My story of awakening
Meet Donna from Dunedin, New Zealand
The greatest way for me to tell my story is to give a comparison of the world of my childhood where, in a small village community, all services were close at hand and where we knew people who lived both close and more distant …. of course life wasn’t perfect, but was relaxed and happy.
I was born in 1946, eldest of 6 children, and I was brought up in a small, hilly, industrial suburb south of Dunedin; a mixed community of state-built and private housing. All basic services were within walking distance including our own provincially-owned Savings Bank (all profits returned to the community). Retailers included two greengrocers, two bakeries, two butchers, and a large general groceries/delicatessen where biscuits were provided by the dozen (12) in paper bags, cheese and bacon was sliced and wrapped in greaseproof paper. There was also a dairy and a fish and chips shop of course. Every year our school ran a huge fete when, for a short time, the main street was closed for the fancy dress parade to move through and it seemed that the whole village lined the main street to applaud.
On an 8th acre section, my father kept an extensive garden which was adequate for our needs along with a chicken run. He occasionally made any furniture required and resoled our shoes. My mother cooked, preserved summer fruit, made our clothes on an old Singer sewing machine – she repurposed older garments as well as using new fabric. Boys uniform shorts were lined with fabric of bulk linen flour bags and leather patches were sewn on jacket elbows. Boys collected discarded refundable glass bottles for recycling; the value on these prevented careless discarding and breaking. A manual push mower was used for lawns. All this was quite challenging, but meaningful mahi/work.
Transport: Few people owned a car – they were seen as a luxury and mainly used for special outings and on the whole, not for daily commuting. Public bus service was our main means of transport to schools, city etc and from a young age we children learned to negotiate our way to other suburbs. There were city trams/cable car and later electric buses which travelled the centre city suburbs and hills. We walked a lot from bus to our final destination. Most people commuted to work by bus - so much so, that the door was barely able to close at busy times. The trip took no time at all - we chatted to those next to us, known or not. Well patronized trains ran from further afield suburbs stopping along the way for those who either walked or cycled to the station. My parents saved hard to buy a car which was used only for church and Sunday outings and in summer for whole day trips to river or beach. Out-of-town holidays were not common and might be by train to a hired seaside house. We children each owned a second-hand bicycle.
A milkman delivered milk daily before sunrise from the local Dunedin Dairy Co-operative. Into a lidded ‘billy’ container on a stand at our gate, the milk was measured from a large stainless-steel urn and then transferred to cool safe or fridge. Later glass bottles with a cardboard lid were introduced. Bottles were returned to the gate daily and then factory for sterilizing and refilling. The greengrocer’s and butcher’s truck travelled the suburb once a week stopping at intersections for people to make their purchases. Obviously, there was no need for recycling here and services were made available at the customer’s door or a walkable distance to the business area. Vegetables and fruit were locally grown and fresh, (mainly from the Chinese gardens on the fertile Taieri Plain), bid for by retailers at the once-a-week, local market auctions. Today, food is transported to large city centres for distribution countrywide, some often returning to its source.
In the mid-1950s my baby brother received a beautiful red plastic beach bucket and a small yellow spade. This was my first encounter with a plastic product - I thought it was amazing and beautiful. From this point forward, plastic became more available and extremely useful for many lasting items. However, perhaps it was the mid-1970s, with the advent of large supermarkets and the ‘need’ for faster, efficient distribution of products, that I was startled to note that common household products were contained in this beautiful plastic which was disposed of by burying in the landfill – where was this to end? Having been brought up to value everything highly, to reuse and not waste, I could not understand this system of disregard, waste, and pollution – “it is just easier and quicker” was the answer. I was then unaware of the process of extracting and depleting fossil fuels for the sake of profit and expediency. This was the true answer.
The country-side was dotted with many sheep for frozen export to the UK. Cows were fewer and milked in small lots for our own local consumption via the co-op and the milkman.
Our own children followed a similar pattern to the above. However, changes then were increasing and more the norm. But …. they remember with delight, episodes like being able to drink fresh water out of cupped hands from healthy streams – no need to take a bottle, plastic or otherwise.
The future is now: As a senior couple, our concern that things must change goes back more than 40 years during which we have gained a new consciousness of the connectedness of Earth and humanity to live more closely with and be guided by Mother Earth. We try to live as simply as possible, monitoring needs, not wants; doing everything we can to build a safe future. We try always to avoid plastic - make our own bread, spreadable butter, compost, along with the help of two small worm ‘farms’, shop via Farmers’ market (supplements our small garden), and local craftspeople, conserve energy, (wear more clothes and heat one room), use public transport, share our assets, and try to support those disenfranchised as a result of our modern global system.
Obviously, we recognize that the world has changed and that women no longer are solely home managers and carers which, in the past, supported a more sustainable lifestyle - a question here of the value of women’s work? However, we would like to see a return to this slower pace of life and with the support of modern digital technology, not available 50 years ago, there will be many opportunities for connections that help avoid our modern need to live beyond the limits of our planet.
To our detriment, we have bought into expediency, convenience, and ‘gluttony’ consumption at the price of our Earth and care of our neighbours both local and international. This is not the heart of true humanity. Have we been brainwashed, hood-winked by a commercialism which denies us knowledge of our true selves? We believe it is possible to regain living a simpler, more pleasurable, less pressured lifestyle - not in its old form, but with knowledge of the way in which Earth provides and cares for us and of its diminishing ability to support us. For our Mokopuna’s sake, we wish to work alongside Papatuanuku allowing her, her rightful place. He waka eke noa/We are all in the same boat together …. and together we can do this!