Transitions stories from the bush: Ecological economics in action

By Anne Jennings

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Hello.  I’m writing this from my home in Broome.  My town is located in the north-west region of Western Australia and has a permanent population is up to 16,000 people.  This is a famous tourism destination during our dry season (winter everywhere else in Australia!), where our average daily temperature is around 30 degrees during the whole season.  The following are common pictures of our world-famous Cable Beach in Broome:

This region, however, is more than what is portrayed for tourism promotion.  There is an underlying belief that is grounded in the understanding that local people are creators and innovators, which has resulted in cultivating a caring and sharing economy.  This new/ecological economy generates multiple outcomes - within a ‘Commons Transition’ framework.

The path people involved take to initiate social, environment and economic change is not always an easy one – given our remote location and tropical weather events, including cyclones and big storms during our ‘wet’ season (summer).  Although at time this is to our benefit, as the following story from Agunya illustrates.  Agunya is a Broome initiated and based Social Enterprise that offers young Aboriginal people skills training in carpentry, building, communication, creative woodwork and related crafts.  It doesn’t receive government funding - however many of the trainees come through funded programs, for example from Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY).  The Yawuru people are the custodians and native title holders of the land in and around Broome and NBY delivers training and employment programs, within their suite of projects.

Back to Agunya’s story.  Last year (early 2018) Broome experienced the wettest wet season ever recorded, resulting on just under 2 metres of rain in two months. (FYI this year, 2019, had one of the driest ‘wet’ seasons recorded – go figure!)  As a result of cyclones and tropical storms many majestic old trees were damaged and uprooted.  Agunya worked with the local Shire Council to identify trees that were valuable sources of timber.  Young trainees, guided by the project’s instigator and coordinator Andy Grieg, milled trees with their mobile timber mill and turned them into one-off amazing creative timber products.  You can imagine the satisfaction and pride young people gained by achieving such wonderful outcomes.

Photos: (Above) trees down during extreme weather
(Below) timber products created from fallen trees.

Another local project that shone during that extreme wet season is Incredible Edible Broome (IEB), a grassroot community initiated, owned and run project based on provision of locally grown fresh fruit, vegetables, seeds and herbs.  The organisation is a part of the new wave of self-organising, non-hierarchical, community food groups ‘sprouting up’ all over the world.  IEB’s community activities and projects include monthly food shares; gardening equipment shares; community education/skill sharing; seed saving and exchange; local garden tours; community gardens and street herb boxes, and their annual food harvest luncheon, promoting local produce.  From humble beginnings only five years ago IEB has progressively moved forward from initially targeting home gardening/backyard food growing and sharing/swapping excess food to become a more comprehensive, grassroots community organisation.

Photos: (Above) IEB’s Broome Food Harvest and Food Share
(Below) Herb Garden Boxes in main street and Community Garden

Last year’s dangerous wet season resulted in Broome being completely isolated due to the flooding of Highway 1 (the main and only in our region).  Broome was cut off south, north and east for weeks (west is the Indian Ocean) so no food transport could get through.  This resulted in high levels of food insecurity due to isolation, climate extremes and reliance for road transport deliveries of groceries and ‘fresh’ vegetables, fruits, and meat products.  Our food has to travel from Perth, 2,240 kms away - thinking about those ‘food miles’ is really scary!  However, as most of our locally produced food (from backyards, community gardens and road verges) is grown during the previous dry season members of IEB had more than sufficient food collected, preserved, frozen etc to see them through.  In addition, many shared their produce to friends and community members.

Photos: (Above) truck driving on Highway 1, plus washed out road
(Below) empty supermarket shelves during big wet

Briefly, other locally initiated projects include:

A project that IEB works collaboratively with is the Broome Food Co-op. They co-locate monthly for IEB Food Shares and distribution of Food Co-op purchase to members.  The Co-op purchases food in bulk, and members voluntarily repackage in smaller parcels (paper - no plastic).  Products available include various flours, nuts, dried fruits etc and “Who give a Crap?” toilet paper (a social enterprise using all recycled paper, with half of profits go to building toilets in third world countries).

Local Indigenous Tourism is operating in Broome.  These include Narlijia Experiences, established and run by Bart Pigram, a local Yawuru man.  Ancient stories are passed on during tours in areas including through the Mangroves.  They include providing details of habitation for a wide variety and native aquatic animals.  Broome is teeming with life, as the surrounds are both feeding grounds and nurseries for fish, molluscs, burrowing mud worms, various crustaceans, dugong and, yes, saltwater crocodiles.

As you can see Broome people involved in the alternative economy do not consider themselves passive consumers but change makers.

Anne Jennings has worked in community development in regional and remote WA communities for 35 years – as a practitioner, educator and researcher.  She is currently undertaking a PhD with the University of Notre Dame, Broome Campus.  It involves participatory action research in ‘Community Development for Sustainable Futures’, within her own community of Broome.  It is part of the broader Kimberley Transitions project and Anne works p/t as the Project Coordinator, as well as being involved in community projects locally, nationally and internationally.

Anne Jennings –