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.

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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!

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.

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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!

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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!

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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

Carving the Stories of the Saltwater People

As a part of my work with the Callala Beach Progress Association (CBPA) I have recently had the privilege to not only meet Indigenous artist, Noel Wellington, but to also sit with him and have a yarn or two or three! We first met when the (now) president of the association (Trevor Smith) asked me along to chat with Noel about his ideas for a piece at the other end of the shared pathway that connects Callala Beach to Myola. A project the association and its members have worked on over the last few years.

Noel had a brilliant idea to place his aquatic and marine life designs onto the pathway seats. His work celebrates the Jerrinja Aboriginal Country who are the Saltwater People of this land and the waterways in this region of Jervis Bay. His artworks demonstrate the cultural diversity, traditions and beliefs of his people. The first piece depicts a pod of dolphins, a strong symbol for the Jerrinja People. They are also the most famous sea mammal that frequents the shores of Callala Beach and why so many come to visit this place.

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Noel meticulously plans, carves and burns his designs into the timber, representing Indigenous tree scarring methods. As he works, many locals and tourists stop for a chat. Noel has been very generous with his time, explaining his artwork as well as sharing many stories about his people. He has been commissioned to do several pieces including eight carved logs at Crookhaven Headland Reserve and two pieces that were acquired by the National Museum of Australia. When Prince Charles and Camilla were invited on a private tour of the museum, Noel’s pieces were selected. Noel himself had the opportunity to chat to Prince Charles about his artwork.

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The second seat carves the story of when his people waited for the bully mullet to make their migratory journey between the estuaries and rivers along the coast. Sometimes the ‘spotter’ would sit, waiting for three weeks, for the run of fish to make their journey up the coast. When the bully mullet arrived the spotter followed the fish, keeping track of their location, until the fishermen in boats netted the catch. Noel says there was always plenty of fish to share.

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The third seat is all about the groundfish such as those found in Currambene Creek. These are fish which typically live on or near the bottom e.g. flathead. It has been amazing, watching and listening to people identifying the fish. Noel’s representations are not only extremely beautiful but very accurate.

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For me, Noel’s artworks are the missing link. The beautiful mosaics that were commissioned (Jill Talbot and Lesley Oliver) at the Callala Beach end of the pathway describe the natural beauty of the area. Along the whole length of the pathway locals and visitors have purchased pavers which are then engraved telling their individual/family’s stories. And so Noel’s carvings tell the story of the original custodians of this land and complete the picture. I can only look forward to seeing the whole pathway and all its yarns. It will be a wonderful asset to the community, to be enjoyed by all that live and visit here.

Noel carving

In these last few weeks I have taken a journey along this pathway. I have learned so much about the Jerrinja’s connection to this land that we all feel is incredibly special. I have also shared many laughs with Noel and lots of cake! Recently, Noel asked if I could help him record his story. All I can say is what an honour. It is an important story. It will be an account for his daughter and grandchildren. One that tells of the happy times, growing up as a young child in The Mission at Orient Point. One that recounts the tougher times. And most importantly, a story about being an Elder and a Jerrinja man. He is the custodian of the Lore and the law of his community. He is the keeper of knowledge. And that is something that should never be lost. I would like to thank Noel for sharing his stories with me, with all of us.

When Life Gives You Lemons …

Recently high seas and rough swells pounded the shores of the east coast. I love walking along Callala Beach, watching and listening, to the fury of the ocean during these times. It is such a contrast to the calm lapping waves so often seen in Jervis Bay.

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The flotsam and jetsam in its aftermath always intrigues as fragments of people’s lives are strewn across the sand. You may have also read a previous post I wrote on the creativeness of locals who put these pieces together to make a ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ on Callala Beach. A poignant reminder of the human carelessness that pollutes our oceans and contributes to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then there was the time huge mountains of red weed were cast upon our shores, piled as high as sand dunes. And Mother Nature revealed more of society’s waste as it struggled with the chore of cleaning the ocean floors. She also magically turned that weed into rich fodder for the fish and bird life.

Weed and Sculpture

However, I am wondering if anyone else has noticed lemons being washed onto the beach? Each time I see one, I not only think of the expression, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ I wonder where they come from. Have they been carried on the swell for days, weeks or even months? They always look so fresh which makes me think of the recipe for preserved lemons which requires large quantities of salt. Perhaps the salt sustains their vibrant patina.

Lemon

We all know there is nothing like a squeeze of lemon on fresh seafood. Maybe a lemon tree grows somewhere by the sea dropping its fruit, a gift, for those that like to eat their seafood that way.

I have never seen apples or onions but once came across a coconut! Mali found it an alluring addition to one our beach walks. Coconuts can travel thousands of kilometres in the hope of successful seed dispersal. They are built for these long perilous journeys. Their thick protective shells, layered in hairy husks, provide buoyancy to the fleshy white ‘meat’ inside that is the endosperm. They hope to land on a quiet atoll where crabs won’t gobble them up, moisture is plentiful and the climate just right.

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So when I see these little lemons lolling in the shallows I think how did they get here and where are they going? They are at the mercy of the wind and the currents, travelling to an unknown destination. Mostly, I think when life gives you lemons stop for a moment and think, how sweet life really is.

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