Ethical Christmas Construction

Earth Bud

Rose Quartz’s unconditional love snuggled into a bed of geranium, rosemary and lavender – oils of love, remembrance and clarity, (pc: Earth Bud)

Christmas can be a conflicting time of the year for some. For too many Christmas’s I’ve negotiated conflicts whether to either speak up for the voiceless or shrug off over consumption. It is fair to say that I have influenced my family’s Christmas affairs over the years. One year they opted in to enjoy a Vegan Christmas Lunch – which was one of the most memorable lunches that I can remember. Tofu turkey is on the menu every year, which is a great conversation starter about consumption over the Christmas period. And most of us have decided to limit the purchasing of presents, and there is an option to buy a present if you want to or not.

So, how can we continue to alter Christmas traditions for less consumption?

Interestingly, a study found that women in ‘traditional’ households have most of the power when it comes to making magic happen over the Christmas period [I’ll come back to what magic means and can mean]. Freeman & Bell’s (2013) study reviewed  two-decades of editorial content of magazines, which they suggest presents contradictory messages. For instance, time and cost saving tips and tricks conflict with ‘the magic’ images magazines portray.  Images of long tables with embellished table settings, gold trimmed white plates, selection of glassware, themed bon-bons and napkins, and happy, smiling people wearing their best Christmas outfits, indulging in more food than necessary (there is another study that looked into the links of Christmas consumption with obesity). I do wonder, who gets to decide if these images are ‘the magic’ people want, or led to believe they want? Especially with the dark-side of consumption, animal cruelty, and impacts on the planet and people’s mental and health wellbeing.

Capitalism influences these choices of magic.

So what can you do about capitalism this Christmas to turn the tide on the dark side of this perceived magic? My moto is buy local.  This year my gifts are made with love by  Yogi Tree Web (her candles and bath bombs are amazing), and Earth Bud (her soaps). Amazing local woman are behind these products, which are nutrient rich, smell amazing and are bedazzled with healing crystals. For blokes, yes, they are perfect for you as well. Yogi Tree Web refills my candle pots all year round, and she also does incredible vegan catering!

My other greener side to making a different kind of magic happen is donating to charities. This is easy with a growing network of incredible grassroots causes. My top pick this year is the Save The Bilby Fund. I decided to donate $30 on behalf of each of my nieces and nephews this year. The small, yet worthy donation, will go towards their bilby breeding program. How cool is that! My nieces and nephews might not be overtly excited about the donation certificates, but one day in the future they’ll appreciate that they have been part of bringing a cute and cuddly Australian marsupial back from the brink of extinction.

Going back to understanding what does this Christmas magic mean and can mean for you? ‘Magic’ denotes the idea of paranormal, the use of rituals, symbols, actions and language with the use of supernatural forces. It has been used in many cultures, some of the earliest cultures to separate ideals from reality. Thinking beyond magic tricks like turning a hat into a fluffy white rabbit, magic can offer ideas that it can influence the reconstruction or deconstruction thinking process. Just when you think it is impossible, something becomes possible. By thinking a little deeper through reconstruction or deconstruction, your thought processes can enable you to start to see other ways. Other ways of viewing ideals from reality, allowing a new reality to emerge. If you are compelled to act, this reconstruction or deconstruction process reorganises to construct another way of acting. New actions then create new images, a new reality, which over time can reconstruct or deconstruct new identities (e.g. my own reconstruction and deconstructed process has constructed me to portray ethical acts in the world, performances for sustainability). My assumption here, which is part of some new research I have been working on, is that through reconstruction or deconstruction, the construction of new images emerge to create new realities, new identities, which is fundamentally influenced by constant conflict negotiation (so conflict negotiation can be good when the outcome portrays ethical acts).

Through the art of stimulating conflict negotiation, you can start to see that a much more ethical Christmas is possible… and recreate your ideals of Christmas magic by buying local and supporting charities.

Reference: Lynne Freeman, Susan Bell, (2013) “Women’s magazines as facilitators of Christmas rituals”, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Vol. 16 (3), pp.336-354.

Undercurrent conflicts to saving the coast

Dune vandal

Another dune conflict, who is the council spokesperson, and what are their conflicts?

I have been enjoying the freedom and luxury of reading, writing and thinking about my Phd. It sounds luxurious to be spending quality time on something you are deeply passionate about, however, the sitting duck mentality does do my head in. When you identify with being a hungry person for change, perhaps a change agent, it’s intellectually challenging, as much as it is frustrating to wait for the thinking process to think-up a grand theoretical way of informing the creating change process.

In real world, I use my networks, experience, knowledge and passion to convey the best message for media to run the story that will publicly probe politicians to do something that their institutions haven’t been able to do –  “we don’t have the resources”, which is a no balls approach to saying no. While in my current Phd world, I use my scholarship to engage ideas, theories and other knowledges to better inform my interpretation/s of the world – why does it occur this way, and not that way?  

The context for understanding how to better create change that I am referring to is how do coastal professionals negotiate personal and professional conflicts (if any) in their management of the coast? I see conflicts played out everyday, and it’s frustrating. I question, why should professionals have to deal with institutional no sayers or dictators? For some, people survive by being a good public servant (e.g. imagine being the coastal professionals who had to remove sea level rise from coastal hazard maps when the Queensland Neumann Government was in?), while others just do what they are there to do (and not ask questions, imagine approving the Adani Mine?), while others, like me, don’t survive (they quit and let fate create a new path for change?)

In a self-reflexive peer-reviewed paper titled, ‘the secret life of a land-planning professional’, Joel Russell shares his insights and frustrations of finding the balance between human settlement and ecological principles with being a land planning professional. ‘It’s finding the balance’ where Russell experiences conflicts within the institutional frameworks he is conditioned to negotiate and suggests that, I quote, ‘the planning process itself just fans the flames of social, economic and political conflict, and rarely resolves anything’, unquote (Russell, 2000: 318).

Similarly, I experience conflicts with balancing inherent professional obligations with being a coastal professional in coastal management. I was confronted with a conflict experience in mid 2013, when I visited my local beach, Surfers Paradise, to witness my local council’s efforts in response to the coastal erosion in the wake of ex TC Oswald.  At the time when I approached the beach where the coastal erosion works were being carried out, I could see heavy machinery among the narrow, fragile dunes. I stood there alongside a growing crowd of onlookers in disbelief, confusion and conflict. Here was a local council that boasts clean beach and coastal management solutions, yet, I knew that extracting sand from vegetated dunes and placing it in front of an at risk coastal development was not sustainable. At the time, I was a coastal liaison officer between the local council, community, and university where I was employed, which meant continuing my day, returning to the office, and maybe talking about my conflicting experience with colleagues was the most appropriate action despite my conflicts.

And these dune conflicts never seize to go away, even though, I am institutionally positioned outside and have the luxury of blowing off my horn, or tweeting about it when or if I want to.

My colleague, Daniel Ware from Griffith University discusses this conflict experience as an undercurrent to the issues of coastal management. In his more recent work, he suggests that such personal and professional conflicts exist when ‘coastal managers’ are committed to the principles of sustainable development, which underlines the theory of integrated coastal zone management (Ware, 2017).

Alongside these ideas I question the construction process of these conflicts, and how historical, social, environmental, economics, institutional, cultural, political and institutional ideas have constructed the coastal professional, the phenomena of the coastal professional and coastal management. It is a cultural process as this phenomena is always in a state of flux, and I am pretty sure (hopefully) that my research can offer understanding and acknowledgment to the experiences of being a coastal professional, and dealing with conflict.

For instance, it is the juxtaposition between self and coastal places, the spaces where people experience the coast that draws my attention to question how do coastal experiences construct individual and personal identity and their individual ideas of the coast. Additional to this is the extension of inquiring into why people take up a professional role in coastal management. Is it to perhaps make a difference, protect their ideas of the coast, or they’ve just fallen into it?

I am at the stage of knowing (and believing) that my theoretical framework (I think of it like a coat hanger) will better inform (hang) my ideas to question and answer, well, how the bloody hell can we live, work and play along the coast without inherent conflicts? Or, perhaps what I am super pumped about at the moment is gently knowing where, when, why and how do these conflicts emerge given inherent conflicting professional identities and the spaces we engage… watch this space.

Russell, J. (2000) The secret life of a land-planning professional, Bulletin of science, technology and society, Vol 20 (4), pp: 318-320.

Ware, D. (2017) Sustainable resolution of conflicts over coastal values: a case study of the Gold Coast Surf Management Plan, Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs, Vol 9 (2), pp: 68-80.

Culture first, collaboration then just happens

The last two foundation years of building Intrepid Landcare has been a bit of a blur. It only feels like yesterday when I met Megan for the second or third time in a Sydney cafe in Chatswood only moments before meeting Landcare Australia to pitch our idea of a national movement that connects, inspires and empowers young people to act and lead with Landcare. Back then it was just the two of us, and our parents and friends who were probably like, yes, this is another great idea, “go for it and best of luck!”

I knew it was a great idea, and so did Megan.

From that initial meeting with Landcare Australia it took us about 3 months to figure out if we should be our own identity or be part of another identity. Having hindsight from many failures before with trying to setup young people movements I knew that we had to be our own identity. An identity for young people, created by young people so that it can become their identity. A movement becomes a movement when people embody the core of who you are, and part of this is your organisational identity.

So, how have we created an identity for Intrepid Landcare?

We soon pooled together a brilliant tribe filled with passions and skills that were similar yet different to our own passions and skills. We knew we needed what we didn’t have, along with having what we had lots of, that being energy! We pieced together a constitution, governance structure and without any face to face meetings we soon became an identity over Facebook chat, phone meetings and Google Hangout. We then raised enough cash through our initial crowdfunding campaign, which we are always grateful for the donors who initially backed us, to fund flights and food to pay for our first Board Retreat, our first face to face meeting. Thanks again!

It was as if we already knew each other but didn’t. We met in Berry NSW, and stayed in this beautiful log cabin filled with love and international treasures, the home of Bill and Leslie Pigott, who are worldly legends on all things Landcare and leadership. The Pigott’s opened their home to us for a weekend, and also baked muffins and refilled (and still do) our hearts with worldly insights into Landcare and leadership.

We had a packed agenda for this first face to face meeting (which we now call Board Retreats), yet somehow had lots of time for laughing, sharing stories and enjoying nature (which is of no surprise when you are around Megan!). First off the agenda was how we expected each other to communicate, recognising that we all are different, have different needs and work and live different lives and in different parts of the country. We started with this because we knew we wanted to create the right culture.

We are ever so grateful for this initial work we worked hard to get right, and still do! We continually put ourselves on the line to share our deepest flaws and greatest assets. We discuss what we like and don’t like to do, and work out how to share the load and keep us moving forward. We clearly know what we don’t want what people think comes inherently with organisations – gossip, hierarchical structure, power and generational indifference with gender, age, ethnicity and disabilities, among much more. None of us either have time or want to tread water through murky waters. Our cause doesn’t deserve the impurities of human beings’ inequalities, it deserves equality.

It has been two years and if we wrote a plan – which we kind of did – it wouldn’t have been filled with the characters we have met and the conversations we have had. Although while I think it is important to have a plan, it is not essential to be first off the rank with designing and defining organisations, rather, you need the right culture to be the heart of what is and has to come. This is my biggest lesson thus far, and it is the why of what Intrepid Landcare is and is becoming.

Culture is the beating heart of any organisation. We can talk about intellectual and emotional intelligence all you like, or the super-drivers of organisations. I think the most important part is getting over yourself and having the listening of others and granting yourself the listening of others that speaks what you or your organisation wants – collaboration and all that super-driver talk. What other organisations do not do enough of is working hard on the essentials, and that is figuring out what organisational identity do we want to create and need to have to be and do what those strategic and business plans suggest we need to achieve.

Once you have the right culture sorted (which is always in a state of flux, meaning that this part needs consistent work, and needs to be the heart of every conversation) in a blink of an eye your movement will have its own wings. The next challenge is not letting others’ impurities diminish your identity – it is best to leave gossip, hierarchical structure, power and generational indifference with gender, age, ethnicity and disabilities, among much more at the door 🙂

Hi Climate Council, advice worth more than a donation

I should share my insights more often. I got an email this afternoon from the Climate Council with a direct link to a donation page, which didn’t enrol me to donate… instead they got this reply that is probably worth more than a donation.

Hi Climate Council,

I love reading your posts and hearing about what you are doing. I used to donate money to you, but then realised my cash was better spent actually preparing the landscape for climate change and switched to donate to the Nature Conservancy. This is where the challenge lies with me with your call to action and support you into 2021.
As a Landcare champion, ambassador, innovator or whatever you want to call me I see and hear amazing landscape transformation that is happening from the ground-up. I also see people transform through social and cultural connection, and constantly hear inspiring stories from people about community action happening in their patch. When you fly across Australia you can start to imagine how action in these patches are making a difference, whether it is repairing a riparian zone alongside a creek, or piecing together critical corridors for biodiversity. I have seen first hand the efforts of community action to restore my local beach back to a coastal forest, 93ha of coastal dunes only a stones throw from the urban paradise of Surfers Paradise.
As a negotiate the contested terrain of the spaces and places I am caught in and deeply passionate about I know that the next four years will involve more trees being planted and see more solar panels of the roofs of homes, and my neighbours getting to know each other (more) and share the lemon myrtle tree that is out the front for a cuppa tea in the afternoon. I also know that the next four years will be challenging, but damn it is exciting to see industry groups, research institutions, councils (the good and bad), authorities, departments, agencies, groups and organisations starting to listen to each other and get that we get to drive the transformational change our great nation needs. And it is damn fun driving, planting this change – of which I am sure that you have had a huge contribution.
And as I walk the landscape with Landcare I get to see people changing the way they manage the land, change their species lists to plant for future climate patterns and along the way engage our decision-makers. I know we (especially Landcare) need to do more of sharing successes and outcomes of incredible projects, which could overpower and empower the doom and gloom I am frequently reminded of – especially by you.
I know there is no silver bullet, but what I have realised is that change comes from within, and we must nurture this change. I have nurtured people who would be perceived as definitely not on the green-side of change because I have shifted my preconditioned ideas on who wants to get involved. I have also sought out other ways of sharing stories and showcasing successes, and nurtured decision-makers through meaningful engagement and made sure they know that the next generation have got their shit together.
People can’t act with facts, but they can with tools. So perhaps your next four years can be about what we can do with tools for change. I think this gentle email is worth more than the $35 I was going to donate.
Best of luck, and bring on 2021 with more trees for cooler cities, repaired landscapes and shade for cows, and places to refuge for all creatures.
Have a great weekend,
Naomi Edwards

Change begins with rethinking

Change begins with rethinking

I have recently returned home, to the sunny Gold Coast on the east coast of Australia, after a 5 week tour riding the mountain motorable pass in the world in India, and engaging in thought-provoking conversations with coastal colleagues in Perth (Western Australia) then Airlie Beach (North Queensland). Back to back conferences after a lifetime adventure, hell yeah, my thoughts are flowing.

To kick start some tangents, here is a keynote speech that I was fortunate to share with colleagues at the Western Australian Natural Resource Management and Coastal Management conference, held at Curtin University (they have awesome coffee and hammocks to chill out on).

As the keynote is well over 5,000 words you can download it here –Change begins with rethinking

Here are some thought provoking quotes:

As a disruptor of institutions that is passionate about action and change, I would like to see more of us take risk whether you are an insider or outsider of the dominant institutions of our practice. Because whether we plan our practice with the best knowledge we have, in most cases that I have been engaged in it still doesn’t make a difference when it comes to getting others onboard. And in many cases it wipes the adventure, creativity and adaptability out of our practice.

I’ll quote Charlie Veron, which his new book, A Life Underwater is a must read…

… Most professionals today, whether they be in the sciences, arts, education, even sport, work within the cage of bureaucracy that controls most aspects of their working life. For most this works for them to ensure their needs are met… but for those that need time and headspace to think, something needs to change… and this change is being led by technology and the younger generation…although the scary part is that the younger generation are being bred to accept what to work on, when to work and how to work…


This failing technocracy-approach that scholars like Shelia Jasnaoff theoretically describes helps me to unpack the decay and almost U-Turn on historic environmental justices. In our world this has seen the dependency on specialists with the result of our institutional departments specialising to the degree which then can’t respond to widening issues, especially when departments are chewed to the bone.

Enjoy – Change begins with rethinking

Self resilience: what’s missing from the resilience conversation within institutions

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Yesterday, I was granted to share my thoughts and ideas about social values for resilient waterways at the Gold Coast Waterways 2017 & Beyond Symposium, which was brilliantly organised by the Gold Coast Waterways Authority. Please read on to take in my thoughts and ideas.

“I would like to acknowledge the Gold Coast Waterways Authority for putting on this event and their Chair, our panel moderator extraordinaire, Mara Bunn, for inviting me to set the social scene for imagining, stimulating and creating resilient waterways for the Gold Coast. I have 5 minutes to set the social scene. I’ll attempt to meet the challenge with 3 slides.

Slide 1: I begin with a finger painting. Why, you might be thinking? When it comes to imagining values that the community place on waterways it can get messy, unpredictable, and surprising and there are certainly no boundaries, or limits to the visible and invisible values. This sets the biggest challenge for managers and decision-makers within institutions who make management and investment decisions based on market-values and in principle cost-benefit analyses.

When looking at this finger painting you can assume that there is no order to the painting, no beginning or ending, no direct path of understanding when or how the yellow blends with the red or the why the purple was applied after the red, even why the artist left patches of pink paper, is the paper pink or was the paper painted pink? This is what I refer to as invisible mess, what’s missing from what we can see and for today’s panel discussion and symposium, it’s the invisible values, which in many regards are the social values.

While on the other hand what we can see is some order in the painting. We can make a logical assumption that the yellow and red created the orange and that the blue and red created the purple. This is what I refer to as the visible mess – and for some context to today’s conversation it is the organised, institutionalised community action. Action that although we can’t put a “metric” on it, we can put an assuming financial value on it, and extrapolate this value setting principle to place a value on let’s say a waterway where there is “known” community action.  However, the challenge with this way of valuing social values on a place, is that where there is no action we assume that the community doesn’t place a higher value on it.

Slide 2: In this slide, you can visually see the “known” organised, and in some regards institutionalised community action across the Gold Coast. Each drop pin represents a community group who come under the banner of Landcare, citizen science and sustainability. From this bird’s eye view of organised community action, we assume that the Gold Coast community value these areas. This action is highly valuable and we cannot exclude the value of this action when valuing social values. Given that volunteered motivation and commitment enhance other values we place on the environment, such as, clean water, accessibility, ecological health, wildlife, shade trees, etc., and such long-term effort and impact can be measured in time.

However, what I have observed over the years with my immersion experiences working for and with the community, is that where there is action it is in the presence of an issue. This sets another challenge when valuing the present value of an area. For instance, where a waterway or natural area might in principle be undervalued ecologically or rated as poor health or viewed as a wasteland, thus, economically might not have a viable value to justify investment, might perhaps hold more value in the eyes of the community, or the future community. Conflict can emerge when conflicting priorities do not align, especially when the community wants to see change, but such change does not hold up as a priority within institutions. This again presents more challenges when planning for resilient waterways, as community concerns and issues cannot be planned.

During my experiences, it’s been the community who have had the most innovative, creative and wild ideas. Ideas that ooze resilience that have transformed farm dams into functioning wetland habitat, bare sand dunes into a littoral rainforest, storm water drains into fish habitat and mangrove forests and golf course boundaries into secret gardens for endangered wildlife and urban bush food cultivation. These areas were once wastelands and ecologically insignificant. The community can now proudly justify reasons for institutions to buy-in into their ideas and plans; as such areas, can now be valued as productive places, places where tourists can visit and for the community to enjoy the lifestyle we are known for on the Gold Coast.

Slide 3: This is why I am optimistic about the future. The Gold Coast is an entrepreneurial water city that has pioneered many wild ideas for wicked problems. So, how can we get agencies and the community working together to create resilience waterways?

I think institutions could be more supportive of the community engagement process through co-designing for change.

If we get the co-design process right, which is what this afternoon is about, the next step is to support leadership development, so leaders for Gold Coast waterways can be resilient themselves. It’s a tough gig leading, volunteering and working in this space, and I think we step over this issue.

We also we need to recognise barriers as opportunities, we are a vibrant linear city with diverse cultures, polarising views and different expectations. For today’s symposium, I invite you to rethink how you view barriers and reflect on how we have achieved success thus far.

In conclusion, from a community perspective that I have been granted to share, to imagine, stimulate and create a resilient waterway network, I think we need to:

  • Value the messy side of the engagement process
  • Have fun co-designing the wildest ideas
  • And support leadership development to build resilient leaders

Because what we do will echo for eternity, so we better make sure what we do echoes resilience, and resilience starts with us here today, thank you.”


We got upgraded today – the practice of resilient communities


#tacklebinproject upgrades Gold Coast’s waterways

Gold Coast’s waterways got an upgrade today and it came with complimentary carrot cake and a fresh juice (we have moved beyond a latte and bagel). In all seriousness this tangent is a celebration rather than a deep inquiry (well it kind of gets deep) into how and why institutions work or not work, as today like I said, Gold Coast’s waterways got an upgrade.

The upgrade feels like a lifetime in the making. After meetings after meetings, proposals after proposals, ideas after ideas, all while watching issues become more issues, today, the community of the Gold Coast launched the Tackle Bin Project – to help deal with the marine debris issues Gold Coast’s waterways are experiencing.

The Tackle Bin Project is the latest upgrade initiative of the Gold Coast Marine Debris Network. The idea came about after years of picking up fishing line and tackle and dealing with the onslaught of entangled birds, turtles and other wildlife being caught, hooked and killed by fishing line and tackle dropped by ignorant fishers. Enough was enough. So, the many community champions and groups collaborated to design a future with less fishing line and tackle entering Gold Coast’s waterways.

The Gold Coast Marine Debris Network designed and pitched the project to funding agencies and were successful in finding enough cash and free skilled labour to make the project happen. Almost a year since initial discussions, the project is now launched and it feels so good. Now it is time to watch and monitor the project to measure the impact. 

For colleagues and friends outside the Gold Coast you may be questioning, how did this project happen? It happened for many reasons (not exclusive of below) .

  1. The sheer volume of fishing line and tackle citizen scientists collect (the Gold Coast Seaway is the worst hotspot for fishing line and tackle in Australia) can not be ignored
  2. The impressive, well-organised (30-40) community groups who are active in this space also can not be ignored
  3. The natural beauty of the area makes it to be one of the most biodiverse marine habitats in south east Queensland
  4. Connecting these groups through a central network connected their stories, needs and wants to advocate for this project to happen – again you can not ignore 30-40 community groups
  5. Partners of the project share similar values, however, I think we are now beyond the stock-standard ‘shared-value’ approach, we are friends and want each other to succeed

With a little reflection on these points, one doesn’t have to inquire that far too realise what we do and how we do it on the Gold Coast is pretty special. Of course I am going to be bias. However, with wearing my academic hat what I am discovering is that the community functions with authenticity and integrity, an incredible foundation to build a resilient community network. The community have each other’s back. It’s a pretty cool space to create from. And live in. 

So the question I ask my colleagues and friends who work in this space on the inside of the institutions responsible for ‘managing’ our waterways, do you have each other’s backs?

Being that busy-body person in the community who has their finger on the pulse, it is unfortunate to end this celebration tangent with saying, I don’t think they do – in some aspects yes, but in many cases, no. Imagine what more could be achieved for the environment if we all worked with authenticity and integrity. Next project: how to build a resilient network for our inside colleagues and friends.

In many respects this concern of mine is the essence and motivation of my Phd research. I want to understand how environmental professionals value their craft and go about their craft. Perhaps it is time for our inside colleagues and friends to engage with their own profession and seek advice from the community on how they could move beyond the latte and bagel to enjoy the cream of any cake (lets be generous) and the nutrients of fresh ideas.

Lots to inquire…inspired to inquire.

What a day, congratulations to the community of the Gold Coast for acting with authenticity and integrity to make the Tackle Bin Project happen.

The Tackle Bin Project was made possible by funding from the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Healthy Land and Water, and the Gold Coast Waterways Authority.

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.

Honesty and humility – Part 1


Taking in the sunrise show across the south coast

Last Sunday and well before dawn my friends and I woke up energised and some not so energised for a sunrise hike to take in the view of Drawing Room Rocks in the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve on the south coast of New South Wales, not far from Berry. As we arrived at the beginning of the hike the black sheets of darkness around us blinded any beauty that was yet to be explored and experienced. With the starry-sky slowing turning from black to blue-black but before fluorescent orange, yellow, pink and purple, we started to ascend.

There were five lights ahead of me, one behind, and mine gave me enough light to make my way up the mountain through the forest and heathland then onto the plateau. Weaving through weathered-stunted tea-trees and leaping from one rock to one boulder, the weathering Hawkesbury Sandstone also illuminated my path with speckles of glitter. My imagination romanticised with the idea of following the bioluminescence of a mystical creature as I climbed the foreign mountain.

The morning choir of birds was yet to begin so besides the sounds of the wind, deep breathing, some panting and stomping, there was silence. We were focused on reaching the plateau before the blood orange sun broke over the horizon, across the Pacific in the near distance. With only a warm breeze to cool the body, sweat poured from my glands, so when I could I gracefully wiped my forehead free from my salt-infused perspiration. Not knowing how far or hard the hike was yet to be I paced myself, and reminded myself, there was no need to rush.

There was no need to rush. I reached the lookout before the sun-broke the new day. I found some carved rocks among a patch of healthy-green lomandras to soften a bed as I nestled into the bowls of the unique-looking volcanic rocks. I was surrounded by my friends as each of them also chose a space to rest and reflect while taking in the sunrise show.

As the sun rose the colour of the sky highlighted the low-lying clouds as they transitioned from fluoro orange to yellow and pink over what seemed to be a lifetime. Conversation soon turned from what cloud would you be, to favourite colours, and other favourite things. Then the conversation got more meaningful as we shared our favourite goals for 2017, and opened ourselves to embrace honesty and humility to show our real cards on self-awareness and development.

The practice of honesty with others and myself around my responsibilities is my favourite self-awareness and development goal for 2017. I think I am an honest person, however, I do know I do withhold information which I should be more generous with. What I do know is that I will struggle with practicing honesty, thus, I need to practice humility as well; rather than being honest for the sake of being honest (which I know and have been told can be disruptive and aggressive).  What I do know is that I have the best friends around me , which some of them were around me, and they will help me negotiate honesty and humility throughout this year.

Why is honesty and humility a hand-in-hand value? I will explore this next time!

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). This tangent is a reflection from an experience during an Intrepid Landcare Board Retreat 2017 (a pretty sweet meeting spot!). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.


Knowledge about Gold Coast’s waterways for the price of a latte and bagel


My waterway the other morning 

The other week I got slightly peeved off because of the number of requests for meetings, email follow ups and phone calls to seek my input into projects, plans and strategies, as it was only week 3 of 2017. If it’s a community member wanting my input or a drink at a local pub I have all the time (well maybe a few hours) to freely-give them my knowledge, feedback and ideas. However, once it gets to high level government stuff where consultants are paid to dig their own hole of knowledge or build their own network knowledge database – argh!

But during the short and hot drive on my way to university today (post clean up with volunteers and a breakfast date with an out of town consultant), in a total of 7 minutes, I got some time to think, what I know it is actually not mine. It’s yours, it’s ours and it’s the communities and more importantly, it’s the places and species that don’t have a voice, it’s the environments. Because what I know, and the details of what I know, the personalities, dates of meetings, outcomes of reports, or no outcomes of reports, the results, the failures, the other person that knows everything and that I know they love olives and they give me mangoes, how to get cross-departments to work together, people’s and institution’s responsibilities, pipeline projects, investment ideas, strategies (I think I have already said that one), what the Mayor said when, which politician is dating who, or that they get their nails done there… and the best coffee places to take consultants. What I know is definitely not mine.

So what is my knowledge? How much is ‘this’ knowledge worth? And how do I value what I know? These questions are part of one of my five living Phd questions.

Let’s start with what is my knowledge? I have 20 years of institutionalised education. Once my Phd is done and dusted that will be 23 years, two undergraduate degrees, two postgraduate degrees, then there are the other million-and-one short courses to turn the font-size on my resume to 8 to try and fit everything on two pages. Then add up my 10 years of professional working experience (post first degree) and 10 years of volunteering experience, and at least 7 years of committee and board experience. I have acquired my knowledge through conversations, books and experiences. And I have a brain that files things in sync with the cloud, and a mind that is always in the clouds too. [I am yet to dissect the construction of my knowledge to drill deeper into the seeds of my knowledge].

Moving on.

How much is ‘this’ knowledge worth? Bucketloads more than a price of a coffee and bagel that is for sure. And here is the funny part, the consultant was seeking my input on the socio-economic values of Gold Coast’s waterways. I forgot to record it… damn it, as she was shocked to learn about the highly-networked community on the Gold Coast, who are incredibly passionate and active in caring for the waterways.

The stewardship of Gold Coast’s waterways is priceless. There about 30-50 community groups active in the waterway care network, let alone the recreational groups, there must be 500 or so of them! The ‘watch, land, science, school’ care groups that do stuff to improve the waterways are highly detailed and sophisticated. Then you have to consider their values, and then their values between and among groups. Even the years of trust-building to build trust between the community and council (not all of council). You can’t write that into a project plan, we are going to build trust with erecting 10 tackle bins. Which is why the consultant’s 6-month mission is, well, best of luck. Luckily they started with me.

The level of stewardship isn’t surprising when you admire the geography of the Gold Coast, as the Gold Coast is a water city. Soon enough the beauty of the waterways that attracts people in the first insistence rubs off on them. They could still be climate change deniers, but they care and want our waterways to be clean, and sewage and plastic free. Soon enough the waterways become part of you, as much as you become part of them. From the headwaters of the Coomera River, a world-class World Heritage destination, to the intertidal mudflats where solider crabs build sand cities twice a day, or the roosts that are home to some of the rarest migratory and resident shorebirds. Then between and among some of the most sophisticated canals and urban lakes, the emerald green fringes that are being added to with lots of tree planting, softens the checks and balances the greys, blues and golds of the Gold Coast. Gold Coast’s waterways are priceless.

But that answer isn’t good enough. Government can’t manage something that is priceless, they need a dollar figure. A dollar figure that will never reflect the values of someone in the future, which will be another limit to their study. What babies, toddlers, children, youth are they engaging in this socio-economic study?

I was then asked the comparison question, why is the  Gold Coast’s waterways better than other city waterways? Well, that is like asking why do you love your child more than the screaming baby that lives next door or your step-child perhaps? And I don’t have children.

In my words I said Gold Coast’s waterways are “prettier” because they are “special”. When I visit my local waterway I soak in the sun glitter, seek shade under the casuarinas, admire the rays, spot a few dolphins and enjoy the best latte or fish and chips. I enjoy the waterways because they are special. They trigger emotions and memories, foundation drivers that then trigger me to act to be an agent, to make them pretty. Then part of wants to make them prettier, and this is also the OCD and natural resource management junkie in me. So I come up with ways to make my waterway prettier to keep its special status, like influencing the council to control the weeds, thank the park cleaners in the morning, get on-leash signs erected to protect the birds, and have dog poop bags available…

I am one person among many more who are compelled to act as we also have a strong entrepreneurial spirit on the Gold Coast. If we see something that needs to be done, we find a way to make it happen.

So then how do I value what I know? Firstly, my time is very precious to me. If I am sharing what I know with a consultant, my mentor once said to me, make sure it is on your terms. So at 7am, on the way to university at my favourite cafe, down the road from my house, I honoured my knowledge by taking this approach (instead of meeting during business hours and in some bland meeting room too). I brain dumped everything I know that they may need for their study within an hour and a half, for you, the community and environment. They need to know what I know to ensure they capture the detailed personalities, the histories, the stories, even the characters and where to watch the perfect moonrise over the waterways. I know I can’t share everything in an hour and a half, but I can give them some leads, for a price of a coffee and bagel.

I really don’t want to sound wanky, or up myself either. But I value what I know so much I want to share it as much as I can, hence, this long tangent / Phd journal dump. I am sure there will be another socio-economic study about Gold Coast’s waterways and environment in the future, so next time I’ll be able to send the next consultant this link to save them buying me a coffee and bagel. Here are some links and leads.

Thanking for considering my knowledge to be of value to calculate a priceless part of the best city in in the world. Best of luck Gold Coast Waterways Authority! Looking forward to seeing the outcomes.

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.

Weird & wonderful ways to make things happen



A humble group of committed professionals and citizens co-designing a coastal clean-up free future. 

While your news feed is being flooded with Trump news about him going down as the worst and most embarrassing President of the United States in history, there’ll be snippets of viral videos and humble updates about weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place, with less plastic too.

First off the rank is the 1 Million Women video about Boomerang Bags. The video went viral last week hitting 2.3million views and the ladies behind sewing the boomerang bags haven’t stopped responding to the calls to action to set up Boomerang Bags communities. Boomerang Bags is a national initiative that transitions communities to be plastic free, one hand-made, zero waste reusable bag at a time! I hope they haven’t missed Ellen’s email…

Next in line is Take 3 for the sea’s ABC News update about the hundreds of thousands of litter and marine debris items collected by everyday beach goers, where they collect three-bits for the sea, and then share their plastic bits on Instagram and hash tag #PICKITUPSNAPITSHAREIT. It’s a simple solution to raising awareness about plastic pollution. I recommend getting involved in this solution and it makes leaving the other 1000s or so littered items left on the beach seem OK! You’ve consciously made a difference, right?

Boomerang Bags and Take 3 for the sea are two great examples of the weird and wonderful ways that are making our world a better place with less plastic too. Keep in mind neither of them could happen in isolation. If anything the media have significantly contributed to their calls to action in the last week, almost as impactful as the Huffington Post and other campaigns that is currently slaughtering and scrutinising Trump. However, above all their impact couldn’t be possible without dedicated and committed citizens – keep this in mind too. It’s as if Margaret Mead is still trying her best to drown out the banging and destruction in our world – and this literally happening outside my office! Construction works for progress, meh.  

A much more humble yet equally weird and wonderful call to action is being crafted by the institutions responsible for managing our natural resources. Yes, finally! As I write the Queensland Government, City of Gold Coast, Commonwealth Games Goldoc and Healthy Waterways and Catchments and the community (Gold Coast Marine Debris Network), have come together to revolutionise the way we track, monitor and report, and intercept litter and marine debris to protect our waterways. We sat around the table yesterday to break free of the institutional norms to co-design a better world with less plastic and perhaps a coastal clean up-free future. This is a major breakthrough that the community have been seeking for many, many, many years, ultimately a marine debris monitoring and management plan. Such a plan seems like a no-brainer, especially when the Gold Coast is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches and waterways. However, the mechanics of the disintegrated institutions have limited any possibility thus far (and this is despite having a water economy worth over $5billion!).

The catalyst this time round is a major grant we are collaborating on, and if it gets up, not only will Gold Coast’s waterways and beaches benefit, the international community driven to have a world with less plastic will sleep better at night too.

The drivers that have influenced this possibility to be a possibility is inclusive of the exogenous influences playing a part in the negotiations with media, community leadership, cultural expectations, economies and civic ownership (plus many more).  

Then there are the agents… and in my opinion it’s the community leadership and civic ownership, which have finally tipped the negotiations to get a plan!

Above all, this wouldn’t be possible without the level of negotiation I (and others) have incurred for many, many, many years. Such negotiations have almost sent me to the crazy house, especially in some meetings where I had to spell out what marine debris is, and why current ‘solutions’ are not working… I am serious, and these institutions are responsible for managing our natural resources! Please note: there are good people inside the institutions, however, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that they have failed to successfully negotiate inside their own institutions to have marine debris as a key component in their waste and water management plans – some are better than others. [This consistent failure inspired me to take on a Phd in institutional leadership and change to understand how those in institutions can influence decisions, or really influence their higher officers].

While this is being played out on the inside my local community haven’t stopped coming up with innovative solutions I bet they wish they could coin (e.g. Boomerang Bags is a Gold Coast export!). Such solutions are solutions because they do more than just ‘manage’ the issue, they actually stop the symptom in the first place. “If we only ever clean up, that is all we will ever do”, I quote Heidi Taylor, who is an Australian-based international expert on marine debris and citizen science from Tangaroa Blue Foundation. Move over Margaret Mead and everyone hail Heidi, who in my opinion is a key change agent at the heart of the progression on marine debris monitoring and management in Australia. With inspiration and guidance, my community have self-organised without the institutions (or in some incidences been drip fed with small grants and donations), and the meeting yesterday proved just how sophisticated citizens and citizen scientists have become when it comes to action on litter and marine debris.

To be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced on going to this meeting because I have spent hours and hours, goodness knows how many hours, sitting around tables, under fluorescent lights and contained within four walls meeting with clueless institutionalised bureaucrats about the plastic epidemic choking our waterways (I should also add the millions of dollars costing rate and taxpayers every year in clean up costs, and I better not forget the life threatening impacts on the 100,000 or so known wildlife too). That sentence was suppose to make you go out of breath, because I was almost out of breath – before yesterday. I had almost given up on trying to convince the institutions to invest in designing a monitoring and management plan for marine debris on the Gold Coast. Fortunately, a smarter than usual bureaucrat twisted my arm to attend that I thankfully attended…

Throughout the meeting I was in two-minds. Equally frustrated and equally thankful. Frustrated because the community, who are highly skilled, educated and experienced have been pitching such a project for many years. However, I was thankful that someone else was taking the minutes, someone else was responsible for writing the grant and I sat their gracefully sharing my ideas on how the community could be meaningfully involved. We are more than volunteers doing the dirty work!

As I drove home I gracefully smiled thinking, you know what, as much as the institutionalised bureaucrats and ‘science researchers’ in the meeting were frothing on the possibility of this project. None of it could be possible without the decade/s of community action already achieved. Today, my other frustrated self is thankful for being part of an incredible community that doesn’t stop until we get the outcome we know is the best-outcome for the environment. That is the ultimate goal!

If you have attended a clean up event on the Gold Coast I want to thank you because without your action I could not be in such positions (as much as they might seem frustrating) to put forward your ideas that add bucket-loads of soul to pivotal projects that will make our world a better place, with less plastic too.

I hope this tangent gives you some idea on what happens behind the scenes of cleaning up our waterways and beaches, inside the institutions that manage our natural resources. 

This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.