The Struggle for Little Mountain: Why You Should Help!

The struggle for Little Mountain…and my memories of Little Norway

I spent some of my early years in emergency housing in Little Norway in Toronto (right next to the Maple Leaf Stadium). Toronto was experiencing a massive post-war housing shortage and an Emergency Housing Program was implemented, making housing available to returning veterans. It made  a powerful impression on me. I remember it well, though I was only three years old when we moved in and five when we left. We lived in barracks that had been occupied during the War by personnel from the Norwegian Air Force. The site was at the front of Bathurst Street near the Lake. Some of the Stanley Barracks buildings were demolished and others converted to family housing for civilian use. Several families were living there by July 1946, when this photo of me was taken.


By August 1947, 772 people were living there, with many families with children. Lots of children! Some residents complained about unsanitary living conditions and lack of sufficient heating. Rents were $25 to $40 a month! (We paid $25.)



I remember that my mother was ashamed and fearful. Little Norway, she felt, was beneath her. She came from an upper-middle-class established family in leafy, sedate Orillia. Even a small child could sense that her mother felt she was slipping into a lower class. She wondered how and why she’d ended up in such a desperate and barren place. Her son had died at birth the year before and she was fragile and anxious. I now realise that she was chronically depressed.

My Daddy had just returned from the War. He’d been a RCAF wireless operator. He was not ashamed. He accepted his responsibility for military service (he was much too old to be drafted and had enlisted). Little Norway was, by his account, the only housing he could find during an acute city-wide housing shortage. We were eligible and he took it.

 

Camp Little Norway 1940

Camp Little Norway 1940, as a Norwegian Air base

Polio

I remember living in constant terror of polio. The young boy in the next apartment had it and he was crippled by it. I had to keep my distance from him. The hygiene of the shared bathrooms that were only occasionally cleaned also frightened my mother. She was often frightened and anxious for my health and safety. Our stay at Little Norway was short — not more than two years. And in just over three years, I had a baby sister and we were living in a brand new house in Vancouver!

 

 

 

 

 

Little Norway Housing for Returned Servicemen and their Families, 1946

Little Norway Emergency Housing, 1945

Little Norway Park

Little Norway housing is no more.

 

There’s a waterfront park where our housing once stood. See: https://www.yelp.com.au/biz/little-norway-park-toronto




It does not feel right to me to find a park there when I visit in 2006 but I guess it’s progress. And cities always need parks. They were barracks, after all, not really permanent housing for families. But to me, as a small child, it was “home”.


I remember picking mushrooms in the neighbouring Coronation Park with my grandmother and marveling at how she could discern between an edible mushroom and a toadstool.



Little Norway was fine with me and I was fine with Little Norway. To me, it was big, not little. It had a big impact on my life.

 

Young Wendy in Little Norway ca. 1945

Young Wendy in Coronation Park near Little Norway, summer 1946

 

 

 

 



I am certain that this early exposure to the fear and stigma of housing for disadvantaged people made a profound impact on me and sensitised me to important social housing issues.

 

Here are some of my drawings, based on my memories (and one photo).

 

Little Norway from memory
Little Norway from memory

Little Norway site plan from memory

Little Norway site plan from memory





From Little Norway to Little Mountain


You can see that it’s not surprising that I’m a strong supporter of Vancouver  documentary filmmaker, David Vaisbord, who is giving everything he has to tell the compelling story of the Little Mountain

housing project in Vancouver.


 Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign

 

David Vaisbord has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help complete a documentary that has been six years in the making.

See:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/little-mountain-film/x/3510216

 

David’s story is a poignant one. Little Mountain is not a little story either. It’s a huge story and one we all need to know about. Understand. And share.

 

Had I been living in Toronto when Little Norway housing was bulldozed to make way for private housing and a public park, I’d have been seeking a heart-present filmmaker like David to help with the activist project of saving — or at least documenting — this precious gem of Toronto’s history.

 

Maybe more than just documentation could have been the outcome. As is the case with Little Mountain.

 

David Vaisbord’s project

 

David’s project has resulted in much more than documentation. That’s the magic of it.

 

David’s story of Little Mountain goes like this.    When the British Columbia government began tearing down the buildings at Vancouver’s oldest social housing complex, they had evicted everyone except three families, which refused to leave: a woman and her aged mother, two blind senior citizens, and a pensioner and her cat.  Together with the immense support of their community, the residents won the right to stay in the last row house on Little Mountain until new housing was built.


Summer time at Little Mountain

Summer time at Little Mountain

Mother and child on the grass, Little Mountain

Mother and child on the grass, Little Mountain

 

 

The action by the residents of Little Mountain and the community had a powerful impact that resonates today around the work.    Their activism – supported by the documentary filmmaker —  resulted in changes to Vancouver’s municipal bylaws.  


Finally, when the British Columbia Government tried a second time to evict the last tenants, the residents and their supporters staged an even stronger fight. And, with the help of their community, they brought a final defeat to the eviction process.

 

 

 

A sunny day at Little Mountain

A sunny day at Little Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


New housing

As a direct result of their courage and resolve, 54 units of NEW SOCIAL HOUSING for senior citizens are being completed on the site.

It’s the only new housing to be built on the 16-acre site.  It’s a triumph of community activism and it’s a story that needs to be told around the world.

 

We all need to hear about examples of “the study of success”, as Australian urbanist High Stretton called it, to keep our activist fires alight.

 

Vaisbord’s documentary will be complete once the former tenants move out of the last row house and into their new building.

 

I am eager to support this important project because there’s an inspiring and compelling story to be told about how a government was taught an important lesson about ethics and compassion at the hands of its most vulnerable citizens.

 

David Vaisbord is hoping to raise $50,000.

 

The money will go towards shooting final scenes, interviews, editing, and post-production.

 

David is offering perks that range from a precious ounce of Ground Social Housing, to a day-long workshop in hyperlocal documentary filmmaking, to an invitation to a personal dinner prior to the film’s premiere.

 

Are you able to support his important project? If you are, please visit his site before June 23rd, the closing date of the campaign!

 

For more information

See: The Little Mountain Film:    https://www.littlemountainfilm.com/  for more information and a link to the four-minute trailer on the campaign site.

 

Additional information can be  found on the campaign’s Facebook site at:  https://www.facebook.com/LittleMountainFilm

 

Contact David directly

Or contact David directly at his gmail account:  vaisbord@gmail.com

 

David Vaisbord in front of the last building

David Vaisbord in front of the last building




With all my heart I believe that this is a project worth supporting.

 

All of us who value public housing — and housing security generally — should cheer on this brilliant community-led initiative. And support David’s important documentary film.



Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade

 

It’s been ten days since the text arrived announcing the suspension of Metgasco’s license to drill for oil at Bentley.

 

Only ten days — and life has changed dramatically for many of us.

 

I search for a word for this new feeling and find an old one:

 

Embolden: “To give someone the courage or confidence to do something.”


What really happened at Bentley?

 

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I did not camp there and visited on only a few occasions, so I can’t say for sure.

 

What I do sense is the aftermath–the spin-offs, the unintended effects.

 

At the final Bentley dawn service on Tuesday 20th May, Ruth Rosenhek begged several hundred cheering Protectors and supporters to go gently after the close of the Bentley Blockade, to keep up the warm hugs and looking into people’s eyes when she’d meet them in the street in Lismore.

 

Everyone was nodding agreement. We must not let this fade; we must keep this connection.

 

See:

https://freefall23.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/go-forth-gently-the-aftermath-of-bentley/


Most local people I speak with confess to having had a good long cry after the victory. I certainly did.

 

Some are in a shocked and fragile state.

 

Most are simply astonished.

 

And even those known as being “the voice of reason” admit the need to celebrate such a magnificent triumph.

 

Whatever happens next — here and elsewhere – the Bentley Blockade was a massive victory that Australia will never forget.

 

The ham-fisted tactics of a cowboy mining operation have brought forth the most sophisticated social action this country has seen in decades.

 

Metgasco has done us all a great favour.

 

We are emboldened. Our courage and confidence have been strengthened.

 

The Bentley Blockade is a powerful symbol for those who believe in freedom. Everything about the operation communicated care, love and concern.

 

What could be more heart-warming than the Camp’s beautifully tended vegetable garden?

The Bentley Vegetable Garden
The Bentley Blockade Vegetable Garden

 



“We who believe in freedom cannot rest”

 

When I was younger, I listened to Holly Near and Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Ella’s Song:

 

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

 

So many people – and so many older people – putting their lives on hold to camp in harsh conditions powerfully affected the rest of us. We cannot rest now.

 

All of my communications with local people begin and end with Bentley. “Go, Bentley” is a salute to all who showed they cared.

 

Consecration

 

I remember — in 1992 — when I discovered that I was consecrated in the service of the Earth.

 

See: Wendy Sarkissian Consecration story 2012

 

My heart softened and opened. I ached with love. I’d wake to the shock that I loved the Earth. My heart vibrated with the power of that knowledge.

 

It’s that way now with Bentley. Waking with a yearning heart, soft and open.

 

I yearn to return and place bouquets at the Bentley gates.

 

In gratitude to the Protectors who gave us so much more than social action.

 

I bless them – all of them, that motley crew – for renewing my courage and confidence.

 

Emboldened, I turn my face to the morning sun.

 

I believe in freedom.

 

I cannot rest.

 

I am ready for more.


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Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade



 

Metgasco’s “Community Consultative”: a Moment of Hilarity for the Bentley Blockade

I am old enough to have studied Latin in high school. It helps make me a good speller.

 

A moment of hilarity

 

And today, Latin provided a moment of hilarity in battle to bring Metgasco to see reason about gas mining in the Northern Rivers.

 

The goss now is that Metgasco is encouraging its shareholders to write to the Minister Anthony Roberts and the Office of Coal Seam Gas and say – wait for it – that the community consultation they undertook for the Bentley tight sands gas site was excellent.

 

I gagged when I heard it.

 

So I thought I’d better have a look online at Metgasco’s community consultation policies – to give me something to assess them by.

 

Well, that’s where the Latin came in!

 

Here is the website at 10:35 am on Thursday 22 May 2014. For posterity.

 

Metgasco website Thursday 22 May 2014 at 10:35 am

Metgasco website Thursday 22 May 2014 at 10:35 am

 

 

 



I can easily imagine the desperate in-house conversation in the Metgasco office, which would have gone something like this:

 



Fred, we gotta get some sort of consultation policy online while we’re negotiating with the Minster and the Office of Coal Seam Gas.

You know that stuff. It’s easy to write. Just a few bullet points. Any sort of placeholder will do, Fred.

Just get something up and get it up quickly and make sure it’s got all the usual buzzwords in it. Got that, Fred?

 

And Fred (or Freda), bless their heart, did not realise that on a website and a blog you have an option to go public. (Or stay private.)

 

Metgasco is public with their ungrammatical “Community Consultative” Latin page.

 

Here’s what is says in Latin.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Community Consultative

Sed odio nisi, lacinia eu interdum in, varius sit amet arcu? Maecenas aliquam sapien in ipsum dapibus bibendum. Quisque ac justo nunc. Quisque vulputate sem vel est adipiscing pharetra! Praesent interdum magna in quam dapibus sit amet ornare augue euismod.

Suspendisse facilisis condimentum lacus eu suscipit. Pellentesque eu enim lorem, vehicula iaculis nibh.

Quisque egestas leo a purus feugiat et mattis augue mattis. Nullam sagittis tempus enim ut laoreet.

Nulla mollis, est vel accumsan dictum, ante tortor ultricies enim, eu fermentum purus est at augue. Praesent scelerisque erat vel ante tempus tempor. Nunc imperdiet auctor eros nec mattis.Phasellus interdum varius tellus id bibendum. Mauris elementum mauris auctor magna venenatis vitae luctus libero imperdiet.

Nam euismod, arcu a accumsan malesuada, sem mauris vestibulum libero, sed rutrum mi eros vel augue.

Duis scelerisque, massa eu mattis dapibus, mi nisi elementum lorem, quis hendrerit justo nisl sit amet augue. Maecenas congue varius justo, et placerat est auctor ut. Curabitur pharetra justo non magna ullamcorper fermentum. Praesent imperdiet aliquet erat sed molestie. Maecenas orci justo, pellentesque id tempor ut, facilisis a ligula.

 

And here’s what an on-line translation yielded. My favourite line is this:

 

I’m a great quiver just, do not worry yeast.

 ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Translation:

 

But the hatred unless, on the fringe of EU is at times in the is various cancer cells? Learn some Tips for the same protein drink. Each and just now. Korea’s beef, whether the scenario is immigration processing! So sometimes it’s the tips on how to decorate the likelihood of protein is an important investment.

 

Americans spent to improve the park fun and exciting. Technology that your kids for their vehicle, the vehicles targeted options.

 

Anyone want a lot of research and a lot of travel attitude. Here’s arrows, for the time is to be proud of.

 

No soft or scientific sense, window glass for computer troubleshooting is free at the company. It’s a crime, either at the time. Now the financing of the United States or mattis. Phasellus sometimes variable region this dynamic. Important source of data elements to create the magic of free software financing.

 

For more, player-oriented styling, a lot of drugs manufacturing department, but to help my team or organization.

 

It’s chocolate, the mass of the football a lot of protein, my dear, unless the element of the Internet, which of the players Bureau to the righteous, It’s OK. Developers across the various equity and real estate is the seller. I’m a great quiver just, do not worry yeast. It’s modern, but it was effective employee. It’s the United States, the just, the kids that time had been when, easy of a bonus.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

If this is what Metgasco want us to read about their community consultation policy, that’s fine with me because it accords perfectly with that we’ve experienced in this region. That it’s incomprehensible.

 

I live only 40 kilometres from the proposed Bentley gas well.

 

I am here, on my half-acre property — just up the road. Waiting.

 

Nobody knocked on my door, nobody rang, emailed or asked my opinion in any form.

 

And I get lots of mail and the local post office is very reliable.

 

I get lots of phone calls and emails.

 

All my communication systems are working fine. Metgasco: the problem of non-communication must be at your end.

Or:

 

  • Am I not a “stakeholder?”

  • Not living close enough?

  • Not likely to be affected?

  • Not seeking influence?

  • Not caring about my health and that of my community?

  • Not one of the “usual suspects”?

 

Until this morning, I thought Metgasco’s community consultation policy did not exist.

 

Now I know it does exist.

 

But it’s in Latin.

 

I think I’ll keep my gate locked, just in case.

 

While I wait for the English version of Metgasco’s “Community Consultative”, whatever that is….

 

And while I wait for the phone to ring.


UPDATE 5:14 pm May 22nd:

Fred or Freda are on the job at Metgasco.

 

A neighbour emails that “Community Consultative” (in Latin) has been removed from the Metgasco website.

 

In its place, a long, self justifying letter from the Chair about how great the community consultation has been and how it’s

even better than the State Government’s community consultation. Eek!

 

I searched for the Metgasco Community Relations Policy while I was at it. It’s half a page of bullet points!

 

These folks need help!

 

Meanwhile, the rest of us must go gently.

 

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The Sun also Rises

 

 

The sun also arises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to its place where it arose.

It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

 

I’m not much for reading the Bible but I love the odd aphorism. And lately, Ecclesiastes’ “the sun also rises” and Psalm 19 have been ringing in my head.


So I thought I’d better unpack what it meant to me.


Recently, the Beloved and I sold our rural property.


What? I hear you gasp? After all these years of struggle as owner builders?


Yes, that’s true. After all those years of struggle. Being a niche, green, feminist, left-wing, activist consultant was a difficult balancing act – especially throughout the Global Financial Crisis.


I blogged about that in January 2014:


https://www.sarkissian.com.au/activism-planning-australia-delicate-balancing-act/


Work was hard to find and debts mounted as the house was still not finished. All our savings and super went into the building project.

 


We love it. But professional work did not come as expected.


A loving friend has bought the house and we stay on as renters.


Now we are engaged in another project: renovating the shed as a secondary dwelling. Living on a building site again. Muddy boots in the hall. Again.



Many friends and family were aghast to hear that we’d sold the farm.


But what else could we do? It was either a loving friend or the bank. And we did not want to lose everything we had worked for.

 


So I say back to my incredulous friends, “The sun also rises.”

 


What I mean is – through the same trees  – with the same birds singing – the same sun still rises and sets– whether your name is on the title or not.

 


If you do not own a property and are a renter, the same breeze blows, the same kookaburra arrives for a peek at life around dinner time. His or her same family members laugh in unison from the neighbouring tree. The same rainbow lorikeet dreams in the same bottle brush.

 

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The same joey suckles with his same wallaby mother.


I am not saying that housing security is not important. It’s everything to everyone and a constant worry to anyone who is a renter. It’s everything to us, which is why we bless our generous friend.


I am simply saying that life goes on.


The Earth continues to flourish – offering hope and opportunity in response to our caring (Go, Bentley!).


The same sun rises and sets.


Our human dramas are but a small and ephemeral part of a much larger world.


We come and go and the Earth remains.


Capitalism, finance, banks, mortgages, investments, interest, valuations and property – they are all made up – and they can’t hold a candle to the same sun.


The same sun that also rises.

 

sunset nimbin

 

 

 

 



Update 23 July 2015: The sun is still rising over the hills and melting the fog in the valley.   And we have experienced even more love and care with a new friend taking over when the old friend could not continue.

 

And other generous folk helping out in numerous ways. We have learned more about generosity, caring, home, attachment, territory, resilience and fear than we bargained for.

 

And a bit about betrayal along the way, as well, just to keep the mix interesting!

 

 

 

The Bentley Blockade: from Cassandra, disbelieved prophetess

In mid-2011, a speaker’s agent rang me to say he had an invitation for a good speaking engagement.

 

“It’s with APPEA,” he said, “And you can talk about community engagement.”

 

APPEA. Hmmm. I rang off and logged on.

 

APPEA: Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is the peak national body representing Australia’s oil and gas exploration and production industry. They call themselves “the voice of Australia’s oil and gas industry”.

 

See: https://www.appea.com.au/about-appea/

 

 

“Do you know who they are?” I exclaimed an hour later.

 

“No, but they pay well” was his response.

 

“They`re the peak industry body for the coal seam gas industry,” I moaned. “How can I speak to them?”

 

“I’ll leave that up to you,” was his reply.

 

In the end, I made the speech. I sought advice from politicians, academics environmentalists and activists far and wide, sharing part of my fee.

 

I spoke to APPEA’s Environmental conference in November 2011 in Coolum, Queensland. To a marquee full of young miners. I told them what I could see coming if they persisted with their plans to mine for gas in the Northern Rivers.

 

Most stared at me as though I’d come from Mars. The young ones shrugged it off”¦ But the older ones – men my age – they listened and asked lots of questions.


111109 APPEA Environment Conference, Coolum.



Not surprisingly, once I’d given them a serve, they did not ask me to speak to another APPEA conference.

 

My observations


Now, looking back, I feel like poor Cassandra. Doomed to see the future but not to be believed.

 

My observations in my speech amounted to something like this: If you continue the way you’re going (like bully-boy cowboys), your approaches will not lead to successful outcomes. Your reductionist and coarse utilitarianism will be seen for what it is: ethically and politically suspect. There will be strong suspicions of corruption.

 

Ten stages

 I can imagine what will happen. It will happen in ten stages.

 

Stage 1

 

The young companies, acting like cowboys, standover merchants and bully-boys (the Wild West) will take over from the regulation-oriented companies that are trying to do things properly. Eclipsed will be the wise, older and more experienced operators who know how to consult and build and maintain trust.

 

Stage 2

 

Local politicians and activists will try to uncover what’s really happening.

Meetings will be held and approaches made to local politicians. There will be press coverage, especially letters to the editor.

 

Stage 3

 

As things hot up, there will be an increase in anxiety and conspiracy theories.

Local action will intensify: committees, petitions, letters to the editor and politicians, more meetings, plans for non-violent direct action”¦ Neighbours will be pitted against neighbours in a climate of fear and intimidation. Press coverage fans the flames in an atmosphere of fear, confusion, distrust and anger, fuelled by `cowboy’ tactics, especially secrecy and bullying.

 

Stage 4

 

A neighbour opens his or her gate. He’s short of cash, can’t pay his rates, his rego is due … whatever”¦ He signs an agreement. There will be trucks, equipment, activity, noise, lights”¦ Drilling begins (or will soon).

 

 

Stage 5

 

People are galvanized into action. Activist campaigns are extended and strengthened. New organisations form, with signs, websites, social media”¦

 

Stage 6

 

Citizens engage in direct action.

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Stage 7

 

The industry (acting like Grabbit and Runn Pty Ltd) follows the Canadian example and begins a massive public relations campaign: We Love CSG. Locals are left with David and Goliath comparisons. Local politicians and activists organise but feel lied to, kept in the dark, intimidated and steamrolled.

 

Ordinary people feel they have no voice. “The big end of town is against us. We are treated like ignorant country hicks.”

 

Stage 8

 

New alliances form. Activists and politicians form (often previously unheard-of) alliances. Politicians, farmers, hippies, experienced activists, young people, environmentalists, townsfolk”¦ old and young, city and country, Left and Right, rich and poor”¦ I told them about the warnings of Dr Wayne Somerville, a consulting psychologist in Lismore: Now another storm of upheaval and protest is brewing. And Australia might be in for an even more terrible time than the Vietnam War.

 

Stage 9

 

The press has a field day. Politicians and activists now capture media interest. Bad news overwhelms the industry’s “good news” stories. This is not good for the oil and gas business.

 

Stage 10

 

Finally, I told them, your industry is on the back foot. Now science is argued in public. The industry has no control over the quality or accuracy of information. Nobody loves the miners except those who opened their gates. Many of their neighbours are now not speaking to them. The industry’s media campaigns backfire.

 

That’s what I suggested. It did not turn out that way – exactly – but a lot of it is similar to what has occurred at Bentley.

 

I told the miners:

 

“The economic forces you understand well “¦ and manipulate well “¦will work to your advantage. But not totally and not forever. And If you don’t find a way to engage with communities — an authentic way that’s going to work – you will have a community that engages with you.”

 

And you will have the biggest protest that Australia has ever seen.”

 

At the end of my 2011 talk, I asked a rhetorical question: “How will this end?”

 

My reply: “In tears. This will make Terania Creek look tiny.”

 

I looked out at my audience. Blank, young, confident faces everywhere.

 

I gasped: “Does anyone know what happened at Terania Creek?”

 

Nada.

 

Then the Chair of my session, also the Chairman of the organisation (and close to my age), spoke up.

 

Wendy-APPEA-CONF-2011-4970_

“I remember,” he said.

 

He remembered the non-violent direct action at Terania Creek. Premier Neville Wran called it his proudest moment when he banned rainforest logging in NSW. He only wished he’d done it earlier.

 

What’s needed?

 

What’s needed, I said, was a good engagement process. It has three criteria: representativeness, influence and community education. I explained how to do it. Simple rules that required authenticity, honesty, accountability and transparency. Above all, I warned them, “avoid conflicts that involve the police.”

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                          * * *

 

I think we’ve all seen what an appalling community engagement process looks like.

 

For me, I wish I’d been wrong. I feel like Cassandra: the prophetess who wasn’t believed.

 

Now we can see what communities can and will do. What resourcefulness and resilience look like.

 

What they sound like.

Believe me, Metgasco

 

Believe me, Metgasco, this is just the beginning. There is much more where this came from.

 

Best you start listening now.

 

And best you read your environmental history.

 

New South Wales — and especially the Northern Rivers (what on Earth were you thinking?) — are not for the taking.

 

Postscript 18 May: See this great article in the Green Left Weekly: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/56473

 

 

The Bentley Blockade: Weeping for the Earth

The text!

 

It would have looked better if I were digging out the composting toilet or planting organic veggies. But the truth is I was half-way into an egg and sausage McMuffin in Casino when the text came from Bentley.

 

I had to ring Yollana to make sure I had it right.

 

We’d won at Bentley.

 

Or at least, a major victory had occurred. (I’m too old for complete acceptance that “all is now well.” The Bentley Blockade had succeeded. Metgasco’s license was suspended and they were referred to ICAC.

 

But, you know, your body speaks its mind and in a second I was weeping.

 

I was weeping in Maccas in Casino.

 

It took me a while before I realised how much I love this country. How much I love this Earth. Since I migrated to Australia in 1968, I’ve had a few `falling-in-love-with-the-Earth” moments. Deep Ecology rituals specialise in helping that response emerge in reluctant humans.

 

Tall Tree Country

 

Nevertheless, having grown up

in “tall tree country” in Canada, I spent a long time coming to love this part of our Earth. It’s not what I was used to.

 

Tall Tree Country

Tall Tree Country

 

 

 

 

 



A year living alone in the bush at Humpty Doo helped a lot and generated a PhD thesis on caring for Nature: https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/289/

 

 

 

Humpty Doo 1992

Humpty Doo 1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




And fog in the valley in Nimbin can do it.

 

https://www.sarkissian.com.au/wendys-blog/posts-from-the-bush/fog-in-the-valley/

 

 


But this weeping in Maccas?

 

Something else altogether.

 

  • Weeping for gratitude to many protectors who braved discomfort and hardship to keep the vigil at Bentley for so many weeks.
  • Gratitude to the canny politicians and wise negotiators who kept seeking a political solution when many thought that was impossible.
  • Blessings on the parents who brought children to the dawn gatherings on the hill when warm beds beckoned.
  • Gratitude to a brave landowner who made his property available to the protectors.
  • Close friends of mine who put their lives on hold to give all they could.

 

Yollana had another insight into why I was weeping in Maccas.

Community consultation

 

All of the press reports – and the Bentley Alert text – identified inadequate community consultation as the key factor it the Government’s decision.

 

OMG!

 

Yollana writes me:

 

Facebook post by David Filipczyk“Ž, Lock the Gate Alliance Inc.

Let it be known and remembered loudly and clearly:

Bentley was won,
Not because a politician stepped in!
Not because of a loop hole in the law!
Not because a dirty industry found a conscience!

The official reason for the cancellation of the drilling license is:

Insufficient community consultation!

In other words,  
Bentley was won because the people stood up, protested and refused to back down!

 

Does anybody really care about that? Community engagement has been my life’s work. I’ve written eight books about it.

 

I often feel like a boring old fart. Banging on about community engagement.

 

Who cares?

 

Well — yesterday morning — someone cared about community consultation.

 

That’s

enough to keep me banging on for another 25 years.

 

Go Bentley!

 

 

 

Bentley CSG Blockade: Open Letter to Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Police

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Bentley CSG Blockade, NSW

https://northernriversguardians.org/?page_id=5240

5 May 2014

Open letter to the NSW Minister for Police, Brad Hazzard

 

Dear Minister:

 

I am a 71-year-old resident of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales and a Life Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia.


I hold a doctorate in

environmental ethics from the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University.

In recent years…

In recent years, when you were the

Minister for Planning, you had a number of occasions to hear me speak on the value of community engagement regarding planning decisions that affect people’s lives.

 

Now I am writing you about  unconventional gas mining and, specifically, the Metgasco proposal to mine at Bentley in Northern NSW.

 

Bentley is just down the road from where I live.

 

I observed when you were Minister for Planning that you often appeared reluctant to listen to the voices of ordinary people speaking out to protect their homes and neighbourhoods.

 

Now we are speaking out to preserve the living Earth and the lives of all species for generations to come.

 

Worried…

I am worried that you might use heavy-handed tactics as Police Minster. If you possibly had that intention, I seek to dissuade you.

 

A large group of conferenced residents – of all ages and political persuasions – is fighting to save the Northern Rivers from unconventional gas mining mining.

 

We are

fighting for our lives.

 

If you wish to be successful in your new position, I’d advise you to listen to the voices of the people of the Northern Rivers.

 

We know what we are talking about. We are not ratbags and we are certainly not taken over by factional interests. We are local grandmothers and grandfathers – and children and others – who simply want to protect the Earth.


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Now is the time, Minister, to distinguish yourself as the Police Minister who was willing to listen.

 

We are willing to listen levitra for cheap real as well.

 

Please do not shut the door on conversations with the activists at Bentley.

 

We must Shut the Gate to Metgasco but we are open to talking with you.

 

We are peaceful, loving, non-violent local people seeking a better life for all who live on Earth.

 



We are singing our hearts out on the hilltop at Bentley.

 

We are singing for our lives.

Ironically, we are also singing for your life.

 

 

Kind regards,

 

Dr Wendy Sarkissian

wendy@sarkissian.com.au

https://northernriversguardians.org/?page_id=5240

 

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Bentley CSG Blockade: You Can’t Just Take My Dreams Away

 

Nimbin, 28 April 2014

 

gate-c-in-the-rain-20414_lo

It was bucketing rain at dawn at the Bentley Blockade this morning. The blockade against unconventional gas mining. No guitars or drums because of the rain. There were lots of people there but not a lot were singing.

 

Then, magically, about 5 am, a woman with a strong, melodic voice began a song that only a few of the older women followed. I was among them.

 



It’s a song by my hero, Holly Near. One of my favourites: “Mountain Song”.

 

Mountain Song

I was delighted to hear Holly’s song in our blockade. Hers is a powerful voice for change. After 30 years of work in social change movements, Near’s historical perspective, as well as her contemporary activism, continue to challenge and inspire.  I last heard her perform a year ago in Berkeley. She made me cry.

 

This morning, the woman’s song resonated deeply within me as I stood on the hill and watched the darkness fade and a new day begin:

 

I have dreamed on this mountain
Since first I was my mother’s daughter
And you can’t just take my dreams away ­– not with me watching
You may drive a big machine
But I was born a great big woman
And

you can’t just take my dreams away ­– not with me fighting



This old mountain raised my many daughters

Some died young – some are still living
But if you come here to take our mountain
Well we ain’t come here to give it



I have dreamed on this mountain

Since first I was my mother’s daughter
And you can’t just take my dreams away ­– not with me watching
No you can’t just take my dreams away ­– without me fighting
No you can’t just take my dreams away

 

 

https://www.songlyrics.com/holly-near/mountain-song-lyrics/

 

 

My dreams

I have been visiting the Northern Rivers since the early 1980s and have lived in Nimbin since 2001. My husband and I shelter our dreams here and, truly, Metgasco, wherever you are and whoever you are, you may drive a big machine, but “you can’t just take my dreams away – not with me watching.”

 

With many of my neighbours, I am watching. I am bearing witness. Like many principled and concerned people in this region, I am on high alert.

 

This mountain is not for taking.

 

Metgasco, hear me! You have no social license to mine and destroy our land, our water, our health and the health of future generations of all species.

 

Not only are we watching, we’re also fighting. We’re fighting for our lives here in the Northern Rivers.

 

Please, neighbours, if you possibly can, join us. Join us now.

 

We need you now – before it’s too late.

 

bentley-dreams-280414_low

 





Before the big machines take our dreams away.




 

 

 

 

The Bentley CSG Blockade: Something Changes in Me

 First reflections on the Bentley CSG Blockade  
21 April 2014
 

 

 



A song has been going round in my head today, after greeting the dawn at the Bentley Blockade (https://northernriversguardians.org/).

This is a blockade to prevent Metgasco from drilling for unconventional gas in farmland near Bentley, NSW.

bentley demonstration

 

 



It’s Holly Near’s “Change of Heart”:

Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage
They may not know I’m watching, I may not let them know that
Something changes in me that will last me for a life time
To fill me when I’m empty, and rock me when I’m low


Something changes in me anytime there’s someone singing

All the songs I’ve never forgotten, let our voices sing them strong
Something changes in me anytime there’s someone standing
For the right to

be completely all the good things that we are

Chorus:


There’s a

change of heart
Anytime there’s someone counting
All the lives that won’t be thrown away”¦


Gathered in the glorious misty dawn around a campfire outside the Bentley property targeted for unconventional gas drilling, several hundred of us bent forward to hear the wise ones offer guidance about Non-Violent Direction Action (NVDA). Our hosts are the Northern Rivers Guardians.

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“Look into their eyes,” begged veteran activist and therapist, Ruth Rosenhek.


“We are here for peace, not violence.”

 

Ruth Rosenhek

Ruth Rosenhek



And then the role plays and practice began.


My mind flew away. No longer a mere 40 kms from home, I was transported across the Pacific to another time and place where environmental devastation was planned in the guise of “clean energy”. That time it was nuclear power.


As I leaned back in my chair, I remembered how my heart broke open the first time I encountered NVDA. It was early August, 1978. With Australian activist, Peter Hayes, I’d driven from Berkeley down the central California coast to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor in San Luis Obispo. For two days Peter facilitated and I observed the Abalone Alliance NVDA training. Like a dance.

 

The police, we were told, would receive the same training.


Those who agreed to climb the fence and enter the reactor property received special attention, guidance and counselling. They role-played the experience of going over the fence: playing themselves, the police, and the reactor personnel. They simulated getting arrested, going to jail. They spoke softly about how it would feel – how to handle yourself. Importantly, how to be peaceful when threatened.



Abalone Alliance NVDA training, 1978
Abalone Alliance NVDA training, 1978


I’d never seen anything like it!

The rest of us – camped on the beach beside the nyclear reactor – would bear high witness to their actions. We’d stay on the beach and support those who chose to go over the fence.

Observing the training, I learned a lot about NVDA and the Abalone Alliance, established the previous year and operating until 1985. It was a nonviolent civil disobedience group formed to shut down the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PGE)  (known fondly Pigs, Goats and Elephants) Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Amazingly, it was sited on an earthquake fault. They modelled their affinity group-based organisational structure after the Clamshell Alliance, then protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in coastal New Hampshire.


The group’s name, “Abalone Alliance”, honoured tens of thousands of wild California Red Abalone killed in 1974 in Diablo Cove when the Plant’s plumbing had its first hot flush.


This was their second blockade. The really big

one, with over 20,000 participants, was

the following year. But I was elsewhere that August — running a feminist summer school in Colorado.

They were busy, activist times.

Stop Diablo Canyon poster



For me, at 35, the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor blockade was a life-changing experience. Over 5,000 people gathered on the sun-drenched beach on a weekend summer day. It was California in the seventies but there was an air of anticipation and anxiety among the otherwise festive participants.



diablo canyon proxemics2_crop

 

 




 

I remembered the instruction: “Look into others’ eyes”.


I photographed these two women as they prepared to go over the fence. They’d been trained to look into others’ eyes but when they did so – with each other –and when they embraced – I felt my heartstrings tug.


I was photographing courage.


diablo canyon trust proxemics firstcrop_2 copy


Embracing

Embracing



Holly Near

My heroine in those days – and still today – is American feminist and activist singer-songwriter, Holly Near. About the time we were assembling on the beach, she was writing “Change of Heart”:

Something changes in me when I witness someone’s courage”¦


My dawn visit today to the Bentley Blockade did not change

my heart. Not exactly.


It reminded my heart.


It reminded me what courage feels like.


It feels like the Bentley Blockade against unconventional gas mining.

 

It looks like my neighbours.


And it tastes like hope.


Postscript: As we prepare for another

week protecting the Northern Rivers at the #BentleyBlockade, have a look at what happened there on Anzac Day in this moving new short film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjT8ka5Ekzk

 

The Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/CsgFreeNorthernRivers

 

Gone to God

Jolted awake by the phone at 4am in my friend’s house in Berkeley, I knew. My father was dead. In Canada: thousands of miles away. My good parent: dead at 69. I was 37. Back in Australia, I grieved alone for months.

 

My loving, distressed husband finally announced, “I’m worried, Wendy. This grief has been going on for too long. You need help.”

 

My good parent: dead at 69.

 

This week the phone rings in Australia. My sister – at a more convenient hour. Our bad parent has died – in her hundredth year. In Vancouver. Thousands of miles away.

 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” a dozen emails respond. I wince at the banal language. My friends! Surely, they can do better than that! Hallmark Cards ads used to trumpet: “When you care enough to send the very best.”

 

Not their best language, that’s for sure. But it’s Christmas – and I forgive them. And they’re tongue-tied, poor souls. What to say? What to say about the death of a bad parent?

 

Decades of demonisation

Only a wise spiritual teacher finds accurate words. Reflecting on our work together 25 years ago, he emails: “The event of your Mother’s death after what seems like decades of demonisation must be profound.” Decades of demonisation. And he knew only a fragment, a glimpse. More decades to come.

 

No wonder my friends can’t find appropriate language. Word fail me.

 

Borderline Personality Disorder

 

It’s widely accepted that mental illness tears families apart. It ruins lives. Borderline Personality Disorder is a shocker, especially for children of the Borderline Mother (see https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201109/the-world-the-borderline-mother-and-her-children).

 

We spend our lifetimes gaining our freedom after living such a warped childhood. Smother-love alternates with sharp rejection. Narcissism. Histrionics. Depression. Humiliation.

 

Unspeakable abuse.

 

The whole shooting match! It can make you crazy.

 

Two bewildered, terrified young daughters adrift on a stormy sea. Alone with the madwoman.

 

Sisters, 1948

Sisters, 1948

Our motto: “No good deed will go unpunished.”

 

 

 

 

 

mother on front lawn



How am I coping?

 

Many wise friends counsel me at this time. Most live far away so I don’t find them standing at my front door holding casseroles covered with chequered napkins, as I’d imagined. Intently, compassionately, they inspect my face on Skype. How am I coping?

 

I ask: What should I do? It’s such a long trip. The middle of winter. Will I regret it if I don’t go? Will I regret it if I do?

 

They say: It’s a passage, a milestone, a transition. You need to mark it. It’s important. The beginning of your new life.

 

An hour on the phone with Andrew, blessed gift of a friend, settles it. He was my planning student thirty years ago. Wise beyond his years.

 

I’ll fly to Vancouver. A generous friend of forty years’ standing will pay.

 


Friends I’ve known for over sixty years will wrap their arms around me. Perhaps a tear will come then?

 

My sister and I will find ways to do what needs to be done. A delicate balancing act.

 

An appalling childhood has some bittersweet advantages. It makes you strong – if it doesn’t kill you. Seven decades of pain and grief melt into this: two wise, capable and resilient women have emerged from the crucible of living – and negotiating – with a severe mental illness.

 

Gone to God

 

“Gone to God,” my husband pronounces over the furry grey micro bat trapped in our shed, lying on its back, black eyes fixed on the ceiling. He wraps it in a tea towel, carries it gently outside and buries it in the front garden.

 

Gone to God.

 

Awake at 3 am, I sip my tea, tucked up like a sick child. The ceiling fan struggles in the humid night air. A kookaburra is waking in the tree by my window.

 

You’re with God now, Mary

 

“You’re with God now, Mary,” I whisper.

 

“You can rest. It’s all right, Mother, truly. You are fine now.”

 

“Trust me. You don’t have to worry any more, Mary.”

 

Breathe, Wendy.

 

We are fine now.

 

We don’t have to worry any more.