Category Archives: Bathurst Community Climate Action Network

Who’s afraid of the working class?

Where do they go, when the factories close? A few years ago I heard a podcast from Planet Money about what middle-aged American men did once they were laid off from their jobs. A large number, it seems, went on disability support.

As manufacturing moved out of the United States, its workers moved on to disability. They had back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes. They had enough misery in their lives to qualify for disability pensions. Which was fortunate, in a way, because they had precious little chance of ever finding work again.

Maybe a higher percentage than usual of these guys set down their remote controls the other day and hoisted themselves out of the house for the trip down to the local polling booth.

The revolt of the cast-offs of globalisation isn’t the only explanation for Trump – I think it was part of a perfect storm of other factors, which I’ll get into further down – but it’s the factor that so few pundits took into account prior to election day. This is strange, because Brexit should surely have been a warning.

I was in the UK as Brexit unfolded. I was hanging around inside my own echo chamber, visiting certain parts of London then Oxford and Cheltenham. There were Remain signs in windows. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the UK wouldn’t be so silly as to dump the EU. And then the morning after. What the hell happened? The thing that happened was well out sight – for us. The thing that happened was that people who were not doing so well out of globalised capitalism – people not so visible in public life – went out and voted. In the case of Brexit and Trump, it was a generalised flipping of the bird. It was an emotional reaction, a final had-enough-and-not-taking-it-any-more. Turkeys voting for Christmas? Perhaps. But these are people who feel that Christmas has already been and gone. Their gnawed bones are being scraped into the garbage bin. (Note: Feelings are not the same as facts; they might or might not be justified.)

And then the racism on the streets. People who had lived in the UK for decades or even generations being told to go “home”. All because the demagogues, given oxygen by Murdoch and other scurrilous press, held up a scapegoat for discontent: The Other.

So when my partner Steve said on Wednesday morning that Clinton would probably win, I said I’m not too sure. Remember Brexit. He said she was ahead in most of the polls. Still, I wasn’t too sure.

As Wednesday afternoon wore on, I kept taking a moment out of my video editing job (a weekend of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Grenfell) to look at the latest news on ABC News 24. I saw a weird dial that said it was 80 per cent likely that Trump would win the presidency. And even I, who only that morning had said it was possible, was shocked. Here’s a candidate off the edge of the scale. Here’s a genuine fascist, no exaggeration necessary. What were the German fascists all about? Creating a simple scapegoat for complex problems. Promising to restore the country to former greatness. It was about a word I first learned in Mr Corson’s History class: autarky. Autarky means self-sufficiency. It means you don’t rely on the rest of the world for your essentials; you make them yourself. I remember learning by heart for my final exams a whole table showing the increase in pig iron production prior to the second world war. Trump has been telling people he’d stop free trade, support home-grown manufacturing, revive those rusting, weed-infested factories. Build a wall against Mexicans. Put women back where they belong. Laugh at climate change. Make America a man again.

How could people be so stupid?

I mean, how could we be stupid as to think that you can make people feel so miserable, insecure, powerless and overwhelmed by change without consequence? Why should they keep voting for business as usual? (And Hilary Clinton, despite being a woman, was clearly seen as business as usual.) The documentary maker Michael Moore has been trying to tell us about this for a long time. He was one of the few in public life that predicted Trump’s win.

So. I’m writing this from Bathurst, New South Wales, where we have a yearly celebration of working class culture in the V8 car races. We have a manufacturing industry but it’s in decline. This used to be a railway town. Until just a few years ago we even made our own bogies at Downer EDI. The last one rolled off the production line in 2013. Our friend Glen, who used to work in the EDI factory had seen it coming. For years he painstakingly worked through a teaching degree by distance education, working on essays into the night, bundying on at the factory early the next morning. After the factory closed, he was eventually able to find a job as tech teacher at the local high school. Glen managed to make the transition, but he had unusual foresight and adaptability. Where are his fellow workers, now? I would not be surprised to find a few on the disability pension.

Further west, in Cowra, there used to be a fruit and vegetable processing factory. I filmed it for a client-based video called What Employers Want. At that factory there were toolmakers who knew how to create the machines and tweak the production lines that filled and sealed the cans of peas and asparagus. It was an old factory, with parts of it looking like something out of a 1950s film set, but there was also a shiny new addition glinting in the sun, the result of a life-saving government grant. But it died anyway. Where are those blokes, now, the ones who knew how to tweak the machines? What about the young apprentice in the video? Has he been able to find other work?

I’m not saying this is the only explanation for Trump. No doubt misogyny and racism are real and powerful all by themselves. With the collapse of traditional media people are retreating to their own silos, occupying parallel universes in the same geographical spaces. Reality television means people can get to know and like provocateurs like Trump (and Pauline Hanson over here), giving them 100 per cent brand recognition that can be easily parlayed into electoral success.  And the chickens are coming in to roost on dog whistle politics, to mix my farmyard metaphors.

It’s been a perfect storm, but not one that hasn’t been brewing for a long time. It’s a storm made of a backlash against feminism, LBQTI rights and rainbow politics, the rise of the evangelical Christian right (which mobilised for Trump), a domineering foreign policy answered by terrorism followed by war followed by body bags and a disinclination to support Clinton’s promise of continued hawkishness, a backlash against the bankers who caused and then were bailed out of the global financial crisis,  the decline of the old colonial powers of the English speaking world and Europe and the rise of Asia, a preference for a Norman Rockwell past over an apocalyptic, climate-changed future and, perhaps most of all,  simple refusal. Half of eligible voters didn’t vote. They didn’t have the heart. They didn’t think it was worth it.

I’m writing this partly because the US is inherently interesting to me – we’re permanently saturated in American culture so it’s hard not to get interested  –  but also because the parallels with our own situation here are obvious. Whatever storms are brewing there are brewing here, too.

How do we deal with it?

On Thursday morning, once it was definite that Trump was the Leader of the Free World, I was struck by a thorough-going ennui. I’ve been politically active, one way or another, for most of my adult life. But on Thursday I toyed with not bothering any more. I’ve been ill. I could retire to my PhD and spring garden. But I also had to write this week’s BCCAN column and in writing it, I wrote myself back into my tiny bit-part in political life. People have fought fascism before; they’ll do it again. By the afternoon, anti-Trump high school students in California had taken to the streets.

So I will continue on as President of BCCAN, a thing I can do on my own territory that is at odds with all Trump stands for. In campaigning for action on climate change, I’m ever-conscious of the Lithgow coal miners (and ex-coal miners) just half an hour down the road. Many hate “greenies” with a passion, blaming us for the winding down of coal and the loss not just of their livelihoods but of the story of who they are. I don’t know quite what to do about these miners, but I do know they’re important. They can’t be left out of account. Somehow we need to form an alliance, or try to at least. We need to try to do what alliances have always done, which is: accept that we don’t agree on everything. Accept that perhaps we don’t agree on much at all. But if we agree on something, and that something is important enough to fight for (jobs in renewables?), then let’s see what we can do together.

It’s not easy, though. I recall a movie I saw recently. Actually I saw it with my friend Larissa in Newtown after getting back from the UK (yup, burned carbon all the way there and back). It was Pride (2014) about the alliance between striking Welsh coal miners and lesbian and gay activists (the BTQI part wasn’t such a thing in the early 1980s) from the time when Thatcher tried to close down the pits (climate change wasn’t such a thing then, either). The gay and lesbian activists insisted on supporting the striking miners, despite comical differences in lifestyles and attitudes. The last scene depicts a historic  gay pride march held in London in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Impossibly, incredibly, it was led by a band of Welsh coalminers: they were supporting their allies at a time of need.

It’s a beautiful piece of history. It shows what can be done. But then I thought about the thirty years since then. There is still hatred for LBGTI people. But marriage equality exists in the UK, and LBGTI people have made many gains over the past three decades. The Welsh miners? They lost. And they voted Brexit.

 

How to do history

cabbageToday I’ve been crocheting a cabbage. It has a head and three green leaves; I may have to make one more leaf to make it look a little more cabbage-like. Lately I’ve made a kayaker, a few turtles and fish, a platypus and a blue damselfly (a blue dragonfly-like creature). These are all being stitched to a 60 metre (and growing) crocheted, knitted and woven representation of the Macquarie River stretching from Bathurst, to Hill End, Dubbo, Warren and beyond. This evening, at 5pm, we’ll be unfurling this “banner” at the Council chambers to no to a proposal to divert up to 10 megalitres of river water a day to a gold mine near Blayney. Some people will sing; others will hang more conventional banners painted by local teenagers saying things like DON’T ROB OUR RIVER; others will be holding home-made placards. Wiradjuri people, who have been here since time immemorial and call the river the Wambool, will be there too. Just now, I just got a call from an older man who said he would be there but he might be a little late, as his wife is infirm.

In the local paper today we’ve been branded as “emotional greenies” by Councillor Michael Coote, who is very cross at being bombarded with text messages. He feels we have been blessed by the gold mining company’s offer to take our water. The economic bonanza to follow will be like “winning the lottery”.

“As councillors we have to make decisions based on facts and not emotion,” Cr Coote said. “Let’s take the emotion out of this.”

The idea that Cr Coote is all about the facts and environmentalists are all about emotion is rather curious. Our case against the proposed extraction from the river is based on a cartload of scientific facts, all of which appear in Council’s own reports and pronouncements about the state of the local environment. Local temperatures are rising as climate change kicks in, and biodiversity is falling as habitat is destroyed. We environmentalists are quite aware of these facts, and find them devastating. Yes, devastation is an emotion. But it’s not a random or irrational emotion – it’s a congruent response to a set of facts.

Whether he realises it or not, Cr Coote is having some emotions himself. It would appear from the Advocate story that he is sick of the “scare campaign” by “greenies”. He’s sick of it! He’s not going to take it any more! He wants to get this whole thing over with by having Council vote in favour of the water sale tonight. That’ll stop those pesky text messages, and allow the river of cash to flow.

The fact is that we all have both minds and hearts. We all bring both to bear on our beliefs, values, opinions. It guides the language each side prefers to use. We say “water”; Cr Coote says “effluent”. It’s simply wrong for Cr Coote to say that he is being rational and we are being emotional. All sides in this are emotional.

While Cr Coote believes he is being factual about the river water sale, there is a fair amount of mythology – fantasy – at the heart of such an approach to the natural environment. The fantasy is that we can keep plundering our natural resources indefinitely. If there are consequences, they will be dealt with by unnamed, unknown people in the future, or downstream, or somewhere else in the world. To countenance this brings the possibility – perhaps just a whisper – of feeling bad. Best to retreat into a fantasy world in which “facts” can stand alone without being tainted by someone’s tears.

So, back to my crocheted cabbage. It’s true, Cr Coote, I’ve been feeling emotional about the river. As well as researching it and writing a respectable, unemotional submission to Council, I’ve been working off some sadness by making these little objects. The saying goes that history is made by those who show up. The suffragettes had a long procession of embroidered banners. We’ve got a long woolly river bearing turtles and cabbages. You might be just one person, just one cabbage – but together, we’re strong!

Crochet me a river

The beginning

The beginning

So! We’re already just over a couple of weeks into the new year. If you don’t watch them (days) they tend to escape. In just a few weeks – it’s not certain exactly when – we’ll find out whether the Powers That Be are going to go ahead and divert water from the Macquarie River into the wide open maw of an open cut gold mine. The quantity would be up to 10 megalitres a day, about four Olympic swimming pools’ worth. If the project goes ahead, the water will go out in an ordinary-looking concrete water pipe; the pipe will be laid down by people who are just going about their ordinary jobs; and then people will start working at the gold mine and earning good wages, part of which they will spend at the ordinary Coles or Woolworths supermarkets and perhaps the cafes and dress shops in town. In other words, a perfectly ordinary thing is about to happen.

It’s all pretty routine, but hundreds of people are making it known that they don’t agree. Opposition to the diversion of river water to the Regis gold mine is coming from all quarters – cabbage growers downstream, people who like to fish for Murray cod, people worried about diverting water out of the district just as global temperatures are rising, people dismayed by the privatisation of river water, people worried about declining flows into the fragile wetland habitat  of the Macquarie marshes at the other end of the catchment. Kayakers, bushwalkers, people with dogs that like to swim (that’s me and my dog, Bertie). The nuns around the corner from my house. People who can’t see the point in another gold mine when we’ve already got an absolute whopper just down the road.

Just because something is business as usual, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it. Smoking, slavery and foot-binding were once business-as-usual.

So what’s a girl to do but take up her crochet hook and fight?!

A small group of “craftivists” has been getting together on Thursday mornings to create a long, crocheted, knitted and textile-based representation of the Macquarie River. We’re hoping that by the time Council makes its decision we’ll have something long and colourful that we can brandish before the media and general public.

The process has been wonderful so far. It’s both relaxing and, to use a rather over-used word, “empowering”.

If you’d like to join in, we’re meeting at Rahamim, 36 Busby Street, Bathurst on Thursday mornings from 10am to 12noon. Come for the whole session or just part thereof. Or if you’d rather just work on a stretch of it at home (we’re asking for lengths that are 20cm wide by however long you like – ie narrow lengths that we’ll join together), you can just drop them off at Rahamim any time in business hours (ask for Sally).


 

 

 

THE REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF CROCHET

In my twenties, I remember reading a pamphlet by Ernest Mandel (I think it was, will check), called The Revolutionary Potential of the Working Class. If the working class has the ability to change the world, what about crochet?

Question: Are you taking the piss?

Answer: Yes. A little bit. But piss must be taken.

This week a possum crashed down out of the ceiling of my hallway, bringing the manhole cover with it. Before we could shepherd it out the front door, the possum pissed on the floorboards. Maybe, as an oppressed, homeless possum, it was taking the piss. Literally. Because sometimes your ability to piss is all you’ve got. (I told you this was going to be a little mad.)

Question: What is the revolutionary potential of crochet?

Answer: I’m glad you asked. It has something to do with the meek inheriting the earth. Crochet is associated with the meek. Crochet is inherently non-violent; it’s unlikely that crocheters, even militant ones, are going to force anyone’s back up against the wall. (Airlines, however, beg to disagree. A crochet hook is a potentially gruesome weapon. Think eyeball, steel crochet hook.) If the meek don’t inherit the earth, we run the risk of the strong continuing to inherit the earth, and look where that got us.

Also: You might have noticed that the word crochet has the word Che inside it. As we all know, Che was a revolutionary. So there’s the revolutionary potential of crochet right there!

Che didn’t think think a new society would be very well served by people made up of all the faults and peculiarities of people who had lived in the old, bourgeoise society. So he said the Cuban revolution required a “new man“. People had to be different, or become different, if they were to build a new society.

Question: What if you’re not sure you can be a new man?

Answer: If you’re a man, you might become a new man by learning to crochet. The simple act of crochet could well challenge your sense of manhood and perhaps cause you to shed some of it.

Question: What if you’re not any sort of man, old or new?

Answer: Perfect!

Question: Why are you focusing on crochet in particular? Wouldn’t you get the same benefits out of knitting or paint-by-number or adult colouring in?

Answer: Perhaps.  But every art form (and crochet is surely an artform) has its particular attributes. There could be something particular about crochet that gives it an edge in the revolutionary movement. For example, the Wertheim sisters, who got the crocheted coral reef going, say that crochet follows some of the fundamental, mathematical rules of biological growth; therefore crochet, as an activity, is connected through technique to the techniques used by Mother Nature herself!

Question: So how is that revolutionary?

Answer: I don’t know, exactly, but I’m sure there’s something in it. Maybe – if crochet has a direct connection to the very processes of Life Itself then it somehow connects to the Agency of all life on the planet. If we can respect the common or garden crocheted knee rug that is used by old people in nursing homes, we might also grow to respect the agency of all the background processes that keep life going on Earth. And then we might not divert rivers into gold mines, because we’d be thinking about the Booroolong frogs.

Question: Agent as in Travel Agent?

Answer: No. Agency as in the capability to ACT and to CHANGE THINGS. If you are incapable of action or changing things, you can’t have agency. You’re just a plum pudding. Then again, a plum tree, arguably, has agency because it is actively involved in the creation of plums. These plums change the world because now it is a world with plums in it.

Question: So how is this revolutionary?

Answer: Because Life. And I’ve been reading a book given to me by my friend Helen the other day. It’s called Blueprint for Revolution – How To Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators or simply change the world, by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller. Anything Lego men can do, crochet can do better. I rest my case.

And here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing Cry me a River.

The esky in front of the post office

danger_eskyThere it was, an esky. Just a small esky, sitting on the footpath outside the Bathurst post office. Next thing you know, the whole street has been cordoned off and there are cops everywhere. The cops don’t want to touch it, lift the lid. They do a bit of thermal imaging on it, from a distance. Looks like it’s empty. It’s probably empty.

Eventually, after some hours, the all-clear. It’s just an esky.

All the way through this adventure, the police referred to it as a “suspicious package”. That sounds more important, more fearsome, than esky. Esky is a friendly little word, redolent of backyard barbies, camping, car-race watching. “We are concerned about a suspicious package,” sounds more dignified than: “We are concerned about an empty esky.”

But these are days of terror, and people are twitchy.

It would appear there’s no actual terror around here. I just went to the playing fields with Bertie, under a big blue sky with fluffy clouds. I stopped at the Visitors’ Centre cafe to grab a coffee, tying Bertie to the bike rack. The waitress ran out with a white plastic jug of water to pour into the dog bowl, because it’s a hot day. It was only in the car on the way home, coffee in the holder, Bertie panting in the back, that I was reminded about the terror. “Paris has seen terror before but not on this scale,” came the sound of a BBC reporter’s voice.

What complete nonsense that sentence was. Paris has known terror before, and on a far grander scale than last week’s atrocity. There was, for example, The Terror, the days of heads rolling away from the guillotine during the French Revolution, the same revolution celebrated every July 14. The war on Jews in Vichy France. And in October 1961, the massacre of 200 Algerians marching in favour of their country’s independence from France. Deep in her heart, Paris knows all about terror.

Terror is being perpetrated all the time, in many parts of the world, mostly affecting non-white residents of countries that don’t capture our imaginations the way Paris does. Paris is a mental home away from home, so we’re twitchy.

Meanwhile, with attention focused on the suspicious esky, Bathurst Regional Council was voting Yes to a quarry at Napoleon Reef. Local residents who had fought for eight months against the proposal – citing loss of biodiversity and negative impacts on a residential area – watched as the motion was moved by Coote, Seconded by Aubin, supported by Westman and Morse.  North abstained (non pecuniary interest) and Hanger voted against, giving a final vote of 4 to 1.  Councillors Bourke and Jennings were absent.

At the same time, the latest State of the Environment report was tabled, in which the importance of local biodiversity was underlined. Clearly, we are to process such information in different parts of the brain. Quarries are to be dealt with in the “economy” part of the brain; “biodiversity” is to be dealt with in the abstract, feel-good, environmental part of the brain. This means you can vote for a quarry that will destroy a fragile environment at the same time as you express support for biodiversity – as a concept. This allows you to hold competing ideas in the brain at the same time without falling into the abyss of cognitive dissonance.

I’m totally pissed off, to be honest. ISIS terrorists are getting everyone to play right into their hands. Paris is all about terror, now, swamping media coverage in the lead-up to the crucial climate change talks. Facebook is awash with people throwing up their hands and giving up on the human race, the sort of nihilism that makes you turn to sites like Cake Wrecks for relief (as I did last night, for an embarrassingly long time). Polls in Britain are supporting on-ground war against Islamic State. And here in Bathurst, we don’t just pave paradise, we dig another bloody great big hole.

But there is hope. Here’s Jack Black and current Internet cat sensation, Lil Bub, urging us to send a message to Paris:

 

Leave Matt Damon on Mars

tiny_orchid_chris_marshall

A tiny lily from Peel, near Bathurst. Pic: Chris Marshall.

There’s an awful lot going on, and all of it’s good, all of it’s about participating in Life with a capital L.

A couple of hours ago I got a text message from a nurse at Prof Harnett’s clinic. The entire text message was just two digits: a one and a zero. Ten. Ten! Brilliant! My lucky number relates to my CA125 level, an indicator of possible ovarian cancer activity. High numbers bad, low numbers good. Ten is a lovely low number.
In the run-up to this blood test I kept myself pantingly busy working on the 200 Plants and Animals exhibition which opened last Friday night. We had about 50 people at the launch. The exhibition, whipped into aesthetic line by Cate McCarthy, looked fabulous at about 4pm on Friday evening. Two hours to spare! I even had time to go home and have a shower and put a skirt on.

The exhibition is all about paying attention to where we live. Which is in a planetary system that appears robust but is actually caving, crumbling, subsiding, declining, getting warmer, losing bits of itself. The exhibition (which continues until 5pm next Sunday) explores the bit of the system that we’re inhabiting right here, right now – focusing on non-human living things. A hundred local plants, a hundred local animals all feature in the exhibition. The largest thing is the skull of a horse; the smallest is a tiny, tiny dead beetle. It includes my own bit of amateur biologising: a pressed dandelion from the back yard, and crocheted human brains (humans are included but only as the “one hundreth animal”). There’s a spotted marsh frog painting by the Hazzards; Mum’s pobblebonk; my friend Kirsty Lewin’s black cockatoo mask; lots of photos by Tim Bergen; bright pastels by Johannes Bauer who is both ecologist and artist; Ray Mjadwesch’s specimens including the dried remains of a sugar glider that died after being snarled in barbed wire; our old dog Taro; a glass-art cat with a chain saw. Mostly native animals and plants, but a few introduced species that share this habitat.

Working on this exhibition with the BCCAN committee and others in the team, my sense of this planet as a teeming, rich-in-every-corner thing has grown. I got angry with an ad for Mortein on television the other night. It seemed incredible to me that wholesale scorched-earth policies in private homes are allowed, willy nilly, along with anti-bacterial hand washes. Good to have in hospitals, but the idea of daily life in disinfected spaces now seems a lesser life.
Which brings me to Matt Damon on Mars with his potato plants fertilised by human dung. There he is in a superhuman struggle against the basic facts of life: our bodies were created and are supported by our one and only planet, with its air and water and animals and plants and seasons and sea and earth. And he wins. He works out how to “science the shit out of” his dire situation. The movie brims with an eager love of science, of figuring things out, trying things out, failing and trying again. I enjoyed that. It was also a long paean to NASA. I’m as much a fan of NASA as the next person, or maybe even more, having grown up next to one of the tracking stations that tracked the Gemini and Apollo missions.

But in these days of climate change and environmental destruction, such enthusiasm over humanity’s ability to shuck off the demands of our slow-evolving nature just makes me a little sad for us and for the planet we’re buggering up in the process. There we are, soiling our own nest, just waiting to take flight, get off into outer space, colonise distant planets, all in close-fitting Star Trek suits.

On television a few days later, there was the lame Revenge of the Sith, in which the vibrant world of the original Star Wars movie was oddly reduced to a cross between daytime soap and a computer game for kids. It was all smooth surfaces and whizzing things. Where were these beings growing their food, disposing of their waste? Where was biology in all this? (Okay, just Googled it. Star Wars does have its own biological objects and rules, according to Wookieepedia.) When James Cameron’s Avatar came out, I thought it might have been the beginning of a different type of futurism, one that explored the idea of living sustainably within an ecosystem. But Avatar was a one-off. The future, as imagined by Hollywood, still has a Jetsons quality (it’s the future, and you never see the Earth’s surface, let alone a single tree).I love science as much as the next person, or even more, having so far been saved by modern medical knowledge. But the idea that we can “science the shit out of” our environmental problems, including climate change, will not work on its own. I think it needs to be united with a profound acceptance of – and interest in – the limitations and workings of our own bodies and our own planet.