Sunday, May 31, 2015

What I've been doing

I haven't been writing much on my blog because I've been sick. It's the kind of unrelenting illness that turns you into a zombie, and leaves a tissue box permanently grafted to your waist.

While at the library the other day however, my husband found a Jackie French book for me to read. He knows she is one of my favourite authors, and I haven't read, "Let the Land Speak," before.

If you're interested in predictions about the future, by understanding our Australian past, then you have to read this book. It's all about the Australian landscape, and how its been speaking to us since the First Fleet of convicts arrived. We didn't understand then, and we probably don't understand much more now - not the way the land has been speaking to us, that is.

 Not our property

This book was a little heavy on details for me in the beginning. Jackie French is normally such an easy author to read, but to give the land "a voice", she had to include all those details from history. I saw parallels between what spurred the Eureka Stockade, to the current mining operations for every mineral under the sun, since. Lots of money goes in (generally other people's) with only a few making it rich. Then the government wants their share and if you're a little guy, you start living in squalor just to follow your dream of striking it rich, or at least just to eat. The environment always gets trashed in the process.

It spoke volumes about our present economic predicament and how we haven't really ventured far from the kind of policies, which led to the Eureka Stockade. Only we're trashing the environment on a much larger scale now, and making a lot more people sick and desperate in the process.

Its not all doom and gloom, though it does touch on a lot of our natural disasters and war history. What was so fascinating for me to read as a gardener though, is how normal it is for the Australian landscape to be a melee of environmental extremes. If you read enough permaculture books, you get the impression, by just implementing the correct "design", you too can live in natural abundance.

 Not our property either

I know as a gardener though, the world essentially stop for me, when the rain doesn't come. Everything moves slower and things planted with the promise of abundance, often withers and dies. That's not to say a good permaculture design won't build in some resilience, but it was a novel idea for French to talk about those harsh extremes, not as an abnormality - but rather, very normal and to be planned for. Especially as Climate Change bights down harder.

It made me feel terribly unprepared, but also gave me the resolve, to return to our swale and pond digging when my health returns.

It may seem like a contradiction, but it also made me consider I didn't have to transform the landscape in order to get a good crop. Or rather, I started to accept the problem wasn't necessarily that I lacked the special gardener's secret to success, it was the backdrop I was gardening in. I wanted a European garden, not an exclusive bush-tucker one - and yet that is what has sustained the original inhabitants for up to 60,000 years.

No matter how much compost and mulch I lay down, no matter how many swales are dug - without regular moisture, the organisms in the soil, required for living things to grow, won't reproduce. It will happen in good rain years, but there will also be many bad rain years as well. Decades without substantial rain, has happened before.

Oh yes, I do feel terribly unprepared.

Wicking beds, started to look a lot more necessary into the future. Permaculture design, still has an important part to play as well, as it helps manage what natural resources there are, more efficiently.

The final chapter was the hardest for me to read though, because it spoke about predictions for our future. They were confronting. Now I didn't agree with everything I read, especially about the part where we will come together in hard times and look after one another - as we have always done as a Nation, in the past. I think most of us will want to help each other, and will reach out, but to compare the capabilities of a generation that allowed their children to work hard as soon as they were old enough to, and today's children/adults - we will be very lacking in the same skill set.

It was easier to help a neighbour when you were all living on the land, and made not only to trust in your capabilities, but often had to rely on them for survival. No excuses. When "the majority" don't know how to do for themselves, outside of centralised living however, there will be a lot more needing help than those with resources and capabilities to do so.

I think it was worth writing what she did though, as its a reminder we have come together in the past, and it should be considered something we are capable of in the future. It's that old herd instinct. We might be under attack, but the more we stick together, the harder we are to take down as a group.

"Let the Land Speak," is really about all the cues we have been missing from the start. We may have come here with designs on what we wanted to do, but in the background, the environment was changing and because it changed, we were consistently forced into situations of peril. We keep thinking if we come up with better designs, we'll escape the peril, and yet all we have managed to do thus far, is make the environment even more hostile towards us.

That is probably due to political policy, being designed around cost effectiveness, opinion polls and a lack of research. As individuals (even on a community level) I got the impression from the book, the more we can decentralise our lives, the easier it will be to adapt in the future. That means, not relying on the centralised model of things like power, food and petrol. I know that goes without saying, if you're up on climate change, but it was interesting to see this lens reflecting as far back as the First Fleet.

Those who first came here, to build a colony, had to do so relying completely on each other. Those who fort in Gallipoli and on the Kokoda track too, did so and won (with heavy casualties) due to Australians looking after one another. It was said that no man died alone on the battlefield, because he always had his mate by his side.

We live in a very different society today, more afraid of each other than not. Which is why I loved when Jackie suggested, to be wary of anyone who tries to make you angry. Referring to how leaders have gained power in the past, by rallying anger in the community against others. She suggested to use kindness as a substitute for anger instead.

Jackie also coined the most interesting word: "terrapath". Suggesting it is like a psychopath with no feelings towards the planet. They know what they are doing is causing damage, but they simply don't care.

There is plenty to get from reading this book. Especially a different way of seeing how the first Indigenous Australians learned to adapt. It demonstrates how the land shaped their societies and how we got them wrong, on so many occasions. It's not surprising though, since we got the land so wrong too. I was especially touched by the story of Yarri, of the Wiradjuri people.

Overall, the book is a fascinating read. Have you read this book before?


  1. Wow. Sounds like an amazing book. I can't find Jackie French in our library-likely due to her not being American but I do like the ideas you have talked about. I don't believe that people will band together as much as some might suggest- or as much as we would hope but I'm speaking only of my own neck of the woods. As you also mentioned there has been a great deal of divisiveness- a divisiveness that has turned into a great deal of anger and we are turning not only against others but ourselves. Its a complex set of problems that won't be easily solved.
    I don't mean to sound hopeless-I'm a tough enough cookie and I do work on building community which is the buffer one needs in tough times. Having the skills set and being prepared for things along with the right community might be the answers. We can't fool Mother Nature-but we can maybe adapt to whatever may come.

    1. When I wrote the author's name, book title and "ebook" into google, a few options came up. So it may be available electronically? Although, the search would've given options relevant to my neck of the woods, and perhaps its not available in yours.

      I read some reviews and most of them were extremely positive, with a few that were claiming it wasn't based on Australian history at all. The author was getting her feedback from "letters" of soldiers however, and even from members of her own family who had experienced war time propaganda. An official response was publicised (and recorded) but on the ground, it was something completely different. These were not recorded in the official "political" Australian records, deemed history, but it was recorded in letters which turned up later, matching the stories of family descendants.

      What I found so refreshing from her book, was weaving the parts of our history to give it a soul, not just a stale "record" of events. It was a sociological and ecological exploration of the people (both native and European) who were subjected to some horrendous events - both man-made and not. I don't take it as complete gospel, but I can see the common thread which ties between then and now.

      I think you've got the answers happening in your own neck of the woods though. Building community is good, and with a remnant of Amish families in the mix, there is still that connection to ancient wisdom of self preservation, while not having to sacrifice "values" in the process. The hardest part of decline, when all the divisiveness of money and power are gone, is what will people believe in next?

      Perhaps the greatest legacy we can leave our descendants, is to teach kindness, even when the evidence of oppression is holding us down.

    2. Amen to the legacy of teaching kindness! I will look to see if I can find her work for kindle though if she teaches to your particular climate its not going to work here but I am curious about her and why you love her so much.
      Btw, before I forget, I haven't forgotten regarding the Archdruid discussion and will make time to read it soon. I have been all over the place and not making time to read anything. What you speak of reminds me of his earlier Green Wizadry work.
      As to the community-I live in one that is mostly self sufficient on many levels-lots of hunters and lots of people working hard to make local foods a big thing and even unofficial Transition Town things but in the end, its not really organized whereas I do know what to DO know what to do in worst case scenarios. The problem is really that we have so much positivism that nobody wants to talk about the future as anything scary which of course is not the way to approach it-at least not for me. The Amish are well aware of the downshift btw. They have said a few things to us quietly but they dont' talk about it openly and they certainly haven't changed their lifestyles-not that they have to-but they are not talking about arming themselves for example-if they are or not. I think that the recent interest in hunting with guns in that community is telling though.

    3. If your life is anything like mine, many things have to be returned to later, lol. I would just like to get some things done upfront, but there's always too much competing! ;)

      Potting wild rabbits came up a lot in Jackie's exploration of Australian history too. It was a National pastime once. My mum even has stories of potting wild rabbits. It was just the done deal. Much easier to bring home a meal that only cost you the pellets to shoot, than to have to "farm" it yourselves. It was telling that a lot of meals consisted of rabbit than say chicken or duck. Both are about the same size, but rabbit cost nothing to feed.

      I can see why the Amish (if that's the case) and other locals would be increasing their hunting skills in your area.

    4. Intersting about the rabbits. In this area, people freeze things-venison, duck and turkey mostly. Some are getting into canning the meats but it looks very unappetizing. Originally I think that dehydrating meat was the way to go-as in jerky or pemmican. I assume that by "potted" you mean cooked and sealed under a layer of fat? Thats something I have not tried yet. I don't know if anybody snares rabbits or not-I think that is how they are hunted but I'm not sure. People do look for fresh roadkill as well and that seems to be when they get the more unusual foods like ground hog.
      The Amish used to only be allowed to use bow and arrow for hunting. That was by order of their Bishop. I don't know why that changed-but I suspect that it has alot to do with the hunting season-first hunters are allowed to use bow and arrow for a few weeks then they are allowed guns for a couple of weeks. But I also think that it doesn't hurt to have guns for defense and they are beginning to realize it too.

    5. My understanding of potting rabbits, is that you caught them for the pot, or where they were to be cooked for ages because their meat was incredibly sinewy. There could be other meanings, but that's just the one I'm familiar with.

      Interesting about guns for defence, so long as people stocked up on ammunition. That would be the first thing to be controlled if Martial Law was ever implemented.

    6. Oh. Potting rabbit-similar to stewing hen. I think the term I was looking for was potted rabbit.
      Well ammo can be made with the right leaded metals. I have an entire cabinet full of metal type (about 5000 pieces) that a friend covets for making his own bullets.

  2. I like Jackie French and have a few of her books, but that sounds totally unlike the sort of book I would expect to see from her, so I will get it on your recommendation. I like that word 'terrapath'! How that describes so many people around me! In our street all the blocks are two and a half acres and you would think that with so much land some of it would be left or restored to natural bush, to minimise maintenance at least, but no, most people have mown grass and spend their spare time riding round on their mowers, with a little bit of garden near the house. So stupid.

    It's hard to envisage the future, as we've always gone from less-to-more with our fossil-fuelled lifestyles. With oil running out and nothing available to take its place in quite the same way or quantity, we're going to go to a more-to-less situation and not many people are going to like that, or be able to cope.

    1. I know what you're saying about the type of book Jackie French would write. I was surprised myself. You may find the details a little hard to get into at first. The beginning chapters were the easiest to read, but then you need some patience to get through the rest. I'm glad I persevered though, because if she hadn't written the "middle", the "end" where the solutions and predictions are given, wouldn't have registered as fully.

      Without that lens on what drove people in the past in this country, without fossil fuels and primarily exposed to the elements, we can't really make "informed" contingency plans, for a world without fossil fuels, and yet still subject to the same natural (if not worse) extremes.

      How DID aborigines managed to live so long (I think referenced as far back as 60,000 years) to present day, without clothes, plastics, metals and refrigeration, but still having to exist in communities and neighbouring tribes? I found a lot of what she wrote about it, remarkable. I've never seen it referenced like that, from a European perspective before. I guess because we've never been taught, the native perspective had any relevance to our civilisation. That's where we made our first mistake though. ;)

      We have a lot of mowers in our neighbourhood of 5 acre blocks too. I can see why they do it. They believe it keeps the snakes at bay (and does) but every year between winter and spring, when we don't receive much rain, the grass dies back. Then when we get our monsoon season of summer storms, the heavy rains don't soak into the parched ground, and washes the soil away. As we live down hill to some of the mowers, we see a lot of that soil land in our yard.

      But you know, that's why we do what we do here. Not only to mitigate the damage of what enters our property, but hopefully one day we can show neighbours how to mitigate some of their problems too. But it takes years for our systems to mature, so we have something tangible to show. Even still, they may not want to waste the time and money required to implement their own system. It will take something extreme to make them change their minds.

      If the same happens where you are, then others may start listening to your land practices too. But we shouldn't be surprised, if the majority weren't listening to how Aborigines managed the land - anyone else calling for respecting the natural elements in their own region, are going to receive the same blank reception. The main thing is, we don't give up on what we see is working in our environment, and keep developing it.

      I agree, its very hard to envisage the future. Jackie's book gave me some unexpected perspectives, I hadn't comprehended before though. The land is possibly our greatest gift and our greatest destruction, if we don't start listening to how it speaks.

  3. It's encouraging that permaculture teaches us to observe and listen to the land. There is hope in that.


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