My place. Tuesday, 11.45am
I live in a shack under the cliffs. I built it myself when I was a young fella.
I’m proud of that. I am not a builder by trade (or by any stretch of the imagination) but I just couldn’t come at the idea that I needed to go into debt to have a home. The first people around here built a home in about three hours using only what was around them and help from their friends. It was a housing system that worked well for about 40,000 years.
Like them, I honour the environment; I understand it gives us life, creates the future. Pretty basic stuff, really. So I minimised environmental damage and avoided toxins when building my shack.
One day, the building inspector drove up my driveway while I was de-nailing floor joists. Quickly donning some clothes, I waved hello and invited him onto the building site.
But exhausted by the drive and keen to return to flatter, less wild lands, the inspector only leaned against his ticking Holden (also exhausted by the drive), and through the shimmering haze emanating from the bonnet declared that, yeah, that all looks okay. Quickly jumping back into his car, he said I should come and see him when I got to lock-up stage.
Twenty-seven years later, I’m still not at lock up. I don’t like locking things. I have curtains as my door. (They’re quality curtains though; a faded rug from a Thai hill tribe and some material from India blessed by a chain-smoking mystic.) Once, I put a padlock through the curtains when I left to journey overseas. It was a joke – but I didn’t get robbed.
Lock up or not, the local council has decided that 27 years is long enough. It’s time to get legal. My sink can no longer water my guava trees. My thunderbox on the hill, replete with back issues of Renewable Energy World, a bucket of sawdust and a shovel, is a threat to the environment. The railings on my verandah will not stop a drunk child with a chair from jumping.
I got a loan and I hired a professional builder – my youthful idealism (and flexibility) is gone. My hammer stays in the tool bag hanging from a nail in the wall, a spider web strung between hammer head and chisel handle, a mud wasp nest built – without council approval – between tape measure and nail punch.
The slow rhythm of a hammer is replaced by the rapid fire of a hammer gun; the rasping breath of a handsaw by the whining efficiency of a dropsaw. It’s costing me a lot, but I’m happy to comply with regulations that make the world a cleaner, safer place.
But I’m a bit miffed.
While local councils strive for some sort of environmental sustainability, federal and state governments conspire to destroy the world that supports us.
While my sink water must now go through a reed bed, the federal government has given the nod to the mega Carmicheal coal mine, going against the advice of its own Independent Expert Scientific Committee which foretold polluting of the Great Artesian Basin, killing of the Great Barrier Reef and wrecking of agricultural land.
I will build my expensive composting toilet. I will get an approved grey-water system. I will fix my railings for the kiddies.
But it all seems a waste of time when we have a government that smugly screws the ecosystem for a quick buck, and stupidly disregards the most basic relationship there is: the environment and our children’s future.
I’m more than miffed, I’m angry. I wonder why I bother…