The future

view of bush from cabin

Dear C,
I am sorry we have not yet had the chance to meet in person. I am currently on seven months leave without pay, but usually lecture in Outdoor and Environmental Education as part of what is the new School of Education. You began your new position, just as I began my leave. As required under the conditions of my leave, I am writing to inform you of my intentions once my leave is complete.

During my leave I have been travelling around this wide, brown island of ours. As you may imagine, journeying long distances provides one with plenty of thinking time. Being away from the daily business of the university, has afforded me many hours with which to contemplate the second half of my life – metaphorically and physically. My leave was prompted by my partner, who was observing the effect my work was having on me. I am so grateful for her intervention. The time on the road has been cathartic at the very least.

I write to you from one of Australia’s great World Heritage Areas, Cradle Mountain National Park. I am sitting in the type of country I have spent many hundreds of hours, shared with hundreds of wonderful outdoor education students from Fed Uni. I have helped them to connect with the natural world, hoping they might pass that connection on to their students once they are out working. It is this time with students, in and out of the classroom I feel I have the most impact. I found my way to academia by following my desire to have a ‘ripple effect’, hoping to encourage behaviour change in bulk by teaching our future teachers. If I can support one student to engage with the natural world, and they in turn support a handful of keen young people, then the impact can be swift and strong.

The students’ feedback suggests I have done this pretty well.

It is with a heavy heart, and a strong sense of purpose, that I will pack up my office and head off in search of a replacement for universities. A replacement not just for me, but for future learners, thinkers and doers. Seth Godin has recently placed that wish on his list of things to achieve in the future, I am placing it on mine, now. A new way to reflect, question, argue, test, translate and learn.

I have come to the realisation I am a terrible academic. I am just not selfish enough to succeed in such a world. I don’t want my students to learn in such an environment. The selfishness of needing to place myself before my students and colleagues, to ignore pleas for help from students and self-promote at any opportunity. This goes against a great deal of what I work with my students to achieve – to encourage them to work together to build a better world.

Yes, it sounds idealistic. I am sure you and many of my colleagues will suggest lots of solutions to work ‘within the system’ to achieve my goals. I have fought within the system for a number of years and our small team at Fed Uni has accomplished many successes working together, championing a valuable niche area. Increasingly I feel we have been taking one step forward and two steps back as we struggle to create a valuable program in challenging conditions. I feel there is a better way to train the teachers of the future, and I am off to work out what that might be.

I sincerely thank you and the University for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students and staff. Thanks also for providing me with the seven months to consider my future, with the security of a job to return to. It’s time for me to take a leap into the unknown, so I will not be returning on 15 February, 2019.

Many thanks,
Geoff.

Home

“Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before”
Going Home, Leonard Cohen

Dear H,
How is your new home? Does it feel like home yet? Spending time living in a tent, moving every few days, I have been wondering what home means. As we travel around, my traveling companions and I have been thinking about what we might want from a home. Home in a broader sense than just a physical shelter. Sarah has been suggesting some great questions to ponder as we search for answers; What kind of ecological community do you want to live in?, What kind of social community do you want to live in?, Who would you like to live near?, What kind of work would you like to do?

I feel very lucky to have the space to answer these questions from afar (it has taken some time to be able to relax my mind into the space though ;-)). Being able to step away and look back is important. I know you found that to be incredibly beneficial. The combination of people and place is a complex thing to explore. One thing we seemed to have discovered so far is that we identify quite strongly as Victorians. It is really interesting. I think I have always had a strong sense of being Australian – whatever that means – but I have not really contemplated my sense of place on a more local level.

Nikki Gemmell quotes Salman Rushdie “This, perhaps, is what it means to love a country: that its shape is also yours, the shape of the way you think and feel and dream. That you can never really leave.”

Continue reading “Home”

Departures and Arrivals

White lines down the middle of the road

Dear Ian*,
I have been thinking about you. We departed on our exploration of Australia recently and it got me thinking about comings and goings.

In particular, the question of arrivals – when have we reached our destination? We talk a lot about ‘destinationitis’ with the students at uni. It’s funny how, in our culture,  we always seem to have to get to the end of the track, the top of mountain, the tip of the point. In outdoor education, as in other areas of life, there is the mantra of ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination.’ Which is all very well to say, but does it actually work with our Western society? Being on the road, particularly up the top end of the country, I feel as though lots of us whitefellas are so focussed on reaching our destination. I get the sense from the Aboriginal folks that the destination is not as significant. The point for them is to be on Country. Spend time walking on and connecting with Country. Aiming for the end point often results in missing all the bits in between.

As an imported, white, Anglo-Saxon, relaxing into the journey is a challenge. What if I miss something? Have I spent enough time in this place to see everything? What is the essence of this place? What does it mean to connect? Continue reading “Departures and Arrivals”

Islands

Dear Nam Jin,
It’s hard to believe it has been a year since we were visiting you and exploring your tiny island. This year, I am exploring a larger island and discovering more similarities between the two than I first thought.

It has taken us four weeks of driving to go from the bottom of Australia, to the top. The journey has reminded me of the bike ride we took with you from Punggol, reaching the centre of Singapore by lunchtime! As we travel, I have been reading Tim Winton’s ‘Island Home‘. It is a series of thoughts on Australia, our culture and the place. Moving through the centre of my country reminds me of just how big and open it is. Two adjectives that would be hard to use in describing Singapore!

I have been up North for the last few weeks, exploring the centre – the place and the people. I find it difficult to comprehend both the expanse of the place and the timeframe of the culture of the Aboriginal people. I really feel like an interloper. Not in the way that I am not welcome – everyone I have spoken to is very welcoming. More in the sense that I do not belong. The question then becomes, ‘What does it mean to belong?’ Continue reading “Islands”

High rotation

Dear Tom,
Thanks for your email dated 12/3/1999. I thought it time to reply to your great question. It has been so good to think about all the good music I am currently listening to.

I was reminded of your unanswered message as I read an interview with Charles Foster in Dumbo Feather. Charles spent time living as various animals to explore how humans connect with nature. In the conversation I was reading, Charles was reflecting on how music effects our senses. I think he was trying to suggest that there are some uniquely human traits we have that set us apart from other animals.

It might be part of me spending more time on this planet, but it also feels related to being a parent, but I feel like I respond in a deeper way to music than I ever have. Particularly on an emotional level. It is a combination of the music and the lyrics. There is no one thing I can put my finger on.

While my current high rotation list has a certain feel about it, I think there are some possible outliers lingering.

I have rediscovered Lior after watching a mini doco on his collaboration with Nigel Westlake. Some amazing music.

AB original have produced some great powerful almost old school rap and hip hop. Love the messages. The reworking of Paul Kelly’s Dumb Things is magic…

Continue reading “High rotation”

A case for the moon

Dear Phil,
Welcome home. You have had quite the adventure. While you were away capturing the dark side of the Sun, I was reminded of conversations we’ve had where you have mentioned how annoying the moon is*.

At the same time, the moon was regularly popping up in my life – and I don’t mean the regular appearance in the sky! For instance, I have been listening to this…

Continue reading “A case for the moon”