At heart I’m a bit of a country girl. Not in the corny old “little bit country, little bit rock and roll” sense, rather just practical and handy. Some of those I most admire are capable, intelligent and constructive people who enjoy the simple things in life and care for their families and friends.
My Grandmother taught me to knit and crochet. She used to preserve stewed fruit and relish with the old fowlers-vacola glassware. One Granddad grew fruit, the other veggies including infamous watermelons. All the women in my family are creative in some form or other. One is a great gardener who has restored and reupholstered antique furniture. Another sews, bakes and knits. We are all more or less dress-makers, cooks, bakers, knitters, crochetters, bicycle mechanics, painters, decoraters, wood-workers, upholsterers, handy women and gardeners.
The first bike I owned was one the neighbours’ kids had grown out of, refitted with a new seat and chain. My horse likewise came from someone who’d grown out of him, so to speak. My first car was a second hand Ford Falcon XT in royal blue. You had to hit the starter motor with a hammer to get it to turn over. My old man was, allegedly, a mechanic who overhauled motor-bikes and lawnmowers. In Winter the family would all get new bed socks knitted by Nanna. We also had a collection of crochet covered clothes hangers and tea-cosies.
These days lots of people are rediscovering the joys of the home grown veggie patch. Some for the healthy food, some because they want to save money and some are cooks who like the flavour of home grown produce. Likewise a lot of people are getting back on push bikes, either for fun or to try and stave off diabetes or heart disease. Others like renewing or re-doing old furniture, antiques and vintage or classic cars, motor bikes and other appliances either as a hobby or because they appreciate the value of old, hand made tools. People do this to save money, make money or as a creative indulgence. It’s one of the things that makes us human.
It’s nice to be able to buy new things, but when the new, cheap, mass-produced couch/whipper-snipper/pair of jeans falls apart after one or two uses, old junk kinda starts to look more appealing. At least you had time to sit on it or wear it and get comfortable. If it broke it could be fixed.
Actually wasps, crows and chimps also use tools… And many animals build/decorate their own nests/hives/burrows/dens but we have opposable thumbs so we do it on a bigger scale. We also have frontal lobes so we’re prone to hallucinations, one of which is money and “profit”.
Back in the day, farms were owned and worked by families. Taking care of the farm for the long term, making sure the ground that fed you, that the kids and grandkids might inherit was well cared for, was simply responsible. Then came debt, big agri-business, banks and politics. Some politician somewhere decided it was more in the interest of business for corporations to make money than for families to inherit and manage farms.
Someone hallucinated that a set of numbers on a piece of paper describing trade, import and export were more important that people having jobs. Importing and buying cheap, nasty crap was better than making things or owning stuff that would last longer than a few weeks and a couple of washes.
Practical old women who could make clothes for the family or preserve fruit and veggies for winter became old fashioned. Something to laugh about. Something to avoid if you had enough money to look like you buy whatever you want from the corporations that had bought out all the family farms and local manufacturers. Something you’d sneer at in favour of imported, fashionable, shiny new things.
After the second world war Robert Menzies and his Liberal government oversaw a huge public building effort to establish infrastructure for Australia’s perceived future. The Snowy river hydro scheme, inter-state roads, utilities and phone lines were all built and funded by the government in order that people, families, communities and business might have a stable foundation on which to build their future. All built and owned by the people, for the people, in order to facilitate commerce and community. Somewhere along the line, politics became less about the interests of that community and more about party representation and secure, well paid jobs for politicians. After decades of a seesaw between two self-interested political parties with advertising budgets bigger than the resources for our children’s collective education, we’ve managed to elect people who care more about feathering their own nest and maintaining the party system than the future of the nation they’re supposedly responsible for. After a decades of favouring big corporations (and payouts) over small and family owned business, every Prime Minister since Malcolm Fraser has made the Menzies government look like communists. The Liberals are now the religious conservatives and the Labor party are Liberal Lite.
In order to get re-elected and keep their cushy job with all the perks of chaffeurs and publicly funded superannuation double what the voters get, party representatives have come up with all sorts of diversions, platforms and hobby-horses. After observing how privatisation has worked out badly in Britain, the US, South America and other places, politicians who expected future jobs on the boards of utility companies and large accounting firms privatised Australia’s utilities and public transport. After observing decades of environmental disasters, poisoning, land degradation, pollution, disease and famine, party members who got plenty of kick-backs and lobbying from oil and coal companies voted in favour of continuing use of expensive, dirty, pathogenic energy sources rather than follow Menzies’ example of innovation and equity for all Australians.
Then a few years back, Eric Abetz and an assorted gaggle of embattled National Party tag-alongs decided on the slogan “extreme green” to try and postpone their inevitable absorption by city politics. The same kind of absorption that sucked small, family owned farms into the gaping maw of multi-national pastoral companies and spewed out unemployed and suicidal country kids whose inheritance has gone to feed the interest on the overdraft. All of a sudden it isn’t sensible or responsible to care for the land that produces our food, it’s unaustralian and even evil. According to the papers and certain politicians with narrow margins.
Now this is a strange circumstance. No one in their right mind thinks it’s okay to poison the earth that grows food for the family. No one who isn’t totally mental thinks it’s just fine and dandy to pollute rivers or dams or water sources. Nobody wants to live in a dump. Nobody wants to live in a toxic rubbish heap. Everyone recognises that it’s better to have healthy food to eat and clean water to drink. If you want to take water from the dam and eat the yabbies you catch in it, you don’t throw drums of old deisel oil or paint in there.
In addition, there’s many apparently sane people walking around who, if you asked them in conversation if they believe what they read in the paper, would laugh at you. Of course not. Papers and the tellie are full of shit. Everyone knows that. Anyone who believes what they read in the paper or in advertising gets what they deserve. Idiots. And yet, when a bunch of self-serving political throw backs decided that old-fashioned responsibility and practicality was “extreme green” somehow many well meaning, sensible people were sucked in.
Managing the land where we grow our food or the lakes and rivers that provide our water isn’t extreme at all, it’s something humans have been doing since the beginning of agriculture. We’ve been doing this for some eight to ten thousand years. Rather than being new and threatening, it’s quite engrained in human behaviour. Everyone knows at least one person who’s been retrenched or retired and then found that their hobby or passtime turns out to be much more creative and productive than their job was. Like the banker who got his marching orders and then became a gardener. Or Grandad who retired from the office and started making furniture that will be handed down for years to come.
This kind of practical, responsible productivity is not weird at all. Nor is it the exclusive domain of a bunch of anti-social extremists. Germany has a state governed by Greens, and rather than the end of the world it’s been the simple continuation of developing clean, low cost energy and maintaining their resources and infrastructure. China, the world’s biggest economy with over a billion people and growing, is now also the world’s leader in implementing clean energy. In Europe and Asia there are entire towns that are proudly “zero net”. Meaning they produce as much energy as they use and they do it using sustainable methods rather than fossil fuels. Hardly extreme. Hardly the end of the world. Rather, the logical continuation of it.
But down here in the antipodes, with our two-party political see-saw it’s as if our government is a gang of little kids, bursting in on Nanna’s knitting circle with wooden guns, yelling “Bang, bang, bang you’re dead!” Before someone grabs a broom and chases them out, laughing, reminding them that there’s no pocket money if their chores aren’t done.
While politicians are ranting and raving about the knee-jerk du jour being unaustralian, us practical old women are getting on with making ends meet and keeping soup on the stove. So what if the kids get a reco’d bicycle to ride instead of a mass-produced import with a flashy paint job? At least the brakes and chain can be changed and the thing keeps going. And if I like knitting warm jumpers from good-quality local yarns then that’s what I’m going to do. If I can grow tasty, healthy veggies then I’m bloody well going to, like my Mum and Grand-dad and if some stuffed suit in Canberra doesn’t like it, too bloody bad. Personally, I think if Eric Abetz is getting all hot and flustered about bicycles and stewed fruit being the enemy of the nation, he needs to get out more.