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?