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.