Learning to plant ourselves

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Bees busy on The Nuns’ House lemon tree smile

You can’t help but notice, right now, summer in the country: farmers busy bringing in the hay, paddocks sown, berries flushed and vineyards lush and bunch-laden.

I’ve just picked a few kilos of broad beans from my patch. A couple of bags will go to friends, and three litres of fresh cow’s milk is ready to be collected from a friend’s farm up the road. I plan to make yoghurt today. Kate’s given me a birthday jar of her luscious Sweet Surrender jam, so I’ll have it with the yoghurt if it sets…Thankfully my old hens are still laying the odd egg that I’ll poach for breakfast with a few silverbeet leaves from my patch.

When productivity starts in our back yards, supermarkets should be a place of last resort.

Most Australians know at least one line of Dorothea Mackellar’s quintessential poem about Australia, My Country. But, with more people now living in urban areas, surrounded on a daily basis by bitumen, concrete, steel, and glass, how many get to see this sunburnt country and her sweeping plains?

Tasmania is different to the rest of Australia. With the majority of its population living outside our biggest city, we are more connected to land, to mountains, rivers and to the sea.

We are lucky to live so close to what makes us thrive. We know we live in a natural world just by smelling the air so busy now with big-bottomed bees going about their business. We file behind tractors on main roads, and like it or not, see log trucks in Macquarie Street. To disconnect from what’s grown or farmed is to shut out our nature. Connecting with what’s natural should be our first instinct not a postscript. It’s human to grow your own food.

Which is why I’m with Independent MP Cathy McGowan who described the ABC’s cutting of Bush Telegraph as “a huge mistake”. “The ABC board needs to ensure rural issues are broadcast into the city,” she said. “We should be building bridges between the city and the country, not getting rid of them.”

The centrist, economic pull of cities is inevitable: jobs beckon offering the life support of a stable, regular income. But in the process, this shouldn’t turn country towns into hollow places, or what demographers call kill zones, suitable only for people who seek an impossibly idyllic lifestyle. They must equate to livelihoods, too.

It misses the point to describe living in the country as a ‘tree’ or ‘sea’ change – a lifestyle choice often featured in magazines or as seen on TV. It is both harder and deeper than that. For many country people their ambition is not to rule the world; it is to run their own lives. Not to consume, but to create.

My friend Lyndy has lived in cities but chooses to live and work in the country because she wants to make her own decisions. Together with husband David they run Pinners Organic farm and B&B. While they farm seeds for Diggers, they also welcome many families as guests, their children enthralled by feeding chickens by hand, having lambs play at their feet, and watching the house cow being milked.

Lyndy says let’s face it, no one likes to be told what to do. “We’re not locked into anything here and can be as innovative as we like. If we decide to have mini goats or breed alpaca, we can.”

In the country, sorting your own life comes first, rather than being driven by payday. Often you’re busier with jobs connected to cultivating where you live, either in the community or on the land. Jobs that can’t be measured because they are investing not spending; they are unattached to an hourly rate, or being clocked in, with measurable inputs or outputs, or that can be ‘leveraged’ to ‘maximize’ anything in particular…

On urban living, Island magazine’s fiction editor Geordie Williamson says we are all locked inside our little boxes staring at screens: “We need to remind people that natural places exist”. Which is why he’s encouraging writers to enter the Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize. There’s a $5,000 prize for essay writers who can best explore their relationship and interaction with the Australian landscape. The deadline is Christmas Eve. (More info: http://www.natureaustralia.org.au)

I like to trust that you can be in the day just like bees gathering pollen. Doing what you do because of where you are not who you want to be. Being in the world not to work, or to be idle, but to live in and care for our environment because it is part of our nature.

Sometimes it’s hard to do this when the managerial world takes such a hold. Old timers I know shake their heads and laugh at the regulations and approvals we must seek nowadays when previously they would have just, say, built a barn. They have decades to look back on and can see that the things they made without those approvals caused little or no harm.

One seventy-something I know says ‘we should have died 100 times’.

When you work for yourself you should be, especially, free to frame your own day. And when we live in tune with the country not only do we plant a garden we plant ourselves.

First published in Tasweekends, The Mercury on Saturday, December 13th, 2014

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