Is the sustainable development policy in action?
I remember at school we were talking about people resembling their dogs and someone told me that it was true of me. We had two Dobermans at the time and I didn’t really know what to make of the comment.
Dobermans are black and I have always been fair-haired. Without meaning to fixate on a body part, it has been mentioned in a previous article that my nose is considered by some to be, well, really big. Was that it?
And although I have been known to be direct to the point of blunt, likening me to a breed of dog renowned for fierce aggression was not a compliment. But hey, welcome to a girls’ school.
When I was told a year ago that I was known as an agitator in the region, my reaction was mixed. Was that a good thing or not? Was that like an alligator? The Doberman memory resurfaced, then faded as illogical.
Perhaps it was worse, maybe it was a euphemism for “annoying community nutjob.”
When it was clarified as a positive agitator, I felt a little puff of pride. A whisper of relief that all that time spent talking to local council representatives and attending community meetings instead of having dinner with my family was recognised as working for good not evil.
The Bellarine Peninsula is filled with passionate and pleasant people. The coast and country combination is breathtaking; both with the views and the contrast between the passions of the folk that live here. But surfers, spiritualists, farmers and families all have an astoundingly common thread.
We all care about sustainable development.
And we are, almost to a person, concerned about what is happening to the beautiful and blessed Bellarine.
I would like to think that we are all reasonable residents and, perhaps I am biased, but my observation is that there is a higher than average proportion of intelligence among the local population.
Clearly we are defined by our smart lifestyle choice – whether it was made by us or for us, or perhaps the gene for good insight was inherited with the property title.
But what is this cancer that is crossing the land?
While the growing population is welcomed by some, accepted by most, and at least appreciated as inevitable by the rest, it is the manner by which this growth happens that is troubling.
The talk is all about affordable housing, land use studies, urban boundaries and rural zoning. We hear about the ‘can do’ council, we read the NSW planning white paper, we participate in the regional growth plan and we listen to the rhetoric from the politicians.
But what we see is Leopold growing by a new street every week. What we watch are more For Sale signs up on farmlands each month. Across the gently rolling fields come the dozers, tearing into the earth and ripping down trees.
The daily drive along the Portarlington Road into Geelong evokes the vivid scenes from Watership Down that scarred me as a 10 year old. Shocking scenes of land development fear, which I have no doubt passed on to my children via Fantastic Mr Fox.
Let me reiterate, this is not about resisting progress but it is definitely about growing in a sustainable and respectful manner.
These comments are made with painful awareness that I have lived on the Bellarine for only 13 years, roughly half an hour local time.
But in that time, I have learned that while a horse trail cannot be made through a neglected and weedfilled lane due to the remnant vegetation, apparently felling half a kilometre of native trees overnight is okay to make a slip road to get the trucks in.
The pattern is clear. People want consistency in rules, they want proper consultation and they want logical decisions that are sensitive to the existing landscape and work well for future generations.
How are we going with that? There has been a lot of supposed consultation but whether it has hit the mark or not is questionable. The processes are clearly not designed to include everyone.
The foundation of sustainable planning is to include and prioritise social and environmental impacts, along with financial viability. We must set targets, measure our progress and monitor the impacts of the development. Are we collecting the relevant data and reporting against it?
If there is an open process for understanding what people want and explaining what is achievable and what is not, there is hope. Once that information is being captured, shared and made easily available there is transparency.
When everyone can see what is going on, there will be accountability.
We can only manage what we measure. That is positive progress. Sustainability 101.
Having said all that, maybe alligator is the right word after all.
Who and what is Geelong?
Our son lost his adult front tooth in the sea in Queensland when he was only seven. It was a bizarre beach incident involving another family and a big, hired, rubber innertube – relatively passive play and not a brick wall or bike in sight.
All three kids stood in front of us on the beach with eyes like saucers - the oldest with a river of blood pouring from his mouth.
I hid my shock and played the ‘everything is fixable’ card. It was only when the bleeding had stopped and the dentist had advised that nothing could be done that the grief peak hit. Everything was gone, the tooth is still drifting somewhere in the Pacific Ocean - root and all.
The gaping hole was raw and shocking, but it was clear that, as parents, we had to lead the family reaction. I thought we’d rationalised the enormity of it by saying, “Gosh, it’s no big deal really, it’s not like it’s an eye or an arm.”
By day we masked our sadness and the simmering anger at the unfairness of it all. But once the kids were in bed we bemoaned the lifelong impact of extra dentist visits, braces, implants and the potential ridicule from peers of our handsome, golden-haired child. We wanted to wrap our boy in cotton wool and not let him out of our sight.
Then, three days later a tropical wind whipped the town and a four-year old boy was killed by a falling tree in front of his father in the main street. That put us straight.
It was like we’d had a magnifying glass on our situation and suddenly we ‘zoomed out’ and saw the whole life map in a different context.
Seeing the future with the gift of perspective is a beautiful thing.
In listening to people talk about Geelong’s future the magnifying glass is certainly on the table if not firmly in hand.
There was an avalanche of visionary talk during last year’s mayoral campaign, but no one really nailed it. All candidates, myself included, talked about ‘a city in transition’ and dabbled with mentions of the good work of Vision2.
But it is the symptoms of regional growth that continue to hit the spotlight as issues, most notably parking, safety, the CBD and that deliciously nebulous phrase, ‘the economy’. What is still lacking is a long-range and insightful description of what Geelong can be, who is included and what the people of the region want it to be.
Is becoming a ‘major city’ inevitable? Are we keen to preserve the ‘big country town’ aspect? Will our satellite townships become more like suburbs? Have we considered the pros and cons of all the possibilities?
“We are Geelong” is the catchcry. Yet it is clear that on the Bellarine not everyone identifies with that. The northern suburbs are consistently singled out as separate and somehow needy – treated as broken and isolated in conversation, along with other ‘under-resourced’ areas. Lara appears left out. Armstrong Creek is a breathtaking project, but will it ultimately be identified with Geelong? Or Torquay? Or will it overtake both in stature?
Geelong is not Melbourne. Nor is it Ballarat, Bendigo, Newcastle or Ipswich. Personally, I think it’s potentially better than all of them. Put together. We should be aspiring to Monaco, not Moe.
I believe we have a unique opportunity to create a new future, something that has not necessarily been seen before. A place with no compare.
But it needs to be bigger than the picture we’re seeing. It also needs to be smarter than the current thinking. And it must be more sustainable than today’s planning.
Can the word Geelong encompass all the incredible attributes of our coastline, farmlands, bay, volcanic plains, rivers and townships? I think it can, but right now we have to add the word ‘region’ to justify including so many bonuses and not everyone has (or wants) a sense of ownership to the city’s name.
Surely that’s a clumsy approach? Even a bit vague?
We have such an exciting opportunity to define ‘regional capital’ and create the benchmark. But first, we all need to belong to Geelong.
Secondly, a clever, innovative vision will never be developed using the paternalistic and patronising approach we are so used to seeing from consultation processes.
Instead, imagine if we could come up with an inclusive and inspiring method to gather people’s ideas and encourage participation. We have smart people here, lots of goodwill and commitment and a global university. Creating our future and following up with an appropriate brand should involve more than just the business community.
I have great respect for groups like G21 and Committee for Geelong, who do a marvelous job of lobbying and politicking to keep the funding ambitions on the radar. But it is not the charter of these groups or the Council to decide for the people what Geelong stands for and how it operates.
I propose that it’s for the people to decide, using common sense and simple, transparent ways to explore the future. Golly, it could even be fun!
Most important, from my experience, is remembering to step back and see the helicopter view when considering the future. That in itself should guarantee representation from the large and diverse group that makes up our region.
There is lightness beyond fear
Keeping any potential false pride at bay and staying grounded is easier when you have kids, although critical parents can be handy for it too now that I think about it.
My youngest son keeps it all real in our household. Last year, at the ripe old age of six he accompanied me on his bike when I went for a run.
As his little feet pushed the pedals around and I jogged alongside, delighted that he was keen to join in my fitness efforts, he turned to me and said, “Mum you’ve got a big nose.”
I chuckled and said, “Yeah it is rather big isn’t it.”
He responded, “No, it’s really big, you’ve got a REALLY big nose Mum.”
I mustered up another chuckle, “Yeah mate, thanks, good on you.”
He then cycled about ten metres ahead, passed a woman well into her 70s, turned around in the saddle of his bike and yelled to me, “That lady doesn’t have a big nose like you Mum.”
Later that night, when I could ungrit my teeth and laugh about it, I told my distinctly handsome husband about the comments from our charming youngest. My husband showed no surprise whatsoever.
“Oh that’s nothing,” he said. “You should hear what he just said to me while I put him to bed.”
My husband has very brown eyes and had been told by our son, “Dad you’d look better with blue eyes.”
“You’d still look stupid, but you’d look better.”
I suspect most of us fear scrutiny to some degree. Perhaps that is why public speaking is up there with death on the Most Scary Things list.
Even for people who know they are particularly good at something or who may even enjoy the limelight, the fear of ridicule and embarrassment can be a powerful naysaying force.
There is a tendency in Australian culture, possibly more evident among females than males, to be self-deprecating and shy about our ambitions, attributes and talents.
Every Aussie is familiar with the term ‘up yourself’ and we hear a lot about the so-called Tall Poppy Syndrome and we are known internationally for using sledging as a tactic in sport.
In this context, it is not so surprising that many people are loathe to lay it on the line, or venture out on a limb with an ambitious idea.
For anyone keen to have a go but held back by potential embarrassment, it’s important to remember that ridicule is the tool of the bully. As distinct from satire, which is implicit, artistic and an effective social change mechanism, ridicule is simply an abuse of power.
That’s a critical realisation because if you can name the concern, it’s already on the way to being defeated – just ask Harry Potter.
Workplace psychopaths, insecure aspirants, threatened competitive types, Grade 2 boys and Year 9 girls are particularly good at ridicule – it can present as jeering, scoffing, derision, backbiting, rumour-mongering, ostracism, gossiping and blatantly lying.
But even in a challenging atmosphere that is dedicated to dragging people down, it’s amazing how strong and steady it feels to brush up the manners and resist the delicious temptation to badmouth something. Or, in my case, not defensively reprimand my six year-old stirrer.
Unfortunately, maintaining our collective cool in practice is incredibly difficult because popular culture supports – even rewards – rants, snark and sledging.
Looking at this behaviour rationally, it is obvious that they are all just forms of bullying and bad manners. Sledging is appalling lack of sportsmanship. The tall poppy syndrome is known globally as envy – I have no idea why we call it something else and boast that it is peculiar to our culture.
Rants and snark are just trendy words for sarcasm and violent language. It was initially funny because it had shock value. I love powerful language probably more than most but this style is not so funny anymore.
Like gossip and naricissm, these can appear as harmless fun until you step back and see the behaviour for what it is – nothing to be proud of and not really worthy of airtime.
We have the choice to celebrate people’s efforts, play fair and take pride in doing the best possible job of being ourselves. There is a lovely inspirational quote, often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson
It’s incumbent on everyone to let the light shine, in ourselves and in others.
Oh and shining doesn’t necessarily mean blowing one’s trumpet, it’s always far more powerful when someone else does that for us.
Or, of course, we can leave it to our family to keep it all real.
Dying is an inevitable reminder to live well
It was just as I had decided death was a good topic for a column, while I was out running with the dog, that our smallest duckling - the one we called NQR (for Not Quite Right) - died on the nest.
Was it a terrible death or a beautiful one? I chose to explain to the kids that it was a peaceful one, sleeping with its brothers and sisters under its mother’s wing. NQR had simply gone to sleep and didn’t wake.
I did mention quietly that he may have been a bit squashed and one of the kids pointed out a dent in his side that could have been a brother duck’s elbow or a sister’s knee, but that was enough realism for all of us.
We discussed it and collectively decided that NQR had enjoyed a lovely week of life with us and his/her family, but that whatever had kept it smaller and weaker than the others, and a bit dim to boot, probably meant a long life was never on the cards.
Then I took the opportunity to explain that procreation may not have been a good idea if it had grown up because the babies would probably be NQR also. At that stage the kids wandered off to do something more interesting.
I felt terrible that I wasn’t there to prevent the death. For more than a week our oldest son had nursed the tiny duck, keeping it snuggled in his collar while he played on the computer and setting up a straw bedroom inside a cardboard box. My main contribution was giving permission to host NQR under the heat light in the ensuite bathroom overnight.
After ten days of intense attention and clinical observation of satisfactory growth and social development, the duckling’s passing happened in the time it took to run eight kilometres and mentally draft an article about dying.
With every expectation that NQR would catch up to his nine siblings in size and ability, my thoughts of writing about death were unrelated. They had been inspired by a conversation I’d had with a palliative care practitioner the day before.
This highly qualified, deep thinking person explained how she focuses dying people on the life they’ve lived. After two contrasting experiences; witnessing her father suffer a terrible death from motor neurone disease, then her mother who had a beautiful and dignified end to her life with palliative care, she wanted to create a situation where people’s lives have meaning before death.
In her world of palliative care, facing the last stages of life is a very exciting time, a time of growth. It’s a time of connecting back to things that matter, the core issues - our own core and the core of life. In that context, it’s hard to think of anything more important than dying well.
Yet, our western society is clearly in a quandary about death. We are frightened of it and don’t really know how to talk about it. We generally don’t prepare ourselves or the people around us for the occasion and suicide has become an all too familiar topic.
All of those reactions are rather odd when you consider that one of the only absolute guarantees we have in life is that it will end at some stage.
Perhaps the root of our discomfort is that we know deep down that we are not living very well?
While there are undeniably vastly different degrees of comfort in our local, regional and national society, there are opportunities to create a rewarding and prosperous life. Again, the opportunities are not necessarily equal but I would argue that they are there for the taking.
But has it sunk in with us that it’s not about how much we have, or who we know, how fast we can drive, or how much we can eat? I’m not sure that it has. We all know we are living in a consumption-driven, dollar-based, adversarial and increasingly polluted world but are we doing enough to change it?
Hats off to all the backyard gardeners, friendly faces, rainwater collectors, volunteers, recyclers and op-shoppers – keep up the good work until everyone catches up! Every little action towards improving our lives and those around us is making a difference.
It’s not complicated to do the right thing and maybe that’s why it’s difficult to accept. Surely it can’t be that simple? But it’s the basics that are important. Love, respect, discipline, effort, positive thoughts.
So I’m still sad about NQR, but I know that his short life was valuable because he inspired in our family some pretty good life (and death) lessons.
Frustrating focus on funding
“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” Cree Indian Proverb
At risk of whipping up an unintentional Gonski storm, I was gratified to read a recent article critiquing the funding-based approach to education. It was further evidence that I am not the only one tired of hearing about funding, funding, funding.
The thrust of the article (by Ben Jansen, director of the Grattan Institute’s school education program) was that instead of constantly focusing on education funding and arguing the toss over where it’s coming from – state or federal – and who it goes to – private, independent or public schools – how about we focus on what the kids are learning.
Smaller class sizes are costly and the results, according to the article, are not proving worth the spend. Instead, Ben Jansen proposed training school principals in leadership, providing mentors for teachers, encouraging teacher research groups, broadening the sources of teacher appraisal and providing specialist literacy and numeracy teachers in every school. Put simply, he suggested helping our teachers improve performance – both their own and that of the children they teach.
It was a breath of fresh air. When we first moved to the Geelong region 13 years ago, one word repeatedly struck me like a brick wall. In every enthusiastic conversation about getting something done someone would pipe up with “but where are we going to get the funding?” It was usually early in the piece, the implication was always that it couldn’t be done without funding and the question invariably killed about fifty per cent of the energy in the room.
I was stuck for words, not least because the activity usually didn’t need money – just time and energy. Also because the one undeniably consistent lesson I’ve learned from running a business for nearly 20 years is that the minute I start worrying about money it dries up. When we focus on the job, the people, the joy and doing the right thing, the work pours in and the money flows.
Having asking around about this funding obsession over the years, I find myself in good company. Many people here find that funding takes the lead role in discussions. I have even half-joked that funding is the f-word in the Geelong region. And with looming elections, it’s a situation that’s not likely to change.
Why do we do this? Is it a result of our public-service domination? Government, health and education are our main employment sources and when you add the marginal nature of both state and federal seats, the f-word takes on a certain gravitas. Apparently politicians still believe people vote according to the new toys they are promised. Do we really do that? I wonder, but that’s for another day.
Of course we clearly need to lobby for certain big-ticket items, just as we all need to earn an income to furnish our personal needs. And the relevant groups are doing a fine job of this, including our mayor and council. But is funding necessary to every conversation?
I see dependence on funding causing a spiral of inaction. It creates a merry-go-round of conversation that is tedious and unproductive. It doesn’t focus on the end game, but it does make a certain group of people sound clever (mostly to each other). The silent majority tends to back away from the discussion – either bored, incredulous or bemused by the jargon.
Imagine if we shifted the insecure, inward focus of “how can we get more now?” to a confident, capable “what can we do now to create a sustainable future?” When that mentality is led from the top, it will filter down and create a sense of capacity and competence in the broader population.
We have it all here – we live in a uniquely beautiful, diverse, rich and ready region (and yes that includes every suburb and township) and we should be realising that talent. Everyone has something to offer, so let’s seek and celebrate that rather than looking to ‘fix’ people or places.
Money is not our future, the contribution of people is what makes a difference. Hopefully, wherever our schools get their funding they make sure to teach our kids it’s not all about money.
Big country town or bright city lights?
I recall hearing a story a few years ago about a fellow who had turned up at a hospital with a chair in his eye.
Yes, a chair. Not a splinter or even a stick, a chair.
I kid you not; it made the mainstream news. A nasty altercation between several men resulted in one suffering the indignity of a chair leg through his face, just below his eye socket. Rather than risk trying to remove it, those who came to his rescue elected to move the man and chair, as one, for treatment.
The image of a person with a chair sticking out of his head is a hard one to shake. I’d say that was a pretty big event for the man concerned and no doubt made a reasonable impact on everyone involved. It would be hard to miss such a glaring issue.
As a passionate observer of progress in this region for more than a decade, I propose that lack of a clear identity and a focus on where we are heading is a similarly glaring issue.
A handful of the comments on the Geelong Advertiser Facebook page about high rises in the CBD suggested we should remain a biggish country town and resist becoming a ‘city’. Although not statistically significant, I found the comments interesting because I feel this tension between identifying as a big country town or a city is stalling Geelong’s movement forward.
Firstly, we cannot, and should not, deny the proud heritage of Geelong and its people. With a history steeped in township status and the hardworking nature of primary industry and manufacturing, it may seem callous and brash to be aspiring to become a ‘world class capital’.
Let’s look at some pros and cons.
We all love the romantic notion of a country town – friendly, open and natural, no ‘slickers’. Whether it’s Geelong, Moe, Maldon or Morwell, there is no question that there are enormous emotional, spiritual and physical benefits from regional living.
Not many would argue that the warmth and connectedness of a country town is hugely comforting. It implies a sense of welcome, camaraderie and support, where the casual wave and nod of the head from fellow townspeople are signals of belonging and acceptance.
However, there is a flipside to small populations and it most notably appears as parochialism – a narrow focus and limited view.
The cosy interconnectedness can also breed other undesirable behaviours. These include exclusivity, cronyism, cliques, gossip, nepotism and the inevitable conflicts of interest when there are minimal degrees of separation.
The small pond phenomenon can also allow people of questionable substance to rise, as big fish, to positions of disproportionate influence. This may be why country towns are as notorious for scandal and abuse of power as they are celebrated for down-to-earth, honest citizenship.
In the Geelong context, our police superintendent and Friday columnist Paul Pottage says there is no question - Geelong is already a big city.
The benefits of stature include political recognition and consequent financial support plus national (and some international) kudos. Big cities typically also offer more education and employment opportunities, sophisticated entertainment, big-league sport and a thriving arts scene.
The downsides include increased crime and traffic, parking pressures and the compromises associated with mixing retail, housing, entertainment and public spaces.
So which direction are we heading, how do we ensure we take the best of both scenarios and, critically, are we including everyone in the journey?
It certainly feels like the movement is towards big city thinking with high rises being mooted and a state-of-the-art library underway. But who is involved in the discussion? And what are the decisions based on?
There are unquestionably behind the scenes conversations going on, but do they have integrity and a sustainable long-term view? Are there big fish making short-term decisions on the community’s behalf?
To determine a successful future, we need a clear and measurable direction. That means plans that are grounded in brutal facts. Can we see recent evidence of baseline data or meaningful, objective measurement that brings our identity or regional future to the table for discussion?
As the population expands, we will naturally retain the positive cultural elements of Geelong’s country heritage – people don’t need to stop being friendly and all the ‘satellite’ townships can also remain accessible, beautiful and rich in history.
The people will continue the legacy of a proud, natural and hardworking region because that is what appeals to all of us who choose to live here.
These behaviours will provide our foundations as we raise the bar on creativity, leadership behaviour, genuine governance and sustainable development. We should embrace more scrutiny, accountability and professionalism.
If we can gently remove the chair from the face of Geelong and find out where we stand now, we can commit to an intelligent and inclusive process for developing our future.
Food insecurities - the complex role of food in our society
The day I turned 21 is etched in my mind, not because of the wonderful dinner party with friends, but for the fact I spent an hour of the day at a psychiatric appointment. Dinner was an ironic choice for a 21st celebration given that every meal for the past five years had caused me intense angst.
After struggling every day, every hour, every minute in that time with an eating disorder I was finally seeing a professional who could probably help. For anyone who has not experienced or known someone who suffered a problematic relationship with food, I can attest to the fact it is an unrelenting living hell.
The hour with the shrink felt frustratingly unproductive. He didn’t answer why I had the same level of guilt for eating either a whole lettuce or a whole pizza. I couldn’t seem to convey the pain of the nonstop destructive chatter in my head and I left only hearing his comment that I was dressed in black and white and I should strive for more grey.
It was another year before I climbed out of that emotional hole. In the meantime, wearing grey trackpants didn’t solve my issue with food.
I am grateful that I survived and also because I am now so well educated about food quality, nutrition, kilojoule counts, fat contents, sugar levels, labeling tricks, cooking, fitness and every other aspect of physical and mental health that body image problems and eating obsession provides.
Sadly, I know many others who, without this knowledge, struggle daily with food choices and the challenge of maintaining a healthy weight and a fit mind. Across all generations, there are people for whom every mouthful of food is a challenge in some way.
The temptation of all the rich and sweet fare on offer is as much of a minefield for our aging parents as it is for our growing children.
We live in a golden age and a land of plenty. The fact our value system is based around money, where the wealthy are automatically deemed ‘successful’, means that most information related to food, cooking, wellbeing, health and fitness is ultimately tainted by someone, somewhere making money.
So where there should be simplicity and basic education, there is confusion and mixed messages. The food industry is obfuscated by advertising and entertainment (think cooking shows focusing on desserts and how much the biggest loser can eat) and corporate greed (‘junk’ sold as food in the blatant knowledge it is bad for health).
At the other end of the spectrum are those without access to food. To better understand local food security issues, I spent a day as a volunteer passenger in the SecondBite van. I learned about their system of ‘rescuing’ fresh food and distributing it to people in need. Possibly the bigger lesson was the insight into the role individuals play in controlling access to food for those in need.
It is deeply incongruous that there are people who struggle to get nutritious food in our bountiful and generous-spirited region.
‘Food security’ has become a bit of a nonsense phrase that is easy to ignore. Here are some reasons why there are people in our community who cannot eat properly:
In some areas, there is no local greengrocer or the supermarket range is limited.
Many people don’t know how to cook healthy meals as they have not been taught or the food is unfamiliar.
There are sometimes no transport options to decent food outlets unless you have a car.
Access to food is ultimately controlled by individuals. Whether that is a parent, a schoolteacher, a produce manager, or a charity worker, the power is not in the hands of the hungry.
People don’t always have money to buy food, often combined with the lack of cooking knowledge or skills to shop efficiently and create nutritious meals. It may seem obvious that McBurgers three times a day is just not right – but does everyone know that?
On the one hand our abundance of tasty treats causes crippling psychological issues, while the money and power associated with food distribution creates a contrary and equally devastating picture of malnutrition and illhealth.
Both scenarios can be helped with education, but we really need to make sure we push through the determination of the powerful advertisers who can keep us captive through ignorance.
As a starting point, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food is ready and waiting in Geelong. An online search revealed that it costs $5-$10 per class for five or ten-class sessions. What a great gift idea!
And an important reminder that a happy birthday doesn’t need to be about cake.
Clouding the issue in complexity
Obfuscation – that’s a big word. A lot of people have difficulty spelling it I’ve noticed.
I have the advantage of my laptop’s autocorrect, but I struggle to pronounce it and I don’t use it much in conversation. Why? Firstly because I’d sound like a dickhead, but mainly because many people don’t know what it means.
And what’s the point of saying things that people can’t understand?
Strangely, there seems to be a lot of power in confusing people. Those who say things that are either meaningless or difficult to understand are commonly praised. In fact, doing both is seen as perfecting the art.
The trendy term for fluency in bulldust is ‘executive presence’. Dress it up in a suit, add some ego and it is rewarded and lauded as leadership.
We all know words can be used to pretend one thing and really mean another. ‘Humble bragging’ is a rather pathetic social media tactic used to blow one’s trumpet on the fake basis of humility – as in
“I have no idea how I managed to be awarded the Best Ever Sales Rep in the State #blush :D Wow what a surprise!”
This is the relatively harmless end of the spectrum, just like someone using highfalutin language to prove their intelligence.
But when I learned that there is a French expression uniquely applied to Australians that describes how we are too polite to be honest, it was as embarrassing as it was insightful. Are we really so indoctrinated to avoiding truth? This is moving up the scale from silly to serious.
Somewhere in the middle, are those weasel words in the workplace. These are usually more boring than dangerous and have the potential to be hugely funny in the right moment. I used to be responsible for the sustainability reporting at a ‘leading global diversified natural resources company’. Blow me down; I thought I worked in mining.
Meaningless gobbledygook can disengage people from serious discussions. Take this quote from a local environmental management strategy that claims to be a “high level strategic document that will provide the framework and an implementation plan to progress improvements in the built and natural environments”. Really? Let’s break that down.
High level by definition is not detailed. Yes, it can be strategic and you would actually hope it is or it is simply superficial. A framework is pretty much a high level strategy, so that is saying the same thing - a tautology. Just like 3am in the morning - one will do, don’t need both.
An implementation plan details the steps to getting something done. So why is that in a high level strategic framework thingy? And if getting something done is not about progressing improvements, what would it be about? Stopping them? Or progressing mistakes?
No comment on built and natural environments; I have been derided before for having a crack at planning and architecture double talk. It’s everyday language apparently.
So are we reading that document yet?
At this more sinister end of the artful dishonesty scale, language can mislead, create fear and cloud the real issue. Obfuscate: to confuse, bewilder, stupefy; to make unclear; to darken.
Legalese can stake the original claim here, but it has become ridiculous. I see people excluded from knowledge because they fear being called stupid for not understanding what is being said.
There is nothing stupid about trying to understand.
I like plain English. And may I ask that this not be called “dumbing it down”? It takes a lot of work to be clear and simple. And you are not dumb if you don’t understand pseudo-intellectual waffle that says nothing.
For a writer, plain English and simplicity is the pinnacle. Wrapping thoughts into complex language is not clever, despite some people thinking it is. I notice that children and people not blessed with education usually have a keen radar for crap.
The cheat sheet for professional writers is The Elements of Style. This book finds a friendly companion in the copywriting bible that sits on every advertising agency bookshelf, called Simple and Direct. Need I say more?
In what is a funny irony, the best example of a writing guide that I have seen belongs to the City of Greater Geelong. The City’s Guide to Plain English is exemplary. So next time you read a council briefing paper, receive a letter or read a planning document, be comforted that somewhere there is documented hope.
The Australian political conversation, on the other hand, is a disgrace. Dominated by smokescreens and soundbites, finding facts is a challenge. For everyone.
Next time you come across language that is hard to comprehend, remember that the act of seeking to understand is smart. If you don’t get it, the chances are you are not the dumb one.
You may just be witnessing obfuscation.
Is your vocation valued?
Is it acceptable to give free services to an organisation or individual that should have the money to pay?
I considered this question recently in a positive and robust discussion about providing pro bono professional services to not-for-profit organisations.
This is the sort of work that feeds my family, so I was naturally interested. In fact I have to admit I was interested to the point of being passionate, emphatic and probably even vehement.
Actually, you could say I had something of a hissy fit.
Pro bono means for public good, so that phrase means people and organisations that can’t afford the services on offer. In my observation, the local governments, sporting clubs, industry bodies and most of the not for profit groups in Geelong have lots of staff and many have annual grants beyond the million dollar mark.
In that context I think providing services without fees is not helpful.
I’m not talking here about helping someone out, providing advice, or supporting a cause that you believe in. Nor do I mean volunteering, which is worthy of a separate discussion about the nature and value of work – paid and unpaid. Voluntary efforts are clearly well ingrained in our regional culture, the people here are exceptionally generous with time and money.
My focus is on specific projects or pieces of work. Marketing communication is a typical example, but document writing, architectural input, community development and a range of trade skills are also fairly common. These sorts of jobs are regularly bandied about by clubs, councils and charities where people perform ‘honorary ‘ roles or assist informally out of business hours.
I can think of two dozen friends straight off who would appreciate a job in Geelong. Instead, they have to go to Melbourne or elsewhere because ‘there is not enough work here.’
I challenge that. There is plenty of work to be done, the question is whether it’s being identified, valued properly, advertised effectively or completed well.
When Geelong can boast the international reputation for liveability and the nationally recognised brand of excellence that it deserves, we can say the standard of marketing is high. If there was a well-promoted and focused regional strategy and system for true governance and accountability, I wouldn’t suggest strategic communication is absent from the mix.
The idea of positive work opportunities goes right through to flowers on roundabouts, rubbish-free streets, tidy buildings, weeds eradicated from public and private land, a network of neat trails, creatively lit parks, modern and interesting signs. Just looking around, I see plenty to do.
I suspect much isn’t being done, or done well, because many services are not understood or valued. Is this because they are often given away? It’s only by investing in quality that will we see higher standards.
In quality terms, working for nothing - typically on top of a normal workload – does not usually produce the best result. It is not the most considered, informed, thorough or creative offering. It is also tricky to critique and challenge when it’s been provided for free. And when it’s not valued or appreciated it’s a no-win.
The best efforts involve research, collaboration, time for creativity and a responsible system of documentation.
The single most important issue that I’ve seen for the Geelong region is employment. The impact of limited employment opportunities makes both broad and deep cuts across the region.
There seem to be many highly skilled, passionate, qualified and clever people who are underpaid and underworked. I used to think it was just the intelligentsia on the Bellarine that is sucking it up for the lifestyle tradeoff. Apparently not.
Anecdotal reports include not enough work, cronyism where ‘Geelong is a closed shop’, uncompetitive salary levels and too few senior roles.
With the transition away from traditional manufacturing and the looming sale of Shell, I have heard that technicians face lower pay and/or less stimulating work if they are to stay in the area. There are similar issues across skilled trades and professional services.
In this environment, the idea of a charity group, local government or anyone else with funding receiving free services has a major impact on both employment opportunities and quality standards.
Tempting though they can be, contra deals are fraught with potential disaster because one person’s apple is a useless pear to someone else. A bartering system has merit, but only when it is well-planned and regulated.
Money is our currency for a reason. We cannot spend favours at the greengrocer. Goodwill does not pay the electricity bill.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to work and be paid. There will always be a few people at either end of the employment spectrum – those who never work and those who spend every waking moment obsessed with work.
For most of us, striking the balance is the challenge.
And while a few favours can be fine, when the search for free work is endemic it lowers the bar on standards.
The worry of worry
Heart slamming inside chest, mind racing, eyes blinded. Breathless. This could be an electrifying chase scene from Skullduggery Pleasant, the book I am regularly stealing from my son’s room after he’s fallen asleep.
Actually, it describes my experience at a Barwon Heads community forum. As a speaker, I have since shared the story of the violent, unexpected and uncontrollable leg wobble that threatened my calm four minutes into a five minute presentation. Luckily, the lectern hid the guilty limb from the audience and my nerves were only visible to my fellow panellists.
The great lesson for me that day was that every speaker had a ‘tell’. Without exception, there were shaking hands, thready voices, shifting feet and shuffling paper. And, thrillingly, a momentary loss of composure did not matter at all.
Some people can’t believe that I used to be cripplingly shy as a kid, probably because I naturally do the bubbly chatty babbly thing to a reasonable degree. But I clearly recall my loathing of public speaking, my fear of the stage and many a mumbling, blushing presentation.
Every day before secondary school I felt nervous. Butterflies in the stomach and shortness of breath were as familiar as the hot face of embarrassment, the awkwardness of making new friends and the fear of being rejected by old ones. I was nervous about riding my own horse, intimidated by parties, scared of tough older girls, of judgemental boys and I was chronically inadequate with fashion and music.
I had more hang-ups than the proverbial wardrobe. But I consider I was a fairly typical teenager.
Now older, with the freedom to like myself - including my cringeworthy, cranky and cynical moments - life has become blessedly easy.
The new beyondblue campaign about anxiety is as intriguing as its choice of chairperson. It launched with a stunning performance from acclaimed actor Ben Mendelsohn personifying anxiety.
Although the campaign statistic focuses on the ‘one in four’ that need help, it’s useful to know that everyone experiences anxiety at some point. Given the mental health picture in the Geelong region, particularly among those under 24, this can only be positive knowledge.
With suicide now the foremost cause of death in the 15-24 age group, maybe some can recognise ‘early onset anxiety’ before it reaches a severe level or goes on for a long period.
I remember hearing that my so-called ‘leadership type’ tends to experience constant low-grade stress. That struck a chord – I struggle to relax and make space for mindfulness. I am always aware of the time, often to the minute, and I have a constant ‘to-do list’ in my head for the short term and long term.
It could be part of being hyperactive and feeling overly responsible, it could be a latent avoidance issue – but that’s my own adventure. Unless this engine of concerns starts to bother me, or those around me, I use this energy to advantage. Am I anxious? Possibly.
When to start worrying about worrying?
I struggled to find the definition of anxiety on beyondblue’s six (yes six) page fact sheet. (Gosh, when will the health industry learn simplicity?) In wading through the types of anxiety that led to more fact sheets, I was starting to feel anxious about my ability to find information.
What struck me was that nearly all symptoms and causes listed are what I would consider normal for most people, especially young folk.
I finally found that to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder it ‘must have a disabling impact on the person’s life’. Given that ‘disabling impact’ is quite an individual measure and understanding that my assessment of ‘normal’ may be completely off the mark, I reflected on a superb definition of bullying I came across a few years ago.
It was along the (contextual) lines of “bullying is sustained behaviour that causes negative psychological or physical impacts”. For me, this made bullying about the impact on the person who is suffering; not defined by who or what caused it, nor by the subjective degree of suffering.
In my brazenly non-clinical opinion, anything that impacts the way someone feels most days for more than a few weeks and affects their ability to lead a relatively happy life should be discussed and possibly treated. On that basis I am currently more hyperactive than anxious.
It hasn’t always been that way, I went through depression in my late teens when my parents moved overseas and one morning about seven years ago, just after I had a cup of coffee, I had a panic attack out of the blue. I felt like a duffer thinking it was a heart attack but the ambos were simultaneously concerned and reassuring.
When it gets to calling 000, the message is pretty clear that finding time for mindfulness is a priority. Let’s work on seeing a need before then.
Lessons in right and wrong
A few years ago, at the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington, I was sipping bubbles with a friend in the members’ area before we decided to take our catchup conversation elsewhere. Catching a train before the main race finished was a strategic decision to avoid the transport and human mess thereafter.
Dressed in our finest ladieswear, we embarked to find many of the seats taken but a few available gaps to fit two large hats together. A fellow in his late teens sat near another man who was clearly his father. Both in suits, seemingly sober and well presented but sitting with spaces between them.
I gestured to the younger man who was closest to the aisle, “Excuse me, do you mind moving along so my friend and I could sit here?” He didn’t bother to look up, just barked, “I can stay ‘ere and you can sit on me lap if ya like.”
Given that there had been no previous interaction, that I was old enough to be his mother and there was no cheeky twinkle or humour to the comment, it went down like the old wrought-iron hanglider. Even his dad didn’t chuckle although Rude Boy looked to him for approval.
At best it was a misplaced and boorish attempt at humour. At worst, an example of the alarming, insidious sexism threatening to be accepted as ‘Australian culture’, along with racism and ageism. I have no opinion on which it was, but I do recall it vividly because it was painfully obvious that the boy had no guidance from his father about how to behave around women, or show respect for people generally.
I’ve always believed everyone has a moral compass; that we all have intuition, gut feel and that we know deep down what the right thing means. My rigid stance was challenged last week by a line in the GPAC performance of Frankenstein.
“I know right from wrong! I am EDUCATED!” bellowed Frankenstein’s monster. The highly charged emotional performance resonated on many levels, but this phrase inspired me to consider our local context.
There is a huge philosophical discussion about nature versus nurture and an equally interesting debate about our current standard of education. Certainly in the political discussion, our education system seems to lurch from crisis to dysfunctional model and back again, but the truth is difficult to know.
What we do know is that the Geelong region has comparatively low levels of educational attainment, so what does this mean for all of us?
Parental influence is critical, yet parents of all ages seem confused about what is acceptable now – internet use, sportsmanship and bullying are just some of the dilemmas we all face. Standards of behaviour are often set, exemplified and promoted by people in authority. Yet look at the predatory antics of the priesthood.
I was shocked by the edited radio quote from a police spokesman after a group of teenage boys attacked a 38 year old mother of three in a park. He said, “The message here is that women should not walk alone after dark.” Pardon?
Conversely, when Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was asked to place a curfew on women to help end a series of rapes, she refused and replied, “But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.”
I wonder what the message would be from our authority figures if teenage girls were attacking pensioners in shopping malls at lunchtime. Would it have been about elderly people avoiding shopping malls? And if packs of dogs were biting kinder children and their mums walking home would the message be, “Don’t walk home from kinder”?
We really need to challenge that sort of behaviour and the associated public commentary because the messages are confusing. To imply that the 38 year old woman was primarily to blame is ridiculous. To suggest to boys that when they do wrong it will be someone else’s fault is dangerous. To accept that mothers are unprotected and vulnerable in our society is disgraceful.
Assuming that some people need to be taught ‘right from wrong’ and the schools are not responsible, the parents are incapable and the authority figures are not willing, then who is?
I propose that it is all of us, every child, parent, brother, sister, teacher, cousin, grandparent, umpire, employee, volunteer and bystander. We are all obliged to work out the right thing, support others in their efforts and create ways to promote it in ourselves and other people.
If we don’t accept this obligation and take responsibility, then we deserve to live in fear and sit in the lap of ill-mannered disrespect.
Singing the praises of Geelong
A report says cholesterol levels dropped by a tiny percentage in most people in a test group who ate a handful of a particular nut every day. Do those nuts lower cholesterol?
Next question, would you feel comfortable being paid to promote those nuts on that basis – claiming unequivocally that eating those nuts will lower cholesterol?
I questioned the science and the ethics of that campaign in my early PR days. That experience made me pay close attention to future client campaigns and contract opportunities. We all have our own truth and it’s important to believe in what we stand for.
The moral challenge of working at ‘the big Aussie’ miner was palatable because my role included managing global sustainability reporting. I could influence for the ‘good’.
Most importantly, as we drilled the detail of that company’s performance in global health, safety, environment and community development, I learned the need to properly collect meaningful data.
“Get the right data and get the data right.”
The data about Geelong - the good news about the region’s performance - is generally exciting and inspiring. On the other hand, the Ford announcement was a shock, but really no surprise. The issue now is ensuring a graceful exit by the Big Three global corporations and managing the collective grief our community will naturally suffer.
Meanwhile, various studies provide insights into Geelong’s progress, or not, in recent years. But do these studies have the depth and longevity on which to plan a future?
Are we collecting reliable, unbiased data to influence how we plan our infrastructure, stimulate the economy, protect our environment and tailor community services into the next twenty to fifty years?
I, along with a zillion others, am passionate about creating an appropriate brand for the Geelong region. But I cannot emphasise strongly enough the need for substance behind the style before we rush headlong into taglines and logos.
Can I bluntly propose this is not the best place to live, work, play and invest while there are limited job opportunities? With no place to work, there is neither money to play, nor to invest.
Furthermore, anecdotal comments suggest that people outside Geelong consider it a great place to visit, but a bit like the uncouth, possibly corrupt, cousin to Melbourne.
When TAC staff were surveyed about their perceptions of Geelong before the organisation moved here, the feedback was little short of ugly. The research was shelved. While that was some years ago, the trend appears to be a reluctance to ask the tough questions or seek meaningful research. We are an introspective lot and navel-gazing is a well-documented local hobby.
We need the brutal facts about Geelong’s current positioning to decide what we want this region to be and how we are going to make it happen.
It’s not rocket science but no one seems to have a clue where to start. The regional leadership is fragmented and unfocused. We are drowning in taskforces, committees and community boards of management.
There is so much scope for articulating our future and creating an unassailable strategic position and associated image.
But the future picture needs to be based on meaningful and current information that can be compared year on year and used to set targets. By targets, I mean goals for making things HAPPEN, not just ambitions that provide bragging rights for the one who claims the idea as their own.
With a clear strategy, it is possible to create the brand elements around the personality of our flagship town. Until then, there is a risk is that it will be based on guesswork, vested interests and short-sighted piecemeal visions.
In communicating the image and values that reflect the unique nature of the people and the region, we should use the full brand communication toolkit. The fun things include a Geelong emblem, a mascot, a song, a ‘face of Geelong’, a strong tagline and a deeply connected story that describes the character of Geelong and its people – from coast to country.
And, yes it needs to include football but we are maturing and that means being about more than our football club.
The process need not be from a multi-million dollar advertising agency spouting brand DNA, essence or other jargon du jour. Our population is delightfully peppered with people from all walks of life – be they well-educated, artistic, down-to-earth, soulful, intelligent and/or pragmatic. Qualified people quite capable of describing what Geelong should be all about.
I’ve said it before; the trick for Geelong is making sure it is inclusive. More people need to be brought into the discussion and it’s critical that a truly diverse group shares the journey.
The future is what we make it. We just need to be careful not to suggest that living in Geelong will lower your cholesterol.
Recovery is in the people
I had the privilege last weekend to witness an amazing moment of honesty and courage. Actually, there was more than one. The one that involved tears made me cry, the angry words of frustration had me nodding in sympathy.
No, I wasn’t cheering the footy victory under the glorious new lights, although I know there were plenty of courageous, honest moments at Simonds Stadium on the same night. We were talking bushfire recovery at a local community meeting, listening to a ‘Firefox’ tell her story about what happened in Kinglake.
Firefoxes is a team of women who offer to share their story, and the opportunity for ongoing connection, to disaster-affected people as a way of helping people cope.
The tears came on Saturday evening when a local resident who had lost her home in the fire described not just the feeling of losing everything, but the reality of living in someone else’s house for an indefinite period.
This lovely person consistently acknowledged how grateful she and her husband are for the accommodation, but she broke down when explaining how desperately she needs a space, a place that is not someone else’s, to curl up with a book or to just hang out.
This may not appear to be a big deal; after all, bushfires are dramatic and destructive and this seemingly ‘small ask’ is easy to dismiss, but it was a critical moment for me. It was a heart-rending realisation that recovery and renewal is as much about the daily minutiae as the big, politically sexy infrastructure replacement.
Even more importantly, it brought home that recovery is about people, not stuff. Our fabulously communicative Firefox made a beautiful statement about communities not recovering brick by brick, instead they are rebuilt “person by person”.
It seems that people who have lost everything have the opportunity to recreate what they had, or create a new and different version of their old life, or to choose an entirely alternate future.
As I learn more about the impact of natural or any other disaster, I suspect that whichever choice people make it involves a transformation. Significant, life-changing events do not occur as a series of incremental shifts; they usually move the paradigm completely.
The experience brought to mind an email conversation I’d had with an important mentor in my life, who shared his thoughts a few months back on change versus transformation.
My friend and mentor wrote about making improvements to something – say a steam train to a bullet train – where the best outcome is still based on limitations of the current system. There may be positive change but the basic tracks, wheels and parking issues remain. He noted that change is based on history and involves a lot of actions, alignment and checking. Also that change is safe but it takes a lot of effort and energy – a lot of people and resources.
“Transformation on the other hand, totally alters the state of a process or system. When you look at a butterfly then you will not be able to tell that a couple of weeks before it was a caterpillar. It does not resemble anything of what it used to be.”
There were many more gems of thought and a powerful sensitivity to the challenges in the transformation process in what he wrote, but that is for another day.
I thought back to the fire-affected community trying to reorganise their lives, barely two months after the event. The number and complexity of issues are staggering - from stockfeed shortages to melted bins, obliterated street numbers to emotional trauma, fencing repairs to volunteer insurance - and everything in between.
For many people, the opportunity for incremental change has simply been burnt to cinders. Transformation has been thrust upon them with no chance to prepare and no map to navigate the way through. “Onward and upward” people can say lightly and tritely, but when you’re feeling down, forward is not always the preferred direction.
I write only as an observer with complete humility about ‘knowing how people feel’. I don’t. But I have seen glimpses and I can feel the angst even though everyone is trying so hard to be brave. Courage in spades. And picks, axes, chainsaws and rakes.
While not the same as devastating natural disasters, there are striking similarities in the challenges for local people losing not just their employment, but their work identity, the brand they love and possibly their future plans. To say nothing of the community losing the pride associated with monumental global organisations from our midst.
In all cases, let’s be aware of the different way people handle loss, the phases of recovery and the need to commit for the long term. When people are ready, we can also see the exciting opportunity for transformation.