Tag Archives: changing gears

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Changing Gears

I’ve been reflecting on how many authors I seem to have met since coming to Melbourne. When we moved here, knowing that we would eventually have to pack up and leave again, I made a pact with myself not to buy any books unless I knew the author. That way, I wouldn’t have so many new things to ship back across the planet. It worked, sort of.

My local library in Fitzroy is a vibrant hub of activity and has loaned me a wealth of reading matter – both fiction and non-fiction, to educate, inform and entertain me during my stay in Australia. But all the same, I have acquired a teetering case-full of new books.

How come?

Is Melbourne really such a ripe place for writers, or is it that I am mixing with particularly creative company? Either way, it occurs to me that I could share some of these gems with you all, rather than keeping them to myself.

So I’m going to start reviewing some of the new books on my over-crowded shelf, and then you’ll see what talented people I get to hang out with!

First up is Greg Foyster, and his book “Changing Gears“. I first met Greg when I went over to Murundaka Housing Co-op in Heidelberg, a suburb of Melbourne. I was interested to include an urban example of community living in my new documentary, and so one rainy winter afternoon, we rode out to meet the residents.
Huddled around the wood burning fire in the common house were two people who, at the time, were not residents. Greg and Sophie were house sitting for a couple who were away for a while and we got chatting about their bike ride around Australia in search of a more simple way of livening. As they mentioned Commonground, Moora Moora and then David Holmgren and Fryer’s Forest, a penny dropped and I realised that I had been using Greg’s “Simple Lives” blog for my own research!

Greg was very generous with his contacts and helped me get in touch with a few people who turned out to be key characters in the doco, so let me take this opportunity to thank him. Murundaka, also, became a character in its own right and not too long after, Greg and Sophie got their own place there. They are now an active part of what is a vibrant and healthful community, and you can see them in action as part of the finished documentary Deep Listening: Dadirri.

Greg’s book is an inspiring tour from Melbourne to Queensland (via Tasmania) and in the future, will be a wonderful reminder of why we loved our time, and the people here in the land down under.
In “Changing Gears”, Greg comes across as a bit of a wimp. In a funny way. He bungles his way through setting up a tent; campfire cooking and directions, all the while giving the impression that it is Sophie who is the brains behind the team. Sophie, it must be said, is a formidable woman. She handles whatever the trip, and life, throws at her with grace and ease. She has a steady, frank gaze which seems not to suffer fools, and I can well imagine some of the eye-rolling that goes on at Greg’s buffoonery. But together, they tackle the adventure with focus and determination. They have experienced the disconnect of a society plunging towards an uncertain future and they want to make a difference.

After visiting the intentional communities in Victoria, they start to have an idea of what changes can be made to make a life more sustainable. Off grid, small scale solar electricity; tiny homes instead of great sprawling mansions; shared resources rather than each household having their own washing machine/ lawn mower/power drill/car; home offices versus long commutes. The people they meet along their way demonstrate that there are other ways of doing things. That perhaps there is hope for us yet.

As they travel up the East Coast to Northern New South Wales, Greg and Sophie meet the  old school hippies of the Rainbow Region. Many of the communes which began here in the seventies fell victim to internal conflict, or just fell apart. But several still remain. The pair look closely at the contrast between the downscaled, rural lifestyles of these people and the high-rised bling of the Gold Coast and start to seriously ask themselves – what now for us?

A cathartic meeting with indigenous representatives on the far north coast convinces the intrepid travellers that they want to pursue a way of living which is easier on the planet and they return to Melbourne armed with a lot of information and a new resolve.
The rest, as they say, is history.

For an inspiring, humorous and informative whizz through the alternative-lifestylers of Australia, I thoroughly recommend Greg Foyster’s book. You can get it on Amazon, or if you’re in Australia, via the Readings website.

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Sustainable Living

In February each year, Melbourne hosts its Sustainable Living Festival. It’s a celebration, an education and an invitation. We celebrate innovative ideas which bring the possibility of a sustainable future into focus. Films, speakers, presentations, exhibitions, installations, gatherings, debates and demonstrations educate on the theme of living with a more aware, conscious and environmentally friendly approach. We are invited to be inspired.

Last year, I was very new to the city. We arrived only 2 weeks before the Festival began and although I went to several events, I felt very much like a tourist. I wandered the Green Market, popped my head into a few tents and watched a film or two in Fed Square. As a newcomer to Australia, what impressed me most was that it was baking hot, but that wasn’t really the point!

This year was different. For one thing, I’ve managed to arrange a screening of one of my own films as part of the Festival, so I’m not just a spectator. When I arrive on Friday to drop off some flyers, I am struck by how different this feels. On the stalls are people I know. On the Simplicity Institute stall sits Sophie, who rode across Australia with her partner, Greg, who wrote a book about “Changing Gears” and how to downsize our carbon footprint. On the Co-Housing stall sit Urban Coup members Janice and Yesvira and I bump into Iain from Murandaka. They are here to promote shared living in the suburbs – a great way to reduce our use of energy and resources whilst gaining all the benefits of community life.

A little further on I find Karen, from Tasman Ecovillage, which I visited last Easter. The ecovillage is a new venture down on the beautiful Tasman Peninsular. In a perfect example of re-purposing, this project has taken an existing motel site, sold the chalets to members and have created a community. They grow their own veggies and are planning a range of natural homes on the site, which nestles cosily between the hills and the sea.

In a talk on permaculture economics at Under the Gum I find that I know the person sitting next to me – something which never happened last year – and I realise that after a year of homesickness, disconnection and struggle with city life, I live here now. Before I came, people told me it would take a year to “find my feet” and they were right. When it comes to making friends and feeling like you have a place somewhere, it takes time.
The comfort I feel in my home town of Swansea is because I have lived there so long. I can’t walk down the street without meeting people I know and if I need something, I know exactly where to go.

At the Sustainable Living Festival, I started to feel like I have a place here in Melbourne. Although it is a huge, sprawling city, there are pockets of people who are working towards a more connected and caring lifestyle and I’m pleased to count myself amongst them.

Later that night, we are able to take part in the projector bike ride, which we missed last year because we didn’t yet have bikes. A huge swarm of people on bicycles rode en masse through the heart of Melbourne. It was the biggest Critical Mass I’ve ever taken part in and it was great to know that it was in the name of art, not politics! Imagine if the morning rush hour looked like this, not a crush of cars bumper to bumper.

We landed at Argyle Square off Lygon street, where the Italians of the area were taking an evening stroll and enjoying some of the amazing ice cream sold in this part of town. The films were projected from a converted bicycle and we sat and ate our picnic supper in the warm evening air. Is this how life could be all the time?

 

 

 

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