The juices from the delicious peach I’m eating run down my arm.
The wind from the Lake is rustling through the littoral rainforest. I let it caress my hair while I lightly place my hand on the shoulders of Tanya and signal that perhaps we should sit for a while. She’s 17, one of the first residents to be born in the Circular Economy Village at Lake Tyers and the daughter of a close friend. She has only ever known abundance and lives a life where everything she uses is either grown or produced locally. Every family in the village is involved in some activity that helps provide these basic essentials to the community. The village has been designed for efficiency and abundance with lots of room for conservation and an agricultural food system.
When we have a bumper crop, we preserve and ferment food for the winter months or to trade some of the surplus with neighbouring villages in our bioregion. We have a small dairy churning the tastiest cheeses and the smell of fresh sourdough bread wafts over from the nearby bakery. Boutique industries create goods from materials we no longer use; a bulk food buying service minimises plastic packaging to almost nothing and waste is now a resource. Our private quarters are small and have an earth roof to maintain a constant temperature. There are plenty of shared spaces. They include a co-working office, a cinema, pools, rooms for wood-working, pottery, 3D printing and other handicrafts. We’ve used natural materials in the construction, so our homes continue to breath during the hot summers and keep us warm on those nights when the cold winds blow in from Antarctica.
People are engaged in mining the waste dumps that were left from years of careless living to make the products we use today. There is a network of such regenerative villages in the East Gippsland region. On occasion we take one of the shared electric vehicles to visit, trade knowledge and surplus goods. A constant flow of nomads and artists brings fresh blood and new ideas. Some of them stay with us for three months, others for longer. Renewable energy and harvested water ensure that we don’t depend on centralised systems anymore.
This is Tanya’s country, but she is always curious about the world I used to inhabit before Steven and I moved here.
It is now 2042 and we have just celebrated my 80th birthday. I feel at peace. I am content. The soothing sound of water invigorates me and I enjoy watching the black swans as they glide past. I love spending time with the young ones and sharing stories of the past. What a past.
“Aunty Nil”, Tanya says, jostling me from my silent meditations. “Tell me the story of the Tipping Point year again. How did everything change?”
“I’ll have to start the story in 2019, Tanya”, I reply. “That’s when we first came to Lake Tyers, for a New Economy Symposium. Steven and I were still living in our motorhome then, searching for local governments and communities with whom our vision for a regenerative village would resonate. We gave a presentation to the gathering and I think we lit a spark in this community because we came back many times that year to meet with them and brainstorm ideas.”
“Did you feel drawn to the lake?” she asks with the curiosity of youth.
“Yes, and the people here…”, I respond as I rifle through my memories. “There was something really special about them. Their passion for the environment coupled with a strong love of the arts really spoke to me. I felt instinctively they would understand our vision.” I reflect on how the fires during the summer of 2019-20 really jolted everyone into thinking about a resilient future. “Our drive back to Sydney that Christmas in 2019 was ghostly, along a freeway that was covered in smoke with an orange sun poking through. It felt apocalyptic and we knew that the effects of climate change we had been speaking about for decades would impact us a lot sooner than we had bargained for. There were days when the air quality in some Sydney suburbs was the worst in the world.”
“That must have been scary”, Tanya says, somewhat startled.
“Scary, sad and depressing”, I respond. “Each time we came back to Sydney we were also reminded of the life we had left behind since moving into our motorhome in 2015. Both Steven and I had felt imprisoned by days spent in long commutes, battling rush hour traffic and advocating for innovation to elected officials who really couldn’t comprehend the trends we were speaking of. Life was stressful with little time to indulge in our passions. We knew there must be a better way to live.”
A few life changing events had led us to take that first plunge out of the mainstream world.
“People did jobs that kept them busy but served no real purpose.” I say. I share with Tanya how the anthropologist and activist David Graeber coined the term ‘bullshit jobs’. I shudder silently as I remember how many were kept drowning in paperwork to make sure they didn’t have time to think. She shoots me a look of disbelief. What I describe is a foreign concept to her, having spent her entire life in a world where every job is related to keeping us fed, healthy and energised. I recall how we had watched the reports of catastrophic fires from the safety of a friend’s home in Sydney during that Christmas of 2019. It had unsettled us enough to make us rethink our lives yet again. At the time we felt quite strongly that we had reached a Tipping Point and we had wondered aloud what might be next. We decided then that we would move back to our home when the lease ended in April. I had wondered if the fires might be a catalyst for a transition to renewable energy and care for native flora and fauna or would it be business as usual once the fires were extinguished.
“So—was it the fires that caused the change, Aunty Nil?”, Tanya asks expectantly.
“Not right away, my dear”, I say, as memories of how divisive our society had been flooded back. “There was a lot of misinformation spread by some politicians and social media. The conservative press made out the fires were caused by arsonists and not as a consequence of climate change. We had experienced a severe drought in the lead up to that summer, the Murray-Darling river system dried out and millions of fish died but many people were unable or unwilling to see any connection between these events.”
“So—people rejected the science, just as they did when Galileo said the earth was not flat?” Tanya asks, amazed this could have happened just twenty-two years ago.
“Yes” I reply, grimacing inwardly. “When we finally returned to East Gippsland in February 2020, we drove south through forests that had burnt to a cinder. The despair we had felt when we drove north for Christmas turned to devastation. I started my artist residency on FLOAT, the floating vessel that has hosted artists here for more than two decades now. We were on the vessel when we began to hear rumours about the coronavirus that was spreading out of China to countries like Italy beginning to impact Australia. We didn’t have TV on the vessel, but we heard about the rush on toilet paper through Facebook. When we finally got to the shops, there was not a roll of toilet paper left in Lakes Entrance.”
“Toilet paper”, she says incredulously..
“That was the start of the panic buying, Tanya. People were scared and so disconnected with where their essentials came from, they felt driven to hoard what they could. I remember that it took me double the time to shop for groceries because I was so amazed by all the empty shelves. I remember asking myself if this could really be happening. The rush on toilet paper transitioned to other items like flour and rice. Grocery stores introduced limits on what you could buy and special shopping hours for the elderly. Then internal borders started to close in Australia. Tasmania was the first but most states except Victoria and NSW followed. This meant that you had to spend 14 days in quarantine if you crossed state borders. It felt as if we were living in a bad dream.”
“It must have been a scary time to live through”, Aunty Nil, she says, trying to comprehend a time in history that was so unlike her own reality.
“Yes, it was my dear”, I reply. “It was also a lonely time for many. We decided toward the last week of March that we should start to head back to NSW. Caravan parks started to close as all non-essential travel was banned. There were approximately 75,000 travellers in parks at the time. Many were caught out. Lots of retirees live in their caravans on a full-time basis, so some parks remained open for them.”
I will always remember the sense of relief I felt when we finally moved back to our home in April of 2020. My friends had remarked how lucky we had been to have made that decision over the summer. But I hadn’t thought it was luck at the time. Our five years on the road had taught us to live life in tune with our natural environment. Living a conscious life had led us to experience synchronicity -- meaningful coincidences with no causal relationship, that seemed to be meaningfully related. Just before NSW went into strict lockdown mode, we moved back home. Our renters had left us 4 rolls of toilet paper as a welcome gift. I had never felt more thankful to have a place to call home.
I had always wanted to establish a bit more resilience when we moved back home but now it seemed so did everyone else.
I relate to Tania how overnight seeds became the new toilet paper as people rediscovered their gardens and the joy of growing and cooking their own food. We baked bread, made yogurt and brewed kombucha. Our government, which had been uncaring about the homeless and those who were on benefits, increased these weekly allowances and made them available to the millions of Australians who were suddenly out of work. The cost of living was so high then that most people had no option but to live from pay-check to pay-check. Most Australians were left struggling as social restrictions were imposed and we gradually transitioned to a life under ‘lockdown’. The economy nose-dived.
I share stories of how the Government started talking about reshaping our economy to future shocks. We were a little sceptical, but the rhetoric helped our cause.
They spoke about breaking the complex supply chains, so we were more resilient as a nation. They spoke of ensuring access to essentials like medicine and energy. As travel restrictions tightened and huge fines were introduced, people started walking in their neighbourhoods again. Everyone said hello when you passed them, albeit keeping at least a few metres away, as we all adhered to the new social distancing rules of a 1.5 m boundary introduced to slow down the spread of this deadly virus.
Tanya is surprised to hear the virus didn’t affect children in the same way it affected the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
I explain how everyone stayed home so we could slow down the spread, keep those most at risk safe and reducing the burden on our hospitals. I reflect on how phrases like ‘flatten the curve’ became commonplace as suddenly even the conservative politicians looked to the scientists for advice and guidance. The conservative media were still screaming that it was all too much but this time it was their core audience of elderly Australians who were at the greatest risk, so this became the start of their demise. Still, there were lots of accusations that went back and forth. Young kids flocked to the beaches while cruise ships with infected passengers spilled out into the streets of Sydney. There was debate about whether the schools should be closed or not and suddenly everyone became aware of who was actually essential to help keep us alive.
“We saw the best and worst of humanity, but it made us far more conscious human beings, Tanya.”, I say.
“So—that was the beginning of the Tipping Point?”, Tanya interrupts.
“Yes, it was Tanya, although it didn’t happen immediately. People understood that while we craved to go back to ‘normality’, normal had never really worked for many. We were so time poor that we spent little time in the homes we had bought. Families had rarely eaten all 3 meals together or found time for play. People re-discovered relationships although there was also the rise of domestic violence when we were forced to be locked in our homes.”
“What a time in history”, Tanya interjects.
“Yes it sure was. It became imperative that when it was all over, we would really need to define a new future.”
I relate how it finally dawned on the majority that we are all connected. That we must think about local resilience if we were to survive the future. How we came to understand that the actions of even the least of us can affect the whole and the importance of making sure that no one was left behind. That sometimes it is impossible for some ‘to have a go’.
We sit together in a meditative silence.
All unessential work has now been eradicated. Work is what you do to provide for your family and the wider community. It’s amazing to be surrounded by people who share my values of living as a custodian on the earth.
I draw a deep breath and send a silent message of thanks to the Universe. After we found a vaccine for the virus, people left the cities in droves. Working from home had given them a new independence of working from anywhere. Employers also saw the benefit of this. Our ideas for creating a network of regenerative villages really took off but the hubs of Bellingen and Lake Tyers were the first to be built. Cities have changed too. Empty parking lots are now community gardens and there’s solar on everyone’s roofs. People have time to pursue their passions and art flourishes. A basic income for all was ultimately implemented in Australia. We enjoy participatory democracy, through a transparent cooperative platform. Our Utopia is almost as Steven and I had dreamt it, back in 2013, when we took the first step off the mainstream world and setup PolisPlan.
It’s time to head back. Tanya has a bright future ahead of her, but it has been important to share this narrative with her. Lest her generation forget.