Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A hint of piety?

Recently I received emails from separate people informing me about their church going habits. And it got me thinking, because my immediate emotional response was anger. I couldn't help smelling an evil whiff of piety.

Let me explain.

I'm involved in a number of volunteer activities locally. One is as convenor of the Geraldton Oxfam Fundraising Group and for the last few years we have been hosting an annual Walk Against Want. A small group of us put up promotional posters, send out press releases, arrange some donated food, then on the day cook up a sausage sizzle and hand out some fruit whilst a hundred or more people go for a 5-10km walk/run along the foreshore and donate money to a really worthwhile cause. We run the event on a Sunday, in collaboration with the Geraldton Harriers. This year's event will be the 14th April.

Another group I am involved in is our local Progress Association. Although I have held executive positions in the past, my current involvement is mostly environmental. Right now I'm concluding a $20,000 Coastcare project (for which we won an environment protection award) and managing a site at the upcoming Clean Up Australia event scheduled for this Sunday.

Both events occur on a Sunday morning. Sundays work for alot of people because there are usually less competing priorities, like work, shopping, kids' sporting activities. Less I said, but not no competing priorities. You got any idea how many people spend their Sundays fishing?

Now in the course of organising or advertising for these events I received some emails from people that informed me that church attendance was a competing priority on a Sunday morning. And I thought to myself: Well who would have known that? What a wacky idea! Going to church on a Sunday!!

Australia is a secular society. The predominant religion practised in this country, after consumerism, is Christianity, but there's alot of Australians who worship other religions, on other days of the week besides Sundays. I guess running an event on a Sunday morning discriminates against the devout Christians, but hey, they already get favoured with state sanctioned public holidays for their major religious festivals, where the other guys don't. Not that I'm knocking a day off work!

One helpful church worshipper suggested I change the time of the event to the middle of the day so it wouldn't clash with his prior commitments. Please refer back to my last post, where I rather unhumorously referred to our climate as Dante's inferno. The temperature usually hits 40 degrees by 10 am and stays there most of the day. Mad dogs and Englishmen indeed. I think not, my christian friend.

Which gets me back to why these people feel compelled to tell me that Christian worship is something that happens on a Sunday morning. And for one of our Christian schools to feel compelled not to promote a fundraising activity for a well respected charity if it occurs on a Sunday.

I mean it's not a new concept is it? Christians have been worshipping on Sundays for quite a while I believe. In fact I've even known Christians to worship on other days of the week as well! And is it really unchristian to fundraise on a Sunday?

What it smacks of is self righteous piety. Just because church worship is one group of people's priority doesn't make it any more, or less important. And it certainly doesn't make my activities unchristian. Or unworthy of promotion.

I don't believe in God. There's no place in my life for a man-made manufactured religion that uses human iconography to reflect meaning and spirituality. I find their ideas restrictive, I see no room in them for the wider inspiration to be gained from the wonders within our environment. The interconnectedness between us and other creatures and the spectacular physical landscapes of our world. And I find the exclusivity of the different beliefs hypocritical. When one looks at their underlying core values I fail to see where their differences lie.

But I do believe in human kindness to others, in connectedness, in looking after those less able, including the environment and all the creatures who don't have a voice. And respect, always respect.

So I respect that some people worship on Sundays, like I respect some people worship on Fridays and Saturdays too, and that their priority is to worship on those days and not come to my event. But I can't please everybody, and I don't see why religious worship is higher up the queue than fishing, or a kid's soccer game, or any other reason why someone can't attend my event. It's just one other competing priority.

Then I thought to myself, is this something new? Is there emerging a new generation of religious fervour in little old Geraldton? Is there a shift towards a more fundamentalist belief structure rather than mutual respect?

I dunno, but if you can't make it to my events because you have other priorities I'll understand. Just cut the piety OK?

(and if you didn't notice the shameless plugs for my events by clicking on the links above, then scroll on back up there and check em out! Only if you're in the neighbourhood like..)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

That time of year again

February is the pits. The moment the kids finish holidays and go back to school you know Huey has dialled in a heatwave to beat all heatwaves. We've only just forgotten our sweltering Xmas, we scorched ourselves in the sun on Oz day, and now it's time to get intimate with the air con dials. Because it's the only thing separating us from a pretty accurate earthly interpretation of hell!

You exaggerate, I hear you scoff. You've spent time in hot humid parts of the world and you've got by with staying in the shade, supping an icy drink, slipping in and out of  a nearby pool/ocean/river/waterfall, and been serenaded to sleep by a fan's gentle whirr. But this ain't the tropics love, this is Dante's inferno!

It's the temperature (really fucking hot!!) and the humidity (damn sticky) that combine to make life so bloody miserable at this time of year. Then add the secret ingredient: wind. Hot, dry wind at blistering speed assaulting us straight from the red centre.

Turn on your oven. Put the fan on. Then once it's heated up nicely, go stick your head in it. Imagine that's your whole body (fine, jump in the oven if you like!) and you get the idea. I am not joking!

Now imagine that is every day for 5 days in a row. Then a few days where the wind cools things down by blowing a gale from the south instead. Nice and salty, mmmmm....Then back to that fan forced feeling. And this lovely little pattern repeats itself ad infinitum for 3-4 months every year. No rain, never! It's this time of the year when I seriously wonder WTF I live here...

Eastern Australia gets heatwaves too. They get these horrible days when the temperature hits 40, there's a really nasty hot wind, and hey presto there's a big mother of a bushfire that burns hundreds and thousands of acres of land, destroys homes, kills people. It's incredibly tragic, these Ash Wednesdays, Black Saturdays, there's a myriad of them over the decades, when the fury of a fire takes no prisoners.

They've got fuel over there. Trees, undergrowth, stuff that burns when a match (bloody arsonists!) or lightning ignites it. They don't "fight" the fires, they just try and protect property and people, while the fire burns itself out. I take my hat off to those guys and girls, most of whom are vollies, for the incredible work they do.

We get fires here too, but they are rarely in the same epic scale as those horrific east coast fires. We get the heat and the winds, more often, more consistently, but we just don't get the fuel buildup. I mean plants need moisture to grow right?

I don't want to belittle the horror of the experiences of those poor people devastated by fire over east, but every time I hear on the news about another day over there when the temperature climbs into the high 30s I sneer. One or two days in a row, 2 or three times in a year? Oh come on, toughen up princess!

I've been a GP here for 12 years. I notice a huge spike in complaints about tiredness, fatigue, lethargy every February. I'm convinced it's the weather. We're all in survival mode, holed up in our air conditioned McMansions waiting for the sun to dip low before we venture out to play. It just wears everyone down.

The heat is usually extremely unkind to my garden in February. Normally, anything not dead by now gasps it's last breath and expires. But not this time! I'm happy to report that all my efforts have not been in vain and most of my plants are still thriving. The lettuce seedlings went to heaven, but the butternut pumpkin started fruiting again, and the asparagus has been sprouting new shoots like it's spring! And there are the cutest little watermelons coming on. Tomatos are ripening, new cucumber plants are sprouting, and the recently planted seedlings are racing along.

Photos next post, promise!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Holiday planning again

I didn't make it to Japan. As much as I wanted to go, returning to work in January didn't really offer me the opportunity to skive off on another quick trip within minutes of walking back in the door. Sure I could have gone back to work earlier, but I was having too much fun to want to do that!

So, Japan shall have to be put on the backburner till 2014. And I'll do a bit of planning, hit up all my ski and snowboard buddies about places to go, and try and make it a month long trip. I'd quite like to visit some of the authentic Japanese ski resorts rather than just the ones with a predominantly Western clientele. I've made a few Japanese friends during my NZ trips, so I hope I can catch up with them on their own mountains.

I committed to this year's trip to NZ back last year, when I purchased my super early bird season pass for Treble Cone. Once you ski TC more than 11 days in the season, it becomes the cheapest option. Then around the beginning of January I happened to be lurking on the Qantas website and spied such cheap airfares between Perth and Christchurch that I had no choice but to snap them up. Seriously, $464 return seems too good to be true. I checked the small print, it seems to be a genuine seat, the usual 23kg luggage allowance, no different to any other economy seat. I half expect to turn up for the flight and find I'm to be strapped to the wings!!

In my enthusiasm, I booked myself a 3 month holiday, so when I returned to work the first thing I did was put in a leave form! Pretty cheeky you may think, but I had discussed with both the previous and present CEO the impossibility of me managing to stay productive on 4 weeks' leave a year. So I take longer (unpaid) leave, manage my stress constructively, and we all are happier as a result. I'm grateful they understand, I guess if they didn't I'd just take the 500 odd hours of sick leave I've available!!

Next step is securing a house sitter. Last year I got house sitters at the last moment after some friends who were going to sit pulled out fairly late in the piece. After two previous experiences of housesitters I think I've learnt a few things. Like that young people with little money will take advantage of your generosity and will not respect the conditions you impose. That despite how nice they are, your expectations probably won't be met. I'd like to be able to say that I had no reservations about either of my previous sitters, but it's just not true. I don't believe my expectations are high, I leave written instructions and I trust them with my house, garden and dog, all of which are fairly low maintenance. Returning to a dirty house, unkempt gardens, and unexpected bills really doesn't cut it when they are getting rent free accommodation and use of my vehicle.

I'm hoping to secure an older couple to sit this year. The fact that they want to meet me, the house and Hazel beforehand makes me even more inclined to believe that they are going to be the right people this time around. But it's always a leap of faith to ask strangers to care for your property and pets.

So, in July I head off again to The Land of The Long White Cloud. I'm going to hire a car this time because I'm determined to do yet a little more sightseeing. I also don't intend to go to NZ next year, so this year I want to make it to the West Coast and its glaciers, to Milford Sound and Fiordland, and maybe even Dunedin and the Catlins. I also want to be a bit more adventurous in my ski options, which means hitting a few more ski fields than just Treble Cone.

Last year I conquered the fear that was holding me back from enjoying skiing, and on my way to Christchurch for my homeward flight I hit up a couple of other ski fields and spent my time mostly off piste in unfamiliar terrain. I figure I'm ready to push that envelope a bit further, and with July being school holidays for both NZ and Australia, the big commercial fields are likely to be pretty busy with long queues. No better time to hit the smaller club fields for some action.

Club fields are a bit of an institution on the South Island. Many of the commercial fields began as clubbies, where a group of locals regularly go to ski, progressively installing rope tows and on mountain accommodation, and improving the road access. Some club fields even have T-bars! But most just have rope tows, with access to alot of the terrain still requiring walking. But nobody minds!! Backcountry skiing is their great love and many club field skiers don't even ski the piste. If there is a piste!

Learning to ride a rope tow takes a little time. Some tows are faster than others and can be quite gnarly. And to use a rope tow you need a nutcracker. Sounds scary doesn't it?

A nutcracker is simply a metal object that you attach to a belt or harness and flip it over the rope cable and grip it. This then pulls you up the slope. Simple and effective, but just takes a little practice, like T-bars do. Here's a video from Broken River that gives you a bit of an idea about what to expect at a clubbie.

Now there's quite a few club fields in the South Island and a few years ago some enterprising chaps put together the Chill Pass, which allows punters like me to buy a season ticket or a multi day pass to a selection of these fields. I'm tossing up between a midweek season pass or a 10 day multi pass, but either way, I'm hoping to experience an aspect of NZ skiing still completely foreign to me.

Now I just need a couple of mates to join me for the ride!!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The philosophy of travel

Why do we travel?

Why do some people have an almost insatiable wanderlust and others are content to never leave their home town ever?

I can't answer either of those questions with any authority, but I can pose some ideas based on my own experiences.

I believe most people look for meaning in their lives. Some people find it where they live, whilst others need to look further afield. Many are still searching...

What sort of meaning? Well I think that depends a bit on your age and maturity at the time. Young people travelling in their late teens and early twenties are still finding themselves, still seeking their own individual identity, and where they fit. Older people may be seeking spiritual enlightenment, or an exploration of options before settling down to a mortgage career and kids. The elderly or retired are seeking validation of their lives, and perhaps catching up on hopes and dreams that they failed to fulfil when younger.

What I'm saying is, travel isn't about where you go, it's about what you learn along the way. "It's not the destination but the journey" cliche. But that slightly misses the point, because it's the internal journey that's the crux. It's what you learn about yourself, it's how travel informs your views, attitudes and behaviour, it's how exposure to different cultures, food, environments, languages impacts on your previous experiences up till then. Whether it changes your views, or reinforces your views, travel forces you outside your comfort zone and has a profound effect on you, whether you realise it or not.

A few years ago I met a Mingenew farmer in his fourties who had never travelled outside the midwest region. He'd never been to Perth and had not yet discovered the power of the internet to make anyone an "expert". He was genuinely amazed that I knew so much about lots of different things and had opinions on such a wide variety of topics, and wanted to know how I had gained that knowledge. He wasn't stupid, he'd just never thought to explore outside his rather narrow world.

It is incredibly easy these days to become a virtual traveller. Virtual tours are a dime a dozen on travel websites. In my insatiable troll through the interwebs seeking information about destinations I wish to visit I have even found entire sites written by people who have never left home but have become virtual experts on places they've never been to. It's all very well to share your research, but when you become the self appointed expert about a place you've never visited, and begin arguing about factual content with people who have.....

I might just clarify that "travel" in my definition of it, is travel for leisure. Not forced by circumstance to live an itinerant lifestyle, but a personal choice, made by millions of people with enough disposable income to take this option. Quite a few billion more don't have that option, and will never have that option, and all travellers would do well to remember that the ability to travel for pleasure is a privilege bestowed on only a few. Particularly when they are condescendingly explaining to the shop keeper in rural Laos that they are a "poor" backpacker with little money. Perspective please!

So why do I travel? Why do I leave my cosy little beach house and garden in the hands of a house sitter and go see the world?

Curiosity. Spiritual enlightenment. A need to embrace humanity in all its forms.

It's all very well living here in this nice house by the beach but I frequently feel stifled. By the small mindedness of my fellow Australians both locally and nationally, from the utter crap that comes out of the mouths of our politicians, on both sides of the fence. I believe that I'm bigger than that, that I can embrace people's differences because most of the time I see that despite an alternative religious belief, or cultural practice, there are so many more areas of commonality between us. Travel, for me, reinforces that belief in spades. The hospitality I receive, the conversations with people about their hopes and dreams for themselves and their children, the good times and bad times we share, continue to shape my belief that no matter where you were born, no matter what language you speak, no matter what food you eat and what god you worship, I can still find so much common ground. And I embrace that.

Spiritual enlightenment for me isn't about following a prescriptive religious belief. I get that enlightenment from experiencing generosity of human spirit, the incredible aura of a magnificent natural landscape, and believing in the goodness of fellow human beings. When I am overwhelmed by the pettiness at home I need to travel, to rid myself of the poison of self importance, nationalism, and "we're better than you" type attitudes. And to see some awesome sunrise from the top of some mountain somewhere!!

I am curious. I crave learning. I really do believe that if I haven't learnt something new today then it wasn't a good day. Which is kind of why I have that head full of knowledge that the Mingenew farmer was so enamoured with. And why I'm a bit of a know it all. I can't help it that my heads kind of full of stuff and you ask some silly question that I actually happen to know the answer to. Mind you, my curiosity about the antics of so called celebrities is completely lacking, in fact the only time I expose myself to that pap is when I get my hair done. And mostly I have no idea who I'm reading about and why they are famous. Seriously, I only found out about the Kardashians from a magazine, apparently they are big on TV, for boobs or bums or something, nothing of any importance. No, I don't want to know!

I love to learn new languages, to explore artisan crafts, especially textiles, to learn about how other people live their lives. I'm the traveller who jumps on the local bus so I can experience what it's like for a local, who sits next to a local woman and tries to strike up a conversation, who jumps into the rice field to experience the back breaking work of harvesting and threshing rice by hand, and feet! Who wanders around markets looking at the produce, asks about the local specialties. Asks where the genuine cuisine can be found, because until you eat their food, you never understand their culture. I'll travel 2 days down a dead end road just to see some world class weavers and if given an invitation to come back to the village will take it, and will sleep on the floor, use a non existent toilet, and not wash for a few days if that's what everyone else does. No, I'm not better than them, for they are generous spirited, they are curious, and they have dreams not dissimilar to my own.

Why do you travel?