By: Cassie Duncan, co-founder of Sustainable Table
A couple of weeks ago I was invited by the School of Life to discuss the topic of drawing Wisdom from Nature, with none other than THE Jamie Durie. It was a massive honour and a thrill. The event coincided with the night Mr Trump was elected as President so the mood was a tad reflective as we all sought to make sense of our world. In the days since this event I have given much thought to what marks an influential moment in one’s life. Why do some situations and experiences stay with us for a lifetime whilst others are forgotten in a moment? How can three children grow up in the same family yet each pursue completely different life paths and careers? These are big, life-altering questions that may be tied up more in our DNA than any one life experience, however, I did find myself needing to dig a little deeper into why I think I care. Here goes...
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I started to care about the environment; instead it was the culmination of a few defining moments (I think).
I grew up in a single-parent household with an incredibly strong mother as my role model. She had a deep sense of social justice, which she instilled in my sister and me by example. She wasn’t particularly passionate about the environment or the outdoors, but she raised us to believe in everyone being given a fair go, and for me that ended up including our natural world.
Mum and I were travelling on the tram together one evening when I was about 10 years old, when an elderly homeless man approached us for money. Everyone lowered their heads at him or pretended they didn’t have any cash, but mum handed over $5, even though she was unemployed at the time and we didn’t have all that much. I was almost embarrassed, because as a young child I interpreted this act as doing something that no-one else on the tram was willing to do, which made us different.
When we hopped off I asked her why she gave him money when he’d likely go and buy alcohol with it and she said something along the lines of, “he’s an elderly man, who has fallen upon hard times. If buying alcohol is the only thing that brings him comfort, then so be it. I can’t change him, I can only make his night a little better.” It was a defining moment for me.
Another defining moment or moments came about because I used to spend every school holidays with my grandparents in country Victoria (Yarrawonga), and so by nature of this I spent a lot of time out in the bush, riding my bike, swimming, searching for mushrooms and visiting my best friend’s farm. These years turned out to be my happiest. I was free, I was outside, I was exploring and I wasn’t being judged for how much money we did or didn’t have.
Mum decided early on that she may not be able to give us much, but what she could give us was a good education, and with that we could make our own luck. She forfeited owning a house or having a car for sending my sister and I to Private Schools (some thought she was crazy, I still do a little, but that’s what she felt was best). Due to personal circumstances she never finished high school, which made education doubly important when raising her own children.
It was there, at this private school, that I spent a term away on a working farm when I was 15. We engaged in environmental studies, we helped with the animals and we visited a nearby logging site. There was a beautiful elderly man who took us on a tour of this logging site. He knew the land like the back of his hand and seemed deeply saddened by what we were witnessing, however, he urged us not to chain ourselves to trees, but instead to think about what we do in our day-to-day lives and how that feeds the problem out there in the bush. How can we use our minds, our intelligence, our education for good? Again, this stuck with me.
When I was 21, mum sadly lost her 8 month battle with cancer and I was left completely floored and completely lost. It took me a while to work out where this emptiness, beyond the grief, was coming from. Then one day it dawned on me that I was very much defined by the clear purpose of making mum proud. I studied politics because it was a personal passion of hers and I studied hard because I knew what she had sacrificed to afford me a great education. I also loved seeing the pride in her eyes when I succeeded at this.
When mum passed away I was forced to question what really made me happy. Up until that point my life had been inextricably linked to hers, so I’d never been inclined to question anything beyond that. I didn’t actually know who I was or what my purpose was without my mother. I needed to find what was going to fulfil me in the absence of implied expectations or making others happy. It kept coming back to better connecting with and preserving our planet, within the boundaries of my skills.
What I know for sure is that the way I choose to live my life has a direct impact on the environment. The only thing that makes sense to me at this point in time is to channel my passion into Sustainable Table – so that others may be encouraged to live a little better too. If we can marry what we know to be right with the jobs we seek out later in life, maybe, just maybe we will correct our wrongs and some balance between humankind and our natural world will be restored.