Monthly Archives: January 2014

Renewable Festivals

By European standards, the Rainbow Serpent Festival is small. By Australian standards, it’s huge – 18,000 people. 3 main music stages, and a central stalls area filled with the usual cheap cotton, studded leather and this year’s essential for the laydees – twerking pants.

Happy Rainbow! is the refrain and it is, in spite of 36 degree sunshine and dust which makes it difficult to breathe and dyes the inside of your nose black.

I’ve spent the morning at the solar cinema, run by Pippa and Rich from Future Art Research who have the shadiest spot on site. They showed my Lammas documentary on Friday and have entertained me since with Indigenous stories from Uncle Larry, sourdough breadmaking workshops using their solar oven and now, an interesting history of the activist scene in Australia.

In the early noughties, Undercurrents Beyond Tv Festival was showing films from Jabiluka uranium mine protests and Woomera detention centre. That footage of the fence coming down and refugees spilling out into the desert is unforgettable. Now, the scene has shifted to the brilliant Lock the Gate campaign against coal seam gas and instead of just the usual suspects, farmers have united with locals to create a united resistence.

We’re led into the discussion by a query about the lack of environmental awareness at this festival. My friend Cara has been flown in from the UK to do a talk on Free Economy and to show a film called Connected. She estimates her audience at 0.025 of the people here. She is camped in the artists quarter and is amazed by the DJs detailing their litany of flights to travel around the world for gigs.

“What’s it all for” she laments. “Just to have a good time?”.

David Holmgren‘s talk, however, is well attended, but then he’s a local. Known as the father of permaculture, he has established a self-sufficient homestead down the road in Hepburn Springs. He and his colleagues set up festivals in Tasmania, back in the day, which they wanted to be living examples of sustainability. They would plant veggies on site 6 months beforehand, so that festival-goers could harvest free food during their stay.

Here at Rainbow, they could take a few lessons from the Green Gathering, who run all of their site on renewable energy. If it’s possible in the UK, with all its rain and mud, it must be possible here, with its 36 degrees of sunshine.

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Trains not Toll Roads


It’s 6am and the community picket is underway, blocking the entrance into Alexandra Parade a busy road through inner Melbourne. They are determined that the drill bringing up soil samples for a new road tunnel will not be active today. Two men are locked on to the top of the drill with bicycle D locks, a fitting symbol of their commitment to a sustainable mode of transport. There are police everywhere, surrounding the fence around the drill, surrounding the protesters. Search and rescue have been called in to remove those locked on and with them, have come detectives, police commissioners and riot police. The oddest sight is a neatly dressed blonde woman, with patent pumps, sleeveless flowered top and a gun in a holster at her side. All the police carry guns, which makes it all the more scary when they move in, en masse, to drag people away from the fence. One woman is thrown to the ground.


This argument has been brewing for some time, a century, some may say, as the rail connection between East and West Melbourne was proposed over 100 years ago. As consecutive plans have been shelved, the road network has grown, until now, the inner city is ringed with busy arteries carrying commuters and trucks from one side of this sprawling city to another. The residents of the inner North have had enough.
Since September 2013, they have been gathering in the early mornings to form a picket line at the drill sites, which pop up without warning on residential roads throughout the area. Frustrated with a lack of communication and openness from the State government, they feel their only hope is direct action, delaying the work on the road for just long enough to stop the contracts being signed before the next election. The government is responding by proposing a draconian new law which will make it easier for the police to move on a public assembly and prosecute protesters. It is scheduled for the first day of parliament when it re-convenes after the summer break on February 4th.

The small group of perhaps 40 protesters are steely, rising each day to renew their commitment to this campaign and to each other. As at all picket lines, it’s the solidarity which they say gets them out of bed at 5am, even when the day promises another 40 degree scorcher.

“Tunneling under this road will cause havoc”, says local resident Keith Fitzgerald. His house is earmarked for demolition and he has been approached about a compulsory purchase order. “It will cause years of dust and noise while they dig it, it will destroy the character of the area, it will damage the community. What’s more, the road will not solve their transport problems. Roads never do. The cars will just fill it up just as they fill all the other roads. The government has not done its homework.”

It’s true that there is no business plan for this road and that the current State government – a Liberal government, which in Australia means right wing – does not have a mandate from the people. It looks like they won’t survive to another term, so the protesters want the opposition Labour party to promise not to honour any contracts. They have so far refused.

So today, the picket line is drawn again and the police take shifts to stand with them, setting up a canteen on the grass verge between the carriageways which 100 years ago, was laid down for a railway track.

“A railway link will carry people from the outer suburbs into the city. That’s where they want to go. This road tunnel is being made principally for trucks, to bring goods from the manufacturers in the East to the port in the West. It’s not even for people, but it is public money which will pay for it and then people will pay again to use it. There will be no more money to pay for public transport for decades.” says local resident Mel Gregson.

Melbourne retains the title of world’s most liveable city and the public transport system – the network of trams and trains which make it easy to move about in the inner city – add greatly to that experience. Here is a chance for Melbourne to join the world’s most progressive cities and say “no” to cars and “yes” to public transport.

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Greening the City

It’s a new year in Australia and it’s still holiday time. Being summer, the children are off school for another 3 weeks and the newspapers reflect the “silly season” when the parliament is not sitting. The lack of political backstabbing leaves room for some news which is actually interesting, and this weekend, the Melbourne Age carries a story about some people who have set up a share house with a view to living communally and sharing resources. They grow their own veggies in an ample backyard, eat together five times a week and have reduced their weekly expenses to just $120 each (£65), which is pretty amazing in the inner city. One of the housemates is someone I have met. Her name is Theo Kitchener and she co-ordinates a group called Doing it Ourselves. The group advocates a slowing down of society’s incessant need for growth and a return to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Theo clearly walks the talk with her suburban “co-operative community”.

I am inspired by these efforts to make the city lifestyle more sustainable. One of the criticisms often aimed at my Living in the Future video series is that it tends to reflect only rural communities and obviously, not everyone can make that rural dream work for them. “What about greening the cities?” I am asked. Living in Melbourne is a good opportunity to explore just what that might mean and I’ve been impressed with some of the ideas that people are putting into practice.

One of the simplest ways in which cities can “go green” is to establish community gardens.  We have a planter box in one of the laneways between houses and manage to grow a constant supply of greens as well as some beans, a few root veg and lots of herbs.
This weekend, we were comparing our lifestyle in terms of carbon footprint and admitting that if we were honest, our city footprint was probably lighter than our rural footprint back in Wales! Here, we don’t run a car and our journeys to work are done mostly by bicycle. Our tiny urban flat only needs minimum heating for 2 months a year, compared to 6 months of wood and coal consumed by our burner at home. Our veg boxes come from CERES, which is a community environment park on 4 acres of rehabilitated landfill. They have beautiful spaces for workshops, funky buildings made of straw and mud, a thriving plant nursery and regular organic market. Their food comes mostly from farms within the state of Victoria, which means the veg is quite local. In our tiny backstreet planter box, we grow as much veg as we did in our large garden, thanks to bad weather and slugs diminishing the harvest.

Of course, we have to take into account the massive infrastructure which makes city life possible at all and it’s hard to measure the cost of that, but all this is worth considering before we make another move – either home or elsewhere. Spiritual fulfillment aside, (I will always yearn for the peace and quiet of Nature) if we are truly trying to live a sustainable lifestyle and cut our carbon emissions, does it make it easier to live in the city or the country?

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