What Makes People Happy?

In the last week, I have read about two studies that delve into the subject of what makes people happy. The first study involved over thirty thousand participants and was conducted in Canada. It found that people living on streets with numerous trees (more than ten) felt better both mentally and physically than those who didn’t live under a canopy of green. The ‘tree people’ tended to live seven years longer and suffered less health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Another benefit of living on a tree-lined street was that it made one feel as though they had received a salary rise of up to twenty thousand dollars! In other words, you will feel rich when there are trees surrounding you that act like huge lungs absorbing not only the carbon dioxide and pollution humans create but all that negative energy that can intrude on one’s life.

I thought about my street in Myola, lined with immense eucalyptus trees. How I can walk, feeling protected and nurtured, under this shelter of shade on my short journey to Callala Beach. The word ‘eucalyptus’ comes from the combination of two Greek words, meaning well-covered. Surely, all this extra foliage must add years to the lives of my fellow Myolians. Seriously though, one reason why I moved to this area was because the community are a very content and cheerful bunch. Perhaps it has to do with all the trees that surround these towns.

Catherine Street, Myola

Catherine Street, Myola

The second study, conducted in Melbourne, reported that people who live in towns smaller than one thousand were significantly happier than those in big cities. The combined total of Callala beach and Myola is less than one thousand. Bingo! The reasons for this increased life satisfaction can be numerous. You will never come across a traffic light, and rarely will you see traffic congestion on your drive through Myola or Callala Beach. Crime in cities by far outweighs what you will find in these small towns. In small communities, people look out for one another. They stop, talk and listen. This sense of community is not very forthcoming in large cities.

I would like to add another ingredient to this recipe for happiness and that is living on the shores of Jervis Bay. Being able to walk the five kilometre stretch of Callala Beach every day enriches my life. Being able to take my dog on these walks makes it even better. In addition, pet owners are supposed to enjoy a greater sense of well-being.

Mali Jumping for Joy on Callala Beach

Mali Jumping for Joy on Callala Beach

The ‘Happiness Generator’ is on high at Callala Beach no matter what season of the year. Even if it’s a cold Winter’s afternoon, the tide is high and storms have turned the bay into a fierce creature that swells and surges towards the shores. When the frothing tongues of the sea come biting at your feet and you laugh racing towards the higher dunes to escape.

Storm

When on a Summer’s morning, your breath is taken away because you are forced to turn to the sound of a dolphin’s exhalation. And a pod swims past.

Resident Pod of Dolphins at Callala Beach

Resident Pod of Dolphins at Callala Beach

The exhilaration I feel when I step outside the front door and see a kangaroo on the lawn.

IMG_1962 (2)

Or if am walking down the street and find an echidna rummaging for ants.

Ernie the Echidna

Ernie the Echidna

In each of these moments, I feel such an extraordinary sense of delight. I feel like I belong to this place. I want to give back twofold what it gives to me. Big hugs to the trees, the nature and the other nine hundred and ninety nine residents in my small beach-side community. Together, we can feel so lucky. So privileged. So grateful. And of course, extremely happy!

Finding the Language of Flowers

Sometimes a book shifts something within and makes you look at the world differently. Other times, a cover lures you. As a writer, I choose novels I feel will be a worthy investment of my reading time. ‘The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart’ by Holly Ringland did more than that – I took that journey with Alice, learned the language of flowers and found my own.

This year, the winter solstice arrived and put an end to weeks of much needed rain, revealing the bluest sky that was full of possibility. I was a third of the way through Ringland’s novel, when, in the company of my four-legged girl and another dog I was minding, I decided to take my walk into the bush rather than along the beach. I felt like the child version of Alice in Ringland’s story who was enticed by the pathway that led through the bush to the river. As I walked, like Alice, the bush embraced me, and I needed to be nurtured.

IMG_2686

An Unlikely Pair: Mali (my girl) on left with Tiger

The earth had been washed clean leaving generous puddles that divided the tracks. Water, held in bowls of clay, would last the months ahead, ensuring the birds and marsupials flourish. Pools tinged aqua on their edges reflected the green foliage above.

I took the ‘Black Swamp’ track and came to where the path divides in three. I realised I had previously only ever gone left or right. On this day, I went straight ahead, towards the area that had been razed by  fire nearly two years ago. The landscape changed from the sandy forests where great silver gums pointed to a previous time. Wide-girthed eucalyptus trees revealed their age. Heavy branches of one, supported in the bough of another, creaked like the rusty hinges of a door… uncertain of allowing me access. I climbed a gentle slope and realised one particular eucalypt was scarred – a powerful reminder of the original custodians, the Jerrinja. A hidden secret that belongs to the Saltwater People and their ancestors.

IMG_1558

Scarred Tree on Jerrinja Land

Down into the boggy marshes where frogs gathered in a croaking choir. I picked my way through, trying to keep my feet dry. And then the path climbed, steeper this time. My phone’s satellite map told me of my location – a pulsating blue dot enclosed by trees. The dogs, nature and me. I had found the solace I was looking for. I breathed in huge lungsful of fresh air and felt the happiest I had in a long time.

IMG_1555

Nothing but Trees!

But something tugged at me to go further, deeper, just like the new scents that drove the dogs onwards. Blackened trunks became embedded in the brightest green undergrowth. The bush thinned and it was then that I came to a halt. A sweet honey aroma of wildflowers took me to an unfamiliar place. Wherever I looked, I saw their exquisiteness in varied colours and forms. Fragile yet hardy. I imagined myself as Alice, examining their beauty. But instead of putting them into my pockets, I took photographs.

IMG_2935

Colours of orange, red and yellow …

 

IMG_2501

Grevillea Family

Tiny stamens called for the birds, the bees and the breeze to carry their lives forward. It was as though the flowers were speaking ever so eloquently. Just as Ringland suggests –flowers are the words to express our thanks, our love, our sympathy.

IMG_2678

IMG_2506

Feeling the freedom of life without time restrictions, I explored the essence of the bush for hours, until, urged by hunger, I decided to return. As I neared the quaint village of Myola, I was reminded of the callous nature of humans who use the track to discard unwanted objects that would never decompose. And a sadness tried to find its way in but I thought of Alice and her flowers and the beauty held deep within the bush. I arrived home and wanted nothing more than to finish the book. As with Alice, Holly Ringland’s novel evoked a fire that burns within my own heart, encouraging me to find the words and trust my own stories.

A few weeks later, I walked back to the place of wildflowers. The flowers I’d seen earlier had mostly fulfilled their lives and the colours of red and orange had faded. Instead, there were pinks and purples. And once again, I was entranced by the language of flowers and they spoke of happiness and peace.

IMG_2959

Purples and Pinks

IMG_2955

Happiness and Peace

IMG_2965

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graffiti Artists of the Bush

 

Dispersed throughout the bushland that hugs Callala Beach, are the most beautiful smooth-barked white gum trees that stand like pointers to an ancient world. During the day, their ethereal forms captivate and at night they stand conspicuously amongst their brothers and sisters of the bushland world.

IMG_1202

One of a variety of Scribbly Gums

 

The Scribbly Gum is in complete contrast to the rough, scraggly limbs of the revered Old Man Banksia. They stand shorter and slimmer than the robust Swamp Mahogany. The Scribbly holds out its limbs, smooth and glossy and often forms ‘wrinkles’ where the boughs meet.  Each of these beautiful trees are an essential contributor to the endangered Bangalay Sand Forest.

IMG_1231

Wrinkles

 

There are a few types of eucalyptus trees fondly named Scribbly Gums and they each received their title thanks to the Scribbly Gum Moth. These trees are constantly shedding their bark to not only reveal the smoothest of ‘skin’ but the signatures of a moth larva.

So how does this graffiti artist tag the bark of these magnificent trees? The eggs of the moth are laid between the old and new season’s bark. The moth’s larvae tunnel in loops and zigzags just below the bark’s surface. The tree sends out scar tissue which the caterpillars love to devour. They reach maturity quickly, growing legs before turning around to eat their way back out. Next, they leave the tree to form a cocoon and pupate. Not long after this the gum tree sheds its bark to reveal the secret signatures that make the Scribbly iconic.

Scribbly Gum Moth

The Ogmograptis scribula is rarely seen in
its moth form

 

These scribbles have been recorded by the first botanists that visited Australia’s shores as well as artists and writers. The graffiti artists of the bush have found a place in Australia’s culture.

Judith Wright’s poem called Scribbly Gum reveals an ancient language:

I peeled its splitting bark
and found the written track
of a life I could not read

Late Blue Mountains poet, Graham Alcorn wrote a poem: The Scribblygum Moth

Some chew up and some chew down,

This the philosophers might explain,

But the thing that causes me to frown,

The thing I’d dearly love to learn

Is what makes every Ogmo turn?

Off to the left, then to the right,

Another about turn, very tight,

Chomping a track, Forward and back,

On various species of gum tree.

 

And who didn’t love Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as a child? Their little gum-leaf banners were inspired by the secretive scrawls of the artist.

Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie

Snugglepot & Cuddlepie’s  Scribbled Banners

 

A few years ago, a young school girl named Julia Cooke was obviously captivated with the scribbles on the bark in the bush. With a little help she discovered there were very different dialects amongst these scribblers and other researchers took up the chase! As a result, eleven new Scribbly Gum Moths were discovered, with three of them having an ancestor with a species that lived on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.

All of this goes to show there truly is so much more to discover out there in that beautiful bush we are fortunate to have surround the coastal villages of Callala Beach and Myola.

The Stranding of the Sea Hares on Callala Beach

Slug

 

Over the last few weeks I have had several conversations with fellow walkers as we stepped over hundreds of creatures that created brilliant purple stains upon the white sands of Callala Beach. Some of us tried to pick the slippery culprits up and toss them back out to sea, only to have our hands dyed violet. Others bent to observe their squishy little olive green bodies. None of us understood why there were so many. So, I decided to do a little Googling and found the Australian Museum and scientist Bill Rudman had a wealth of knowledge on these unusual little creatures with many curious qualities.

Ink (2)

I confirmed that they were indeed Sea Hares and aptly named due to their long tentacles that certainly resemble the ears of a hare. They are in fact slugs and part of the mollusc family. They have an internal shell and ‘wings’ that help them swim gracefully through the water, unafraid of any known predators. For it is not known what will or can eat a Sea Hare. They love hanging out around rocks and the intertidal zone where they are cleverly camouflaged.

Being herbivores, their favourite food is algae and seaweed. It is believed that the purple dye is a result of the Sea Hare dining on red seaweed. Every resident of Callala Beach is aware that when the southerlies hit and the swells surge with ferocity, we often find the beach draped in a vibrant red coat of weed that is the colour of shiraz. Delicious to a Sea Hare!

red dye

And so why the purple dye? Bill Rudman’s research informs that the Sea Hare can store the noxious chemicals found in their algal food, especially from the red variety. Deposited in their skin, it is released when they feel threatened by predators. Apparently, it tastes horrible and a Western Australian species has even been known to poison dogs.

But, there is even more to reveal about this smooth secretive slug. Being a hermaphrodite, it has both male and female sex organs and when it is time to mate it revels in making this a very social affair! They invite their friends along and start a ‘mating chain’. The first slug will act as a female, then each other hare that joins in forms a link in the chain, acting as both a male and a female until the last one acts only as a male. The more the merrier they sometimes say!

Such a fascinating little marine mollusc that is rarely seen, has shown themselves in huge numbers, stranded and dying at low tide. I kept wondering why there were so many? Back to my trusty scientist who concludes that mass deaths of Sea Hares is fairly common. It seems that when conditions are favourable, and lots of shackling of Sea Hares has occurred there will be babies booming all over that red algae. Those juveniles will grow quickly and perhaps there were many chains connected and their life cycles just so happened that this mega population died at the same time. And then came the southerlies and washed them upon Callala Beach and we are left to wonder about what else goes on out there in the bay.

 Massacre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Southerlies Reveal Society’s Sinister Side

March arrived this year like a perfectly choreographed sunset, announcing summer was over and autumn was here. The hot days were pushed aside by a sudden crispness in the hours of dawn and dusk. The afternoons of the nor-easterly breezes have gone and the southerlies begin to beat the shores of Callala Beach. A ‘wet season’ arrived and with it a tropical humidity and the storms.

Hugging the coast, as we do here in Callala Beach, we are privileged to see how these mighty weather systems continuously change our coastline. On one of these early March mornings I took my walk down the beach, head-first into the southerly. The swell was huge and the full moon left a tide mark close to the dunes. Driftwood, pumice, strands of weed revealed the ocean’s lapping. And in amongst nature’s trail I followed a path of carelessness. Brightly coloured plastic objects of all shapes and sizes. In all states of decay – some new, others years old.

It started with a plastic picnic plate, a balloon and some streamers. I wondered if they were connected or if each item held the memories of a different celebration – on a beach…somewhere. An earplug, various sizes of thongs, bottles and the remnants of plastics that had obviously been beneath the surface for so long they were covered in their own eco-systems.

Plastic Picnic

Plastic Picnic by Rowena Sierant

 

Soon I became overwhelmed by how much I had collected. My arms were full and I asked myself many questions.

Seeing these plastics in Jervis Bay took me back to another time. Nearly 30 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Koh Samui in Thailand as a part of my university training. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning by boat as this was the only mode of transport to this atoll paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. I was astounded by the natural beauty. Three years ago, I went back. This time, I was nothing but disappointed. As I stepped into the ocean my feet were lost in the murky water. Bottles, paper, disposable plastics and more disposable plastics. I looked around at the greed of tourism, took my feet out of that water, never went back and hung out by the pool. I wondered why I ‘d spent so much money to travel here when what I have back home is so much more beautiful…for now.

Thai Full Moon Party

The aftermath of a full moon party in Thailand (Photo: Nate Clark Images) on the island of Ko Pha Ngan

In Australia, we are rapidly becoming more aware of the consequences of disposable plastics. Our students at schools are being educated. They know that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Many of us have heard of the slogan, ‘Take 3 for the sea.’ So, I ask myself why does this keep happening?

I looked up the definition of disposable. Intended to be thrown away after use. Synonyms: throwaway, expendable, one-use, non-returnable, replaceable. It is such a negative word.

Plastic is a substance our earth and oceans cannot digest. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish.

Every individual should question their personal use of plastics – especially those that are aimed at single use. Single use plastics can include: plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and bottles. Over the years we have become familiar with: Recycle; Reuse and Reduce. Another R has been placed in the mix – Refuse.

We all need to ask ourselves questions such as: Could I live with less? Could I live without single-use plastics? Could I refuse disposable plastics: Sometimes? Most of the time? All the time?

 

 

The Southerlies Reveal Society’s Sinister Side

March arrived this year like a perfectly choreographed sunset, announcing summer was over and autumn was here. The hot days were pushed aside by a sudden crispness in the hours of dawn and dusk. The afternoons of the nor-easterly breezes have gone and the southerlies begin to beat the shores of Callala Beach. A ‘wet season’ arrived and with it a tropical humidity and the storms.

Hugging the coast, as we do here in Callala Beach, we are privileged to see how these mighty weather systems continuously change our coastline. On one of these early March mornings I took my walk down the beach, head-first into the southerly. The swell was huge and the full moon left a tide mark close to the dunes. Driftwood, pumice, strands of weed revealed the ocean’s lapping. And in amongst nature’s trail I followed a path of carelessness. Brightly coloured plastic objects of all shapes and sizes. In all states of decay – some new, others years old.

It started with a plastic picnic plate, a balloon and some streamers. I wondered if they were connected or if each item held the memories of a different celebration – on a beach…somewhere. An earplug, various sizes of thongs, bottles and the remnants of plastics that had obviously been beneath the surface for so long they were covered in their own eco-systems.

Plastic Picnic

Plastic Picnic by Rowena Sierant

 

Soon I became overwhelmed by how much I had collected. My arms were full and I asked myself many questions.

Seeing these plastics in Jervis Bay took me back to another time. Nearly 30 years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Koh Samui in Thailand as a part of my university training. I remember arriving in the early hours of the morning by boat as this was the only mode of transport to this atoll paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. I was astounded by the natural beauty. Three years ago, I went back. This time, I was nothing but disappointed. As I stepped into the ocean my feet were lost in the murky water. Bottles, paper, disposable plastics and more disposable plastics. I looked around at the greed of tourism, took my feet out of that water, never went back and hung out by the pool. I wondered why I ‘d spent so much money to travel here when what I have back home is so much more beautiful…for now.

Thai Full Moon Party

The aftermath of a full moon party in Thailand on the islnd of Ko Pha Ngan (Image Nate Clark)

In Australia, we are rapidly becoming more aware of the consequences of disposable plastics. Our students at schools are being educated. They know that turtles mistake plastic bags for jelly fish. Many of us have heard of the slogan, ‘Take 3 for the Sea.’ So, I ask myself why does this keep happening?

I looked up the definition of disposable: Intended to be thrown away after use. Synonyms: throwaway, expendable, one-use, non-returnable, replaceable. Such a negative word.

Plastic is a substance our earth and oceans cannot digest. It is believed that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish.

Every individual should question their personal use of plastics – especially those that are aimed at single use. Single use plastics can include: plastic bags, straws, coffee cup lids and bottles. Over the years we have become familiar with: Recycle; Reuse and Reduce. Another R has been placed in the mix – Refuse.

We all need to ask ourselves questions such as: Could I live with less? Could I live without single-use plastics? Could I refuse disposable plastics: Sometimes? Most of the time? All of the time?

Ban the Bead – Hidden Plastic

Scrub. ……Exfoliate…….Cleanse……Rejuvenate……So Smooth…….

I know I have purchased many products over the years that promised to make my skin feel healthier. Younger. More radiant. My teeth whiter, cleaner and brighter. Back in the nineties I sourced these products in health food shops. They contained sea salt and coconut shell. And somehow, I hardly noticed that things began to change. With the advancement of technology these exfoliants became cheaper, more accessible, and they also seemed to become more blue. Supermarket shelves are now lined with their promises. The use of microbeads of plastic can do the same job in making your skin feel oh so silky smooth – at a fraction of the cost. Why crush organic coconuts when there is plenty of plastic around?

However, when I learned that these lovely little scrubbing balls of pleasure were made from plastic that end up in our oceans, my skin felt lack lustre and I took a deep breath. We are all familiar that when we call something ‘plastic’ we are inferring it is fake. These ‘blue’ exfoliants are nothing like the natural coconuts growing on the atolls of the Pacific.

These tiny additives that peel back a layer of our largest organ are being rubbed onto our faces and bodies, rinsed around our mouths, before being washed down the plug hole. Off they travel unnoticed by our water treatment systems, into our rivers, lakes, bays and oceans. Now if I were a fish and I saw these round beads, measuring a third of a millimetre, sitting on the ocean floor or floating along a current, I would gobble up those little ‘fish eggs’ and look for some more. Filter feeders such as molluscs enjoy digesting them too. These lovely spheres of polyethylene and polypropylene must be like candy!

P1000637.JPG

Ban the Bead!

 

Now, there may not be sufficient evidence to say that polyethylene and polypropolene themselves are carcinogens but plastic is really good at absorbing the toxic chemicals that exist around it, such as in the silt along river beds, in our waterways and oceans. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDTs (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) may have been phased out during the 70s and 80s but these chemicals that were once used for commercial and agricultural purposes are very much prevalent in our environment today. The risks are numerous: tumours, low birth weight, poor intellectual performance, nervous system problems and the list goes on. According to research done by Dr Chelsea Rochman ( http://www.chelsearochman.com/Home.html), plastics she has examined from the ocean, contain these chemicals as well as metals such as copper, lead, nickel and cadmium. In addition, salmon and Orca whales have been found to be the most contaminated of all marine life. However, it is not just one fish, one bird or one whale consuming these contaminants.

Try to comprehend that using just one tube of cleanser contains an estimated 300 000 plastic microbeads (The 5 Gyres Institute). Imagine how many tubes are being used each year? Microbeads now cover 21% of the Earth’s surface. Walk along the beach and they are camouflaged as grains of sand. So, it is guaranteed that chemicals of some sort are travelling through the food chains and ecosystems. And there is no point in even thinking, oh well I don’t even eat seafood… it won’t harm me.

Our oceans provide us with oxygen, food and regulate the climate and that is why we need to care for them. To throw another chunk of chemicals into this plastic smog, the ABC Catalyst Program investigated microbeads here in Australia. Sydney Harbour in fact. When examining fish guts, they expected to find the types of plastics found in cleansers but something even more intriguing revealed itself. Micro fibres of plastic. Under close scrutiny these were revealed to be strands from our clothing, washed into our waterways via our washing machines and into the stomachs of fish. Fabric fibres from nylon and polyester. Plastic clothing. Unfortunately, these threads have a greater surface area than microbeads and therefore are even more capable of absorbing and spreading chemical contamination.

So what can you and I do? Firstly, purchasing power is crucial. Don’t buy products that contain microbeads. We also have to push our governments to realise this is a fact. As far as the threads of plastic go, I see no reason why washing machines can’t be fitted with filters.

Advancement, science and technology have contributed to this problem. However, science has also revealed these miniscule secrets within our waterways. Every individual can make a difference. So, what’s on your dinner plate tonight?

Connection to Country

Noel Wellington Discusses the Myola Artwork Proposal

Noel Wellington chatted with me about the proposed Myola installation while he worked on his current project at St Georges Basin Public School. It was a fitting venue to be having these discussions for many reasons. We sat on the seats that create the circumference of the ‘Yarning Circle’, within the school’s Aboriginal garden. Surrounded by bush tucker plants, local to the area. The three metre tree stump he is carving fronts this garden and is visible to the surrounding community and all who pass by. Also, what made this place more pertinent was the fact that we were on school grounds and the NSW Department of Education’s policy states, ‘The strength, diversity, ownership and richness of Aboriginal cultures and Custodianship of Country are respected, valued and promoted.’ This is what we teach our children.

Noel is a traditional descendant of the Jerrinja Wandi-Wandian Clan. He is also a Board Member of the Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council. In addition, he is member of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee for Shoalhaven City Council. He is an Elder and a renowned artist.

The Callala Beach Progress Association envisioned that the final ‘gateway’ piece for the pathway, which links the Callala Beach and Myola communities, would incorporate Indigenous art. The brief was that it should promote thought about the first people of the land on which we now live.

Noel’s interpretation comprises of three carved logs reflecting traditional tree scarring practices in an Aboriginal contemporary art form. His sketches for these poles depict aquatic life, a canoe and an artistic spiritual figure. Noel has proposed that a steel ‘river’ structure be attached to the top of the poles to represent the Currambene Creek which will actually collect and carry rain water. He has discussed this idea with Neil Smith who designed the steel frameworks for the mosaic sails. Noel has also had discussions with Lesley Oliver (Mosaic Artist) in the hope that mosaics are also incorporated into the final design because he feels this would unify the whole project. Noel himself has experimented in this medium.

Preliminary Sketches
Noel’s preliminary sketches showing depictions for each log

Kinship and culture form the backbone of Aboriginal communities. Noel talked about his strong spiritual connection to his family.

He said, ‘My ancestral history comes from the Carpenter family at Roseby Park Mission in Orient Point.’

Noel has many fond memories of his life growing up in this area. These images are often represented throughout his artworks.

‘My grandfather is David Coomie-Carpenter. He was recorded by the Aboriginal Institute of Archives in Canberra. This recording took place at Myola in 1964.’ Noel explained. ‘My grandfather described to them how his father made a canoe to carry people across the river.’

Coomie’s Walk at Abraham’s Bosom, Currarong, is named after Noel’s grandfather.

Noel said, ‘The Aboriginal Spiritual Man represents my grandfather’s strong connection to country.’

Land and sea, spirit and pride, are integral features of Aboriginal life and culture. Connection to country is spiritual, physical, social and cultural. The Callala Beach and Myola communities have an opportunity for a Jerrinja artist to create an artwork that will encourage reflection and promote a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture.

To conclude our interview, Noel said, ‘This is my country. This is my story.’

Noel article

Photo courtesy of Trevor Smith

 Rowena Sierant