Happy Valley

Janine Rees

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature

We are in need of a world wide working bee. We have lots of hearts that need mending and some lives in need of a bit of a spit and polish. Save the date – World Wide Working Bee tomorrow! I think if we were to save the world we would have to start with ourselves and everyone has to pitch in. I think we’re ALL up for the challenge. Many hands make light work and we’re all in this together aren’t just clichés, but indisputable facts. I think the answer is so simple that perhaps we got a little lost in the search.

I have the fondest of memories of my early childhood holidays at the beach. We used to frequent a little beach shack in an island hamlet called Happy Valley. Two valleys divided by an enormous sand dune, covered in midden piles and whispering thousands of years of stories. There was a sense of the mystical in the second valley where we spent hour upon hour playing with our cousins; avoiding snakes, dingoes and wild brumbies, crazed during the mating season.

Our parents would spend their days fishing whilst we kids would do the pipi dance – twisting and digging with our tanned little feet. Once we’d struck pipi gold, we’d scoop up the smooth, fan-shaped treasure and race it over to the dad’s in their terry towelling hats. With cigarettes hanging from their lips and clasping coloured plastic goblets filled to the brim with xxxx beer poured from the long necks chilled in the polystyrene esky, we’d hand over our takings. With twisted faces we’d watch them crack each pipi open on the side of the old, black Land Rover and scoop out the soft shellfish bait. The parents would cast out into the gutter we had so cleverly found, in search of fish for dinner.

Now I didn’t have a problem with the capture and slaughter of the molluscs, but those beautiful, shiny, smooth creatures, with their wing-like fins looking at me with sad, googly eyes and mouths agape, trying to draw water into their gills in desperation… well they really got to me. As soon as the line was cast I’d start building my beach dam. As fish were caught and dropped into buckets, I would release them into my saviour dam. I would let them swim as best they could, though the dam would never retain enough water as the unrelenting porousness of the sand would start a race against time to run to the water’s edge to return with enough water for the fish to breathe.

I would counsel them and let them know they weren’t going to die on my watch. Not while I had the bucket of life. But every fishing expedition would end with me in a sobbing mess, as my friends, the fish, were beheaded and prepared for our dinner – which I was not eating thank you very much. Cannibals! I would just recover in time to be tucked into my sandy bed and start my long list of prayers starting with all the members of my immediate family, followed by all cousins (there were lots), aunts and uncles, grandparents, all my friends, the neighbours, my pre-school classmates, all of Australia and then everyone in the world and all the animals, phew! Then to end, the most solemn prayer each night was to ask God that there never again be a war. I loved my Dad so dearly that I could not bear the thought of him heading off to fight. This prayer would’ve been made as the Vietnam War came to an end and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge entered our lounge room through our black and white TV.

I believe that we are all born knowing right from wrong, it is innate. I felt it wrong to take the life of a poor defenceless fish just going about its fish business. I knew war and killing terribly unjust and wrong. As I grew though, the world taught me new truths and my empathy was curtailed, much to my parents’ relief and fishing pleasure I am sure. I was conditioned to take my place in polite society. The culture taught me you can kill some things to eat them and society says you can kill some bad people, and that’s ok. I did wax and wane on the empathy front though during the ‘aspiring to be a marine biologist’ period where I was morbidly reading and re-reading the Readers Digest series with detailed photographic evidence of the legal whaling industry and would cry myself to sleep knowing that probably at this very moment whales and dolphins, (which in my then nine year old mind were the most amazing creatures on this planet) were being slaughtered in bloodied waters nearby.

Imagine if we stopped teaching our kids to become acclimatised to a cruel and selfish world. Imagine if we stopped indoctrinating them with fear based dogma. Imagine if we stopped the us and thems. Imagine if everyone was free to be their truest self. Imagine if each and every individual decided that tomorrow was the day they would save themselves. That they would take a good hard look in the mirror and decide for evermore to only choose what’s right. Not what’s right for me or what is right for my kids or what is right for our neighbourhood or what is right for my business or what is right for our political party but what is right for the whole of humankind and the natural world within which we co-exist. If tomorrow were to be that day then,  imagine…

The simple answer is that we each choose to do what is right. It’s that easy.















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