14.12.2012 - 15.12.2012
I have been driving along the country lanes on the fringes of the Blue Mountains. It is not far from Sydney. From the top of a rise the skyscrapers of the city can be seen in the haze. It is peaceful here, where Tree Changers and hobby farmers have built their large homes. Some of them still commute to work but most have retired to keep a few head of cattle, some goats, or indulge finally their dream of riding horses through the bush; of being everybody’s idea of an Aussie, Akubra hat and all.
It is perhaps a stage set of Australian country life, the well-off city dweller retaining their need for a comfortable lifestyle, complete with tinted windows, double garages, BMW’s, horseboxes, landscaped gardens with acres of manicured lawns, kidney shaped pools and the obligatory tastefully rusted agricultural implements on display at the roadside. On nice days they polish up the chrome on their Harley Davidson, don their round retro helmets and leather gear and go for a spin along the twistiest lanes they can find. Man, it feels good to lean into those bends! This is freedom; what I have worked for all of my life! But, far removed as they may be from the real country and outback Australian whose life is hard, utilitarian and harsh in the heat and the dust, I can see the appeal of living like this in rural suburbia; in green and well watered style. All of the larger cities have this green belt; not country, not city but a bit of both.
The sun was low and I stopped somewhere along the road in a little lay-by at a junction, I’m not sure where I was but it did not matter. The road was heading south, that’s all I knew; my aids to navigation were the shadows cast by the setting sun.
I like travelling like this, away from the busy, peopled world. Away from the stress of finding a worthy campsite that is required to be beautiful yet cheap, with attractions nearby and have all the facilities within a few steps of the motorhome [which, incidentally, has all of its own facilities too]. I like just stopping anywhere. I had a great nights’ sleep, hardly a car passed by. This morning I patted the kind-eyed horses in the paddock and watched some young calves gambol and kick their way through the tall grass whilst Sulphur Crested Cockatoos squawked and flapped from tree to tree. A grove of tall gum trees cast their cool shade on a lily covered dam and a Laughing Kookaburra added the final touch to this tranquil scene.
It is a peaceful land this Australia; prosperous and spacious enough to breathe fresh air scented by Teatree blossom and Eucalypt oil. Where “lifestyle” is most important and dreams can still be indulged in.
It is no wonder that, in general, the people of this country have no interest in changing their way of life. In general they do not even realise why they should. And even if they did, why should they change for the benefit of some people far removed from their Australian dream; those people who are suffering the consequences of climate change and those who do not have the resources, financial or natural to be able to withstand the ravages that climate change is already bringing? Those people who live in low lying islands of the Pacific and who have had to move from their ancestral home. Those people that live on the fringes of deserts who are refugees, not because of conflict but because they have had to move away in desperation to avoid starvation. Those millions of people whose harvests have failed or homes and families have been destroyed due to unprecedented, extreme weather events.
If Australians want to see themselves as compassionate and fair people, no matter how you look at it, there will have to be fundamental changes to how most of them think about their lifestyle as climate change creates increasing chaos and hardship to the more vulnerable people of the world. Granted, it is often in the wealthier country areas that you can see some of the high tech solutions, such as solar panels or brand new, architect designed, passive solar, sustainable mansions; that’s because they can afford them. But why do just two people need such a big house or acres of high maintenance landscaped gardens or a solar heated swimming pool? Being environmentally correct is becoming just another status symbol to a few while the rest blissfully carry on living the Australian dream.
I’m sorry to keep spoiling the idyllic picture, but it is what I see all around me as I drive through prosperous Australia trying to be as sustainable as possible. I feel a strong responsibility and I’m not even an Australian citizen; so why don’t these Australians?