Exploring Down Under

Amala’s invitation is hard to resist: “Why not come to Australia and experience life in the Gondwana Sanctuary community. You can share my caravan and help out with some gardening and be part of a project to plant trees and create a koala-friendly habitat.

“You can also keep fit by walking on the beach every day,” she encourages.

GeoffPilgrimage192The timing is perfect. The telephone call comes when I’m wondering how I can best occupy my time before I resume walking, and the answer is suddenly obvious.

To be honest I’m also missing the wonderful sense of community with kindred spirits that Amala and I enjoyed at Findhorn – I relish the idea of sampling life in a small intentional community, this one inspired by Eastern spiritual traditions and especially Osho’s vision of awakening through love, meditation and celebration.

Despite misgivings about what the journey Down Under will do to my carbon footprint, I agree, taking comfort in the knowledge that the Villiera Wine Estate in South Africa, with its commitment to Earth-friendly practices, is planting a tree for every kilometre I walk.

Gondwana turns out to be a little piece of heaven ideally located along the lush sub-tropical coast. It’s little more than an hour’s beach walk from Byron Bay, a popular holiday destination that’s arguably Australia’s capital of spirituality and alternative living.

It’s a half-hour walk to the local beach and my footprints are usually the first in the sand. The water is warm and inviting, and I celebrate meditative alone-time while I have it all to myself.

GeoffPilgrimage193It’s astonishing how much is happening in the wider area, and the nearby BluesFest attracts the Who’s Who of the music world, among them international artists like Paul Simon. Sadly Australia is super-expensive and I can’t afford a concert ticket, although I do enjoy lots of free music courtesy of the talented artists who play most nights on Byron street corners.

A highlight is a visit to the town of Nimbin where the hippie culture continues to thrive. The love and peace generation descended on the former dairy-farming centre for a festival in 1973 and never left, creating communities dedicated to living in harmony with the Earth and each other. They famously stopped logging of the local rainforests and raised awareness about the culture and rights of Aboriginal people. They’re caring, colourful and still bemoaning the fact that it’s illegal to grow cannabis. More than once I’m offered some, but decline with a smile. I get high enough on life itself!

The Nimbin Museum in the town centre is enormous fun, and Amala and I pose in an iconic flower-power VW Bus, typical of an era when I was having my own awakening as a teenager across the world in California. The issues were similar: we protested against war, exploitation and a society gone crazy and worshipping at the altar of money and materialism.

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Geoff and Amala having fun in the Nimbin Museum

A blissful month has passed in Oz and already I’m feeling I could stay forever. At Gondwana I blend into a consciousness that recognises that the global environmental crisis is an outer manifestation of a crisis of mind and spirit. The way most of us live in the Western world isn’t working and we need to raise our consciousness to embrace the sacredness of all life.

While there isn’t quite the same feeling of connection I’ve known at Findhorn, where I have lunch and dinner in the Community Centre every day, I enjoy the Wednesday night gatherings in the main house at Gondwana where 20 or 30 like-minded souls meet for a healthy vegetarian meal and animated conversation.

We agree that instead of trying to dominate and control, we humans need to recognise that we are but a strand in the web of life, celebrating the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Life is an experiment and we’re doing the best we can.

There are around 15 property owners in the community and a handful of others in modest dwellings. Amala and I have our accommodation free on the understanding that we work a few hours each week. We’re part of a worldwide movement of WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) who travel cheaply and experience a more Earth-friendly way of living while offering their labours in exchange for food and shelter.

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Some of the key players in an initiative to plant trees and create koala-friendly havens

It’s a social event and we beautify the gardens, remove alien vegetation, paint or do odd jobs on rainy days, and best of all, help create a haven for the koalas that are seriously threatened by human encroachment and habitat loss. It’s sometimes back-breaking work but wonderful to be making a difference. We’ve cleared former pastureland and planted 600 trees that will eventually create a canopy of eucalyptus feed trees for the much-loved marsupials, while the under-storey of vegetation will support greater biodiversity.

Our’s is but one of many similar projects and local organiser Bela Allen explains that the tree planting isn’t only about koalas but bringing the community together.

Jo Green is a passionate project officer from the local Byron council and insists: “The message for the next generation is not to worry about material things.”

Angus Underwood, an environmental team leader whose wife is expecting their third child, tells me: “A lot of what motivates me is undoing past damage for the benefit of future generations and all biodiversity.”

Everywhere I go there are signs warning the oil, gas and coal companies that their greed and destructiveness is not welcome, and already two mining companies have had to place a moratorium on their fracking plans.

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Hundreds of trees were planted to create safe space for threatened koalas as well as a ready food source

Amala and I shop at local farmers’ markets for fresh, organic produce and delight in lots of friendly banter. It’s a fact that in sterile supermarkets there’s minimal conversation, most of it confined to whether you’re paying with cash or a credit card. The community-orientated farmers’ markets benefit locals, farmers and the environment.

We also attend an inspiring round table discussion in the Byron Community Centre entitled A Climate for Change. Among the panel of speakers is Helena Norberg-Hodge who presents a powerful argument for localisation as a key to what she refers to as ‘the economics of happiness.’ It’s about being more conscious and thinking globally while acting locally.

After brief presentations by seven speakers, including a woman who is a leader of an Aboriginal community and a passionate advocate of a more intimate relationship with the land, the panelists join us at our individual tables for further discussions.

At my table there is long hair, beards, dreadlocks, a physicist, surgeon, spiritual activist and a common sense of concern.

I volunteer my belief that a core problem is humanity’s disconnection from the natural world around us. It is when we take time to immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature that we are overcome with feelings of love and peace, intuitively understanding the interdependence and sacredness of all life. When you love your world you won’t harm it – it’s that simple.

At the end of the evening, we agree that we are the ones we have been waiting for. Best we get busy…

Geoff Dalglish

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