to the Western Sydney Airport, a cause that has absorbed a huge chunk of the last 12 months of my life. The shout is that we must ‘protect our unique lifestyle’. Playing devils advocate I want to say ‘and what is that exactly?’
Lifestyle: The way in which a person lives.
How do we live up here?
I have my own thing going on as I’m sure you do too, a ‘thing’ that isn’t always mirrored by my local friends and neighbours – people who have gravitated up here for what seems to me to be a myriad of reasons. I personally came up here because I loved it from the time I first visited as a backpacker in the 1990’s. By the time we emigrated the mountains offered us somewhere that was still close enough to family but far enough from the city to give us the ready access to mountain bike trails, big gardens and walks we desired. We really did come here for fun! My relationship with the mountain has deepened and matured somewhat over the last 13 years.
I observe that some of my friends have come from what I call the ‘flatlands’ of Riverstone, St Mary’s, Penrith and Emu Plains. I know that for some of these it was the bigger lot size of houses and gardens paired with affordable price-tags, the family friendly atmosphere, good schools and safe community feel that attracted them. For others who have come from the city it was the lure of fresh air, bush walks and a slower pace of life – somewhere to bring up the kids! Others have been sort-of pushed up here (and most are OK with that) after suburb after suburb became either more and more expensive or less and less desirable. The Blue Mountains have often seemed like a drive-too-far for most suburban Sydneysider’s, too close to flammable bushland, snake-infested and lacking in Westfield shopping centres to boot until now. Now we have the Greater Sydney Commission ramming down our throats a mantra of ‘high density housing, shopping centres and gardens replaced by green open community spaces for all’. Everything we are not, thank you. As a consequence, we are now starting to attract more people looking for that sort of thing, the airport proposal even seems to be encouraging it. Also, we are no longer seeming so far, far away, the city and more than that, that city mentality, is coming to us.
That makes me feel uneasy on many fronts.
I’ll ask again, what is this lifestyle we talk about?
What is MY lifestyle?
Why did I feel physically sick when I saw the way a block of new low-rise apartments was being advertised in my local paper, apartments in an area of Springwood town centre that I’m actually OK with being developed in this way. It wasn’t the development I convulsed against, it was the language used to pitch them. The values being projected, values that just don’t resonate with me.
It was while I was out bushwalking this morning that it came to me. I bush walk as often as I can, it’s my oxygen, my sanity. I need the smells as much as the sights, the sound as much as the crispness of the air I taste. I am it and it is me.
The connection I felt with the mountains today epitomised what my lifestyle is – a great respect and a maternal love for this place, a place at the centre of all I do and am. I don’t want to use the word ‘environment’ to describe the mountains here even though that clearly and technically is what it is because I feel that word has become tainted with politics and what I feel is beyond political stripes, beyond the ‘it’ and ‘me’.
The Blue Mountains pulls people like me (I think) because of this powerful longing for connection, for family, for one-ness. Again, conscious of becoming too ‘hippy trippy’ (although I feel there is nothing inherently wrong with that) it’s as if we have come home and just like when we are in our worldly homes we have our responsibilities and duty of care. We must remain vigilant and care for this place, we can’t just switch off or brazenly try to capitalise off it in a one-way transactional relationship. It would feel like selling our mother!
So to answer my own question I have come to the belief (at least for now) that the Blue Mountains lifestyle that I talk about (and I understand that not everyone will share the same view) is centred on the philosophy of connection to land in a way that is deep and emotional. I see this as a monoculture of sorts, one that, wherever we travelled from, whatever other worldly beliefs we hold pulls us together in our love and respect for the mountains and its role in our life.
And this isn’t just some romantic fling that we indulge ourselves in on high days and holidays. This is serious, this is us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
We are reminded of our environment every spring when the magpies come out and defend themselves from our bike culture.
Are alert to the bush-fire danger that each hot windy, dry day brings and yes, our houses do burn down and many of us have smelt the fear while hosing down our gutters.
Struggle to hear the radio over the clicking of cicada or the ribbit of frogs after a downfall.
Manage our wild, sloped and wooded blocks from wild winds, rain and termites.
Take care to shake out our shoes for Blue Mountains funnel-web.
Shoo lizards out of our lounge rooms
Watch water-butts for snakes
And stand in awe at each and every perfect sunrise and sunset over hectares and hectares of trees and bush and wilderness, longing for the next free weekend that we can get out there and camp.
But when I hear mention of ‘our unique lifestyle’ I want to say no, our lifestyle is not unique, Australia’s first people have been trying to model this way to us for as long as ‘we’ set foot in this country well, at least as far as I can gather not being an expert in these things.
However, unique or not we are distinct. We are not like Penrith or St Mary’s or Blacktown or Castle Hill or Newtown or Marrickville or Glebe or Windsor. These places have their own cultural identity, their own brand if you like! Why try to mould us, make us something we are not?
People don’t just come here to live IN the Blue Mountains, they live here and BECOME the Blue Mountains and to let the Blue Mountains run through their veins. That feeling is contagious and is part of what draws in tourists from all over the world. Tourists that take a bit of that connection and identity home with them in the art, music, photography and hand-made products they invest their dollars in.
To put it in neoliberal terms our lifestyle is valuable, has value and should be invested in, protected, developed, marketed. And it is but in a world obsessed by sound-bites and instant-gratification we simply cannot sell this enough.
So that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.
Yes we do have a lifestyle.
Yes that lifestyle is unique in terms of the Sydney and surrounds suburbs.
But that lifestyle is rooted in a deep human calling of the wild.
What we feel up here is timeless.
And sadly that feeling is becoming quite rare.
And time is running out.
Being an ADHD brain type person I find it easier (and more soothing) to meditate actively. Walking is my current activity of choice because it allows me to really come into the now. I can hold a decent pace for hours on end, a pace that hypnotises the body while releasing the mind for other things. My hearing becomes more acute ( I have a slight issue with my hearing thanks to a childhood of ear infections and (I suspect) my love of swimming so walking really does start to feel like someone turned up my auditory super-powers), my sense of smell keen and my eyes become attuned to flickers of movement and colour. I become both a tracker and a part of the natural world I walk through. Magical…….
On Saturday my eldest daughter and I walked from Wentworth Falls to a camp in Little Hartley in the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia- 45km and just under 1000 metres of climbing. We walked for 7 1/2 hours, rested for 1/2 hour for a total time of 8 hours out. I couldn’t have been more pleased with our efforts and our achievement!
Sometimes when I walk time has no meaning but this walk wasn’t about that. It was about keeping a pace, about progressing solidly and strongly over different terrain. It was a meditative experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and thankfully didn’t suffer too strongly from – one and a half blisters and some slight stiffness in the hips plus a very thirsty nights sleep!
Walking has taught me and reminded me of so many things. This time it was a reminder of my inner and physical strength, my ability to set a task and accomplish it. It was all the sweeter having completed it with my daughter who, at 15 years old was no doubt oblivious of the inner marching soldier lurking within her mother.
prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity.
What have we become?
These questions fill my head this week after reading the letters in my local newspaper, letters that make my conclusion easy to justify.
Yes, this is correspondence about the airport again.
Yes I know that some of you want it.
Yes I appreciate that your reasons ‘for’ might be as justified as mine ‘against’.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I’m talking about is apathy.
Apathy either for or against.
‘I worked outdoors in the mountains over all four wards and was never conscious of any impact from these 230 per day aircraft (the number of over-flights currently passing the mountains – over the highway usually and usually at between 13,000-30,000 ft). So what’s all the fuss about?”
What indeed? I feel absolutely put in my place now thanks to that sort-of-angry outburst.
The writer finishes with a neat seasoning of apathy (in my opinion).
“Council, the No Western Sydney Airport action group and the majority of local residents are fighting a losing batter against inevitable growth and progress. It’s time; time to move on”
Awesome. I’m as good as told, what a wally I was for thinking that the majority of local residents, our representative council and a community action group could actually be listened to or at least heard in a democratic society. I really do need my head looked at and by the looks of it I’m not the only one….
This part of the letter comes after the writer apologies for the offence caused when said writer told us all to ‘shut up’ in the last correspondence. Bless….
“All the bickering has got to me because I and many others know that the development is a given and that many thousands of people will be relying on it for employment and travel well into the next 50 years or longer”.
Well that’s Ok assuming the next 50 years will be like the last 50 years and that the accounting world fight off the global push for not only triple-bottom-line-accounting but full ‘six capital’ accounting that takes things like emissions, environmental degradation and social costs into account.
I’m certainly not as confident as the writer on that score. 50 years ago we didn’t have the internet, could only account for value in terms of solid items traded and iconic books like the Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth’ and Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ was so new and so niche that business didn’t rate it a mention.
The use of the word bickering did resonate with me though. As much as I don’t mind sticking my neck out and standing up for what I believe in (even if it seems pointless to everyone else- I’ll be the judge of that thank you) I HATE arguing. I mostly hate it because it usually happens when people are angry, wound up, hurt and feeling vulnerable so what we end up doing is arguing not about the issue but about how we feel or, more accurately, how the other people have made us feel. As such I feel the use of the word ‘bickering’ (and its stronger cousin ‘arguing’) give us (the ‘no airport’ side) a powerful insight into how we are coming across.
I’ll park that thought for a moment as there is another thing said here.
That the development is a given.
We use the words ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ freely without really questioning the value system that they are framed within and I feel that is dangerous.
Our economy is stridently neoliberal in its values – the word liberal in this sense doesn’t mean the liberal party, both liberal and labor politicians follow the neoliberal school of economic management which, in a nutshell is basically ‘money trumps everything’. I am not a fan. It’s not the only way that capitalism can play out. I am a fan of capitalism by the way – well, for now I am – I think we could move beyond that but probably not for a couple more hundred years so for now it works.
So when we say that the development is a given we are really saying that given the fact that we live in a neoliberal society where money trumps everything the airport was always going to go ahead no matter what as nothing is more valuable than money and money is more valuable than trees, 24 hour over-flights, a bit of air pollution that, let’s face it can land anywhere on the planet, a few birds and some noise.
I reserve my right to question the neoliberal agenda that underpins the way we currently justify developments such as this in areas such as Western Sydney.
I also reserve my right to disagree with the notion that this IS progress. As a business owner myself and consultant in the global beauty industry I witness every day what people power is doing to the beauty industry supply chain. More inclusive company accounting is coming and if I was about to invest millions in an airport that has to operate 24/7 to make its returns I’d be worried about getting my investment dollars back. Accountants might just kill this off and what then?
Anyway, I go on too much.
There was more from this writer but I’ll leave it at that other than to say that the writer finishes off by questioning the mental health of all residents up here by referring to the way our council areas are called ‘wards’ and not districts or zones. It is par for the course to attack the character of ones opponent in order to gain more support for your own cause. This parting line really does sadden me. It’s so Daily Telegraph.
On to the last letter, letter 3.
Now I must say I like a bit of humour but this last letter wasn’t my kind of funny.
“My partner lives right under the flight path at Lilyfield in Sydney. The aircraft roar over at 1500 feet. Her tomato plant has been producing for some nine months and only now is showing signs of having had a good innings. So perhaps some of the Blue Mountains Nimbys could advise if this is a direct consequence of the aircraft flying overhead’.
When the Chernobyl-fall-off disaster happened in 1986 it didn’t happen in England, where I lived but the wind carried the pollution to the Welsh and Scottish countryside as well as over Scandinavia. 369 farms including 190,000 sheep were affected and as this article shows, by 2009 some farms were still feeling the effects.
Now before I get lambasted (excuse the pun) for that and told ‘The chernobyl disaster is nothing like an airport, stupid’ I know that. My point is that air pollution travels. My other point is that it takes a lot for plants and life to stop completely, usually things will continue to grow and look normal, whether they are normal can often only be known by testing. I am a chemist and as luck would have it I tested roadside vegetation for lead and heavy metals as my honours project for my Uni Degree. I found that lead levels in roadside vegetation were significant up to a couple of metres from the road, this is in spite of the fact that petrol had been practically lead free for at least ten years prior to me carrying out the test. So I’d say to this tomato loving writer, I’d be sending those samples off for analysis before dismissing us as Nimby’s and minimising our legitimate concerns.
So to conclude I strongly feel that we, as a nation of citizens are being and have been groomed for one of two things – apathy and anger. These are traits we see in families affected by domestic violence, not in free, intelligent communities. Is that really what we want?
For my activist friends my concern is that the public can easily turn against us because of this and because of the lack of framework and support that exists for challenging the status-quo in this neoliberal world. I know there is another way and I know the fastest way to get there is to fight this with facts and alternatives – including alternative transport methods, job investment, accounting methods, business values etc – but it looks like many others have lost hope and have taken to attacking us because it is just easier.
I thank the letter writers for continuing to make me think deeply about what I’m doing. I am more convinced than ever that it is the right thing to do.
No airport for Western Sydney.
I am not angry or apathetic because I am not under their control.
PS: This is a good book. If I had money to invest I’d be having a read of this. The world is watching and it has an opinion.
As in ‘it is ridiculous to build a second Sydney airport at the base of a national park out in the populated (and soon to be super-populated) ‘burbs’.’
I shout it, wave signs saying it and don a T-Shirt with the same message but somewhere inside me I feel uncomfortable because I am well aware that for humans the idea of nothing is nearly always scarier than something.
Death – endless minutes, hours, days, months, years of nothing. Imagine that? No thank you….. Why else to we imagine a heaven full of all the lovely things and people we miss in the ‘real world’.
Darkness – feeling alone, vulnerable, chilled, disoriented, anxious.
Nothing = All.Of.The.Above.
A ‘No’ campaign is good to a point but there becomes a point when people go home and say ‘well, what DO we want?’ This is especially true when the ‘Yes’ movement is offering enticements.
In the case of the Western Sydney Airport (Badgery’s Creek) the good fellows at spin HQ have been smart enough to package deal the airport as the key to unlock an economic bonanza for the west of Sydney, an area that has been sorely neglected for pretty much ever really. The western outskirts were where the ‘poor’ and ‘undesirables’ were pushed in the rush to gentrification of the inner suburbs. New migrants also gravitated ‘out there’ thanks to the cheap housing and larger blocks of land (making some level of self-sufficiency possible).
I can see how the inner city elite might feel that the west must be gazing on with wide eyes, looking up to their inner city ‘betters’ and wishing that they too could be like them. I feel that this attitude is epitomised by the Greater Sydney Commission headed up by Lucy ‘where are we talking about?’ Turnbull’ et al. After all, why wouldn’t they feel that way being as though ‘they’ kicked ‘us’ out and for the most part they are stinking rich in a world that thinks that’s all that matters. The have’s vs the have-nots. Only when you look closely that isn’t what happened ‘out there’. We are not in need of charity and neither do we want what ‘they’ value. I say ‘we’ because although I’m not a flat-land westie (I’m a mountains girl) , to those in the capital (and I’m channeling my hunger-games Katniss here) WE are just pawns in Their game and as long as we are compliant we are rewarded (within reason).
So our reward this time is an airport. An airport with jobs. We need jobs, so many of us commute out of our ‘burbs to earn a living because ‘their’ imaginations haven’t been able to stretch the 50 plus KM from Sussex Street to create or stimulate the creation of local jobs ‘out here’ over much of the last 80 years but we are supposed to forget about that. About how they have not given a shit for years. But now, now they plan to solve that for us with a 24/7 polluting Aerotropolis. Nice touch.
So when we say ‘No’ to an airport we are, by default (and though no fault of our own) saying no to jobs and growth, to government investment and to rewards.
Let’s think about that for a moment.
Let’s think about power and control.
Master and Servant.
Bondage vs Democracy.
Nothing is scarier than something.
I’m taking you down this path of thinking because what the pro-airport lobby has done is neatly enslaved ‘us’. Be a good servant (let the airport happen) and we will give you a reward (investment and jobs).
They have groomed ‘us’ into this with years of underinvestment and interest. They have abused our trust.
As far as ‘we’ go, when ‘we’ know our place we can become good at it. Become good citizens / slaves, better than someone else maybe. We feel part of something again, we stand a chance of being rewarded, of winning one of the jobs and benefiting from some of the cash splash, the new roads and the shiny new parklands that were once covered in bush. We can even frame our efforts as making a sacrifice for the greater good if we so feel. It’s all less mentally taxing than just saying No and then being left hanging and far more rewarding in the short-term no doubt.
And that is what they want of course. The master wants to maintain paternalistic control and what’s more he wants you to do his bidding for him, to ‘remind’ people of the ‘fact’ that ‘it (the airport) is a done deal’ and that ‘if we don’t go along with it we will be left out’ because it is messy work trying to convince all those people who this is the right course of action to take because people have their own varied minds about these things and some of them might not like it.
Anyway, that’s by the by. I see this happening, I don’t assume that everyone going along with the airport feels enslaved and neither do I feel that everyone supporting the airport is deluded – there are many benefits that airports can bring to a region and I’m not denying that.
I personally feel somewhat immune to that master and servant game having come from a background of privilege, education and money (sort of). I feel strong and unthreatened by the establishment – fuck them, I have other options (even other passports if it came to that). I am dangerous that way. Not because I want to undermine the authority of the government in an anarchic way – I work within the rules – but because I am secure in my ability to access and utilise the full power of the law to defend my rights to say no and stand strong in that. I am legally entitled to say no and protest. But I am aware of the delicate psychology that is behind this game and I want to shine a light on that, not least because it is this very thing the government is trying to barge on past.
So how do we shift the power in this game?
Turn a negative into a positive, you catch more flies with honey as the pro-airport lobby know all too well…..
The No Airport campaign has, to date been about educating the public at large on the facts surrounding the EIS proposal, an EIS that came out in October last year. Education was and is needed as some councils (thanks Penrith) decided NOT to inform / educate their communities. The facts do speak for themselves, no spin, mis-representation or sensationalising of what is in the EIS is necessary to convince many people of the flaws in this proposal. Now whether these flaws lead to people adopting a ‘no airport’ or ‘no 24 hour airport’ or ‘please explain’ is up to the individual but you get the picture.
In my mind the time for the next step is NOW.
We (out West) can’t afford to be held ransom like this, to have our values or our economic value misappropriated, we have to make a counter proposal.
Fast rail is a good alternative to the airport but it isn’t enough, not least because for us in the Blue Mountains the fast rail hub will never be under our jurisdiction. Fast rail is, however, the proposal that could bring the west together and be jointly and wholeheartedly supported across the councils as part of the solution. But beyond that we are still left with a vacuum, not least for us up in the mountains.
The Mountains – focusing on what we can directly control.
The Blue Mountains stands to lose much in the way of tranquility and unique character if the city limits are allowed to encroach on the National Park. Pressure on existing roads will grow if we really are to get more tourists pumping dollars into our economy (and why shouldn’t we?) so we really should be asking ourselves, what type of tourist are we trying to attract? How will they get here, where will they stay and what are we selling them? While at the same time asking ‘what can we do to grow our local economy?’, “what skills do we have” and “what does the environment lend its self to that can boost our economic value?’
It is clear that the government is looking to the west to fill gaps in its budget projections. This is not new to me, corporates do this to their sales teams all the time – the corporation needs a 20% increase in sales when the market is in recession – don’t argue about it JUST DO IT OR LOSE YOUR JOB OR CREDIBILITY. Of course, the government, as in corporate will have to face whatever reality is real and if aspirational targets are not met they are not met but what isn’t tolerated in corporate or government is a lack of effort, a lack of a plan.
So can the Blue Mountains increase its revenue (and thus the money it returns to treasury) by 5%, 10%, 20%, 40%, 100% whatever AND maintain its identity and clean air? I am not sure but surely THAT is the conversation we need to be having outside of government – a conversation we can have between friends and families, neighbours and council representatives. There is much here to value and as the world gets crazier we all wish we could retreat to the hills……
But retreat is not enough.
So when nothing is scarier than something we stay empowered by presenting SOMETHING.
I believe the key to achieving a just outcome in this situation is to state our values and our value firmly, factually and in economic rather than emotional terms (as it is clear from how the government treats us that emotional value is lost on them).
Which begs the questions ‘what is our value and how can we best work the assets we have in our region?’
What kind of community do we want to encourage? What economic activities could be promoted up here? Who do we want to attract and why?
I was at an art exhibition opening yesterday – three local artists, much talent, expensive paintings some inspired by the local landscape, sell-out crowed. We have the capacity to generate wealth up here, on our own terms, celebrating what we value WHILE we value and protect the environment.
And there is not ‘just’ talented painters up here, we have film makers, ceramic artists, musicians, singers and actors drawing inspiration from these surrounds. And not just that, there are our towns full of unique and independent retailers, our coffee shops, restaurants, co-operatives and community hubs. We have education providers, tourist attractions, historical buildings, song lines, flora and fauna, stories, festivals autumn leaves and winter snow!
So what are we waiting for? Let’s spell out our potential and show them that it isn’t us that’s scared of change and ‘progress’ it’s them that’s scared of us. We are far more powerful and valuable than they can possibly imagine especially when, instead of presenting nothing we can present something far, far more attractive than an airport.
I believe that nothing is what they are offering, not us. That they just happened to put it into a shiny gold-painted box and used a loud-mouthed sales man with no imagination to shove it into our stunned hands.
Well I think it’s time we presented a box of our own only our box will be full of something and not nothing.
Because nothing is scarier than something and we know we have something good up here don’t we?