By Stephen Routledge, Stanley
As a child, I was the youngest of four boys, born in the 1950s, into an Essex farming family. I grew up on an East Anglian arable farm with 20ft of topsoil that had been farmed eons before the Romans arrived in Britain in 54 BC.
This rolling, wooded landscape, steeped with an ancient tribal and feudal history, developed into highly productive wheat cropping country and was known as the granary of Europe. Little lanes and footpaths crisscross the landscape between the villages, with their churches and farms, passing between the managed and manicured hedgerows, central to an English pastoral view. Getting the harvest in and the necessity of agrarian success, would have been the immediate concern to those workers involved. The nature of the weather, with its randomness would never have been far from thoughts of potential famine and starvation.
These basic fears have done wonders for our technical progress and spurred on all the genius that humans are capable of, a progress that I delight in. Having a personal Spotify playlist, playing songs from the sixties, in your car, as you travel through any landscape in the world, not touching or stopping to listen to the sounds of the country, but distant, self absorbed, with no time – got to get there.
Much of our Australian landscape is now affected by the necessity of growing food and growing profits for the agri-business world. Economists, meanwhile, have never really been able to account for the value of nature, an externality in our processed world. With modern housing blocks having no room for gardens, it is little wonder that society’s anxiety levels are so high. It is predicted that 72% of Australia’s population will live in a capital city by the year 2053. With only screens to connect us with the rural environment, how sanitised and predictable our worlds will become. The decisions for rural Australia are already being made in the capital cities, behind walls, often without windows, but always air-conditioned.
As long as we are comfortable and well fed, nature will continue to take second place, with our expectations and excesses all too easily explained away. But does it really take the threat of starvation to reconnect us to our natural environment – let’s all sit under a tree for the day and perhaps reflect on just what it does take.