The Following is a guest post by Dorothy Henderson.
As someone who moved to Australia with my family in 1968, I have childhood memories of a farm with green fields and buttercups. We exchanged that life for a truly Australian childhood: one shaped by a myriad of positive experiences, framed within the constraints of drought, flood and bushfire.
I am only too aware of the immediate impacts climate change can have on people. A lack of rain resulting in no feed for stock, no crops, no water in the dams…there is a very direct connection between farming and climate.
While studying agriculture at university, I was exposed to environmental action for the first time, including a successful campaign to protect from development a lake bordering on Murdoch University’s campus, and as a Wilderness Society member took part in the battle to “let the Franklin River run free..”..
At that time, “Greenies” were very much frowned on in the bush, and while my little Torana sported “No Dam” stickers, other vehicles in the area I where I came from proudly displayed ones which read “Do the World a Favour: Plough in a Greenie!”.
In 1997 my partner David, who also has a background in agriculture, and I moved to Esperance, in WA’s far south-east and bought a beautiful 10 acre property overlooking the Pink Lake. We grew vegetables and raised animals using organic methods, and relished our life close to the sea and in an absolutely beautiful part of the world. We have put down our roots in this area, and this is where we are raising our family.
Farming and my work as a journalist in the region exposed us to enough information to make us realise that not only is climate change real, but that it will affect us all.
The work I have done as an Oxfam volunteer has only served to cement that belief. Exposure to the work done by that NGO in countries already forced to cope with the consequence of climate change like Tuvalu, made me realise that this is a problem without borders, and one we all really need to work to tackle.
I have watched my own family make the decision to leave the farms they love. Changing climate made it too hard to match productivity expectations with reality. We are also witnessing first hand the struggle our current employers are going through as they try to pilot their family farming business through the a series of difficult seasons: crops wiped out by frost, lack of rain preventing crops from growing at all, sheep without feed—the same old story of climatic change impacting directly on people in both an economic and social way.
But my decision to publicly take a stand and work towards tackling climate change in a meaningful way was made as I stood at the base of a huge Tingle tree in the Valley of Giants, near Walpole in WA, and read an information placard which explained how with only a little less rain, and a little more heat, the unique ecosystem I was immersed in at that point would simply disappear.
SO what have we done, as a family, since then?
To understand the path we have taken, I need to explain further our life at present:
We have five children, aged 19 to 8. We own two rural properties, one a stone’s throw from Esperance, and a larger one about 20 minutes drive from the town, and we work on a third property about 100km from town, where we work for the State’s largest grain producing family, managing sheep and cattle on a property overlooking the Southern Ocean.
Life is complicated! And we feel that our need to do more is great as a consequence of the number of children we are lucky enough to have!!
We are taking a many pronged approach to the problem, and though we have always worked with the environment in mind, it seems more important now that what we do makes a difference.
We live and work on the property furthest from town, so we:
Make every trip to town count. When we have to go there for work, we load up the Troopcarrier with children, and they do their music lessons, swim, catch up with friends, shop, do the farm chores, and fulfill community obligations…
Reuse, recycle: Trips to town involve taking recycling to drop off points in town. Plastic, glass, cans…all separated and in to the blue bins provided by council as opposed to being dumped with other rubbish in farm landfill.
Shop with conscience: We are all committed op-shoppers. The children have been trained to sniff out a bargain. We read labels, think about food miles; buy from local producers if we can. Avoid plastic packaging as much as possible, take our own bags or use cardboard boxes to cart the groceries home in (the boxes end up on the vege patch!). Think before we buy: we are not perfect, but we are trying!
Homeschooling: A decision made for many reasons, but one which suits our family. The curriculum we use is Steiner based, and the school we source it from, Oak Meadow (USA), committed to sustainability, social justice…it just fits which the training we are trying to give our children. They are the greatest “footprint” we are leaving behind, so we have made a real effort to train them to care about the environment and other people. One is now at university studying politics and journalism, is a vegetarian, rides her bike and is actively involved in social justice campaigning, the second oldest is about to leave home to study social justice and sustainability, and the other three are working hard on the farm in between their studies at home, learning the real value of food, and the land that we produce it on.
Grow and eat our own: We try to produce most of our own food. Meat is home grown and slaughtered, but we eat less of it now than we ever have. We grow most of our own veges, the orchard is getting more productive and we have herbs a plenty.
Energy use: Use of low-energy light bulbs, turning off light switches, thinking about power use…the farm we live on is connected to mains power, but we are about to build on our own property. That house will be solar powered, has been designed with sustainability in mind and will be constructed from recycled materials.
Tree planting: During our years of land ownership in the Esperance area we have planted 1000s of trees. Last year we planted over 4000 on our Dalyup property, and also fenced off creek lines to help protect the trees and reverse erosion that has already affected the property.
Community commitment: This is the really tricky part. It is so easy to be a hermit when you live on a farm a long way from town! BUT if one is to have an impact, one really must be seen to be doing something. This is not about ego, or self-gratification, it is simply about leading the charge, “putting your money where your mouth is”. As someone who has an aversion to having a public profile (journalists find it easier to encourage change from behind a camera or notebook!), this has been really hard for me. However, the decision to engage with the community was taken out of my hands two years ago, when the manager of one of the local supermarkets approached me asking if I might happen to know anyone who would be interested in helping them to get a farmers’ market running in Esperance, as part of their commitment to the community—they would provide the car park as a venue. Once I started work on this project with Esperance Small Land Owners Group secretary Rose Riley, there was no turning back.
For our family, the markets have been about sustainability: giving small landowners a market for their produce, and a place for local people to buy direct from growers.
From that point the community commitment snowballed, and Rose and I found ourselves on the committee of the Esperance Regional Forum, the region’s local Landcare group. Now we are both involved in the sustainability scenario as deeply as one can be, helping with funding proposals, working with social media to promote both groups…all time-consuming, but so very, very rewarding!
Oxfam provides my family with an outlet which helps to meet our need to tackle this issue on a global scale. I have been doing freelance writing and other volunteer work for them for nearly 10 years, with tasks including organisation of Land is Life photo exhibitions in our area, and most recently assuming responsibility for a poster presentation at the State Coastal Conference, which was held in Esperance.
Why do all of this? Well, as parents of five children, we feel obliged to really work for change, for their sakes and for the sake of our planet. Even at 12 years of age, our son has decided he wants to farm, and that he wants to farm sustainably. If we can pass on our land to a generation of people who automatically assume that sustainability is part of the equation, and that taking care of the world we live in is a given, not a choice, then I think that as a family, we will have achieved something worthwhile.
Our children do not have X-boxes, video games, or I-pads. What they do have is access to a wonderful life of challenge and work which is in turn shaping them in to people that we are proud of.
Involvement with projects like One Million Women, Oxfam and the many other wonderful programs we can access now, even from our remote home in the middle of nowhere (and everywhere, all at once!) is showing them just how easy it is to make a difference, and they are engaging in that quest for change with enthusiasm…and hope.
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We are daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers getting on with practical climate action to live better for us and the planet. Join the community at www.1millionwomen.com.au