The Way It Could Be.
Part 3 of 6.
Day 2: Morning
Although he had slept soundly Mike woke up early. Two things immediately struck him; the absence of any traffic noise, and the loud and rich chorus of bird calls. His bed was beside a long low window allowing him to look across the veranda roof down the slope to the lake, all now in pastel colours and a little mist. The distant view seemed different from this slightly higher angle, looking down on so many neat little clumps of foliage with roof tops protruding here and there. As he scanned the scene a slight movement caught his eye. Just outside the hedge three small wallabies were grazing on the sparkling wet grass.
He decided to go for a walk before breakfast, so dressed quickly, went down the stairs and out the front door. He could make out where the road beyond the front door would have once been because the footpath was still there, but beyond it was a hedge and netting fence enclosing a small orchard with chickens and ducks wandering around under the trees.
He headed up the slope, away from the town centre. Now he was more able to make sense of what he was seeing, and could identify some of the plants and the commons. Again he was stuck by how densely planted and manicured the landscape was as his path wound around patches of vegetables, shrubs, fruit trees, ponds, meadows and thickets of trees between the houses. Within a few hundred metres he had lost track of the turns he had made but knew he could find his way back without much trouble just by heading down slope.
He heard something coming towards him, some sort of vehicle it seemed although it was not a car. Around the bend came a horse slowly pulling a small dray loaded with hay barrels and empty crates. The driver waved a greeting as Mike climbed to sit on the fence to watch the parade. Chains and coils of rope and a lantern swung from hooks on the side. Sitting beside the driver was a small dog and written on the side of the dray were some faded words but all Mike could make out was " Maxwell, General Carrier."
Mike thought back and calculated that he had not seen one motor car or truck moving since hed arrived. He knew where some of the narrow tarred roads ran and where the parking space behind the shops was, but he hardly walked on one tarred road yet. Most of the wheeled traffic hed come across was bicycles, often with a carrier on the front or back.
The houses thinned out as he found himself climbing a fairly steep and narrow ridge with a paddock on one side and forest on the other. Two cyclists came down and offered cheery good mornings as they passed. At a T he decided to go to the right, down off the ridge, with the aim of circling around and back to the house. The path soon headed steeply down into a gully and plunged into tall thick forest. He came to a small sign reading "Marys Dell". He turned into it and soon found himself dropping into a narrow forested gully. After only about 50 metres of winding down a now very narrow path between sandstone outcrops and ferns he began to hear running water. Branches hung low, making the track more like a tunnel in some places and damp ferns brushed his shins. At times the low sandstone overhangs made the path pass through little caves. In one he could hear water dripping, out of sight. The sky was obscured by tall trees and within some of the thickets it was quite dim.
Then suddenly the path levelled and came out of the scrub into an amphitheatre some 30 metres across, a clear and open space surrounded by a ring of massive tree trunks, and above a lofty ceiling of boughs and foliage blocking out the sky. Across the floor of the space a tiny creek trickled between mossy boulders and ferns, into pools and over rocks and low ledges. In the center, beside the path was a heavy old log seat, almost as green with moss as the rocks around it. It was as if he had come along a mine shaft and suddenly burst into King Solomons great hall. He sat down and leaned back, gazing up into the tangle of boughs high above.
All that could be heard were the bird calls and the gentle gurgling of the water. Nothing moved. It was a magical, inspiring place. Mikes gaze zoomed in on caverns, gnarled logs, lichens and hanging strips of bark and the massive pillars of the surrounding gums, as if he needed to somehow map it all. Where did the creek flow in? Where did it go? Which direction was the town from here? Is this natural; the trees were in such a regular circle they could have been planted, but they were so big, like the pillars of a cathedral, reaching out and joining overhead. Thats it, Mike thought, this is a kind of church, a place of reverence, at least a place with the power to move the spirit, even capable of jolting the agnosticism in the soul of a hard headed, slightly burnt out journo. He felt a confusion of something like awe and humility and gratitude, and a sense of his own smallness and fretful impatience in the presence of timeless nature. Above all was the sense of calm, natural beauty. Then he realized that his initial concern to find answers had passed; all that mattered now was just to sit there and soak up the experience and appreciate the moment.
As if God intended to reward the right response, a faint beam of sunlight found its way through the lifting mist beyond the trees and bathed a far rock wall in golden light for no more than a minute, then it faded and was gone.
He sat and looked slowly from side to side, then suddenly became aware of the time hed been away without notice. He stood and turned a full circle before moving off. The path zig-zagged steeply up the other side of the dell. When he reached a ledge he turned to look back down through the ferns into the amphitheatre. Then it struck him that hed probably never again be here. He could of course come back any time, but he knew he wouldnt get around to it. When he turned back to the path the magic would have gone for ever.
He hadnt brought his watch but knew hed been away longer than hed intended, so he walked fast up the winding path out of the forest, reflecting with some surprise how the encounter had somehow cracked him out of a mould, at least for a short time. He felt unusually well disposed towards the world. He grinned, thinking that even if Melissa had appeared on the track he might have said good morning such is the power of nature.
After getting lost twice he soon found his way to the house and as he bounded up the back steps he smelt appetising aromas coming from the kitchen. Pete was cooking something, wearing heavily patched trousers kept up with braces, with toes poling out of tattered slippers..
"Gerday! Been exploring? Where did you go?"
"I found Marys Dell. What a hell of a spot! I mean what a heavenly spot."
"What?" Said Pete. "Marys Dell? Never heard of it. Are you sure? Nothing around here with that name?"
"What? Yes, just up the slope, in the gully to the right, the East, cant be more than 500 metres from here."
Pete was looking at him seriously, chin in hands. "No. Ive lived here twenty years; I should know this place."
Mike was lost for words. There was silence, then he took a breath but before he could speak Pete said, "You know, I can remember people saying that somewhere in these hills only once every hundred years a magical place appears in the forest. No one living here has ever found it, but they say that anyone who stumbles into it will be forever after blessed with purer thoughts and good will." Pete looked up with a grin.
"You bugger! Had me there for a moment!"
"Its a fabulous spot isnt it, really inspiring, especially early in the morning. Like going to church I guess I dont really know what thats like though."
"Yes, thats how I saw it, like a cathedral, with the ceiling arching up from the columns. Maybe more like one of those circular Greek temples now that I think of it."
" I save it up, to visit when I need a spiritual lift," said Pete. "But do you realize there are a number of similar spots within twenty minutes of here?
"Yes. Theres a meditation hut half way up the mountain, with a fabulous view. Theres another one in a rock cave. And one of my favourites is in the wetland, like a hide so you can sit there and watch the bird life close up in among the paper bark thickets. Theyre like little bunches of parsley. And there are two more planned."
"Yes, theyre sites some group has decided to create or garden or maintain, to make them into specially beautiful or inspirational places. But Marys Dell is the oldest one we have. Thats because Mary planted most of the trees decades ago."
"Ah I wondered whether they were natural. It seemed so wild, but the trees were so circular."
"Yes, that was Marys vision, and about thirty years later its a reality. Mind you thats a big site and there are many little niches and nooks all over the place that you come across along the path. "
"But who makes them, and who looks after them?"
"Anyone who wants to. Same as the big log seat yesterday. Sometimes someone will take an interest in a stretch of path near their house, or sometimes a group will care for a gully or plant a little forest or develop a rose garden, all on public space. They just like making that bit of the landscape nice. Most people around here are keen gardeners so theyre happy to get a bit more turf to fuss over. Jan and I look after the lane out the front. We dont have much time to give to it but we like keeping it nice. We prune the Jasamine down so people can look into our garden as they pass. Jan put the Dahlia patch there. Its a great show when theyre on. Did you notice the geraniums in the pots outside the workshop yesterday? Someone brought them in last week and just set them up. I think it was Andrea but Im not sure. Sometimes Jan will cut some of our flowers and take them down to the restaurant of the library and put them in vases. Lots of people are always just doing things like that, to make the village nicer for everyone. Hey you must be starving. What do you want to eat?"
Just as Mike lifted a bowl of muesli from the bench and turned towards the table, Pete, holding a plate of toast and poached eggs said, "Come into my breakfast room." Mike followed out and down the back steps across the grass. Pete lifted a latch and held a wire gate open. The fence was covered by a vine. Mike found himself in a chicken pen.
"Take a seat. This is one of the spots where I have my breakfast, when I am especially in need of convivial company. Sometimes I just amble around the garden, or go next door, or down to the pond, porridge pot in hand. But this is where I get most appreciation for my cooking."
Mike could see what that meant as several chickens crowded around Petes feet, gawking up demanding toast crust. He spoke to them as if they were family. A brown rooster jumped onto Mikes knee and nearly upended his bowl. Pete admonished quietly, as if a childs table manners had disappointed him. "Mind you this is much less problematic than going near Francis with a pot of porridge. He goes mad, scratching at the ground, and when he gets even the smallest spoonful, he kneels down and rolls over in delight. They all have their different personalities."
"Who is Francis?"
"A donkey. Youll meet him."
As they were clearing away the breakfast things Jan came up the back steps.
"Hi Mike. Sorry I wasnt here to say good morning but I had to go over to help Adele very early. She has a monster day today, cooking a big dinner for her mums surprise birthday party and we had to get the duck ready for the oven. "
"Can I do anything useful?" said Mike.
"Oh thanks, maybe just sweep the decking. Amy was making a necklace out of flowers. Peter, where are you taking Mike this morning; I forget."
"To the bank first, then to Toms." Turning to Mike, "Tom runs the carpentry shop. By the way Jan, where is Amy?"
"No idea," said Jan. "She had breakfast and left."
"On her bike?"
"No, but she probably hasnt gone far. Do you want her for anything?"
"No, but she is supposed to be at the bank at 11."
"Yes, she knows. Shell be there."
Pete explained to Mike, "Robs teaching a group of kids a bit about the operation of the bank, things like credit and interest. Amy wants to work there an hour or so a week doing simple things. She had a job at the glass works before this, two hours a week, cleaning up and getting morning teas. Says she knows all there is to know about glass now."
"Can she blow it?"
"Actually she did bring home something, Jack helped to make it. A bit wonky, but interesting."
"Dont you worry about where she is? I mean is it safe for here to be out without you knowing?"
"Oh yes. No problem. Everyone knows all the kids. Theyre perfectly safe anywhere in town. Amys got several hundred parents. Hey Jan, Mike found Marys Dell."
Just then a knock at the door. Pete went out and greeted someone, then called out Its Nick Jan. Hes in a hurry.
Jan went to the door. Mike heard her saying, "By the way Nick can you thank Mary for the recipe. I"ll try it tonight, if I can get some blueberries."
"There are still some on the bushes in the grove behind Megs cafe"
Oh, really. I thought it would be too late to find any on now."
"Could be. If there arent any there try Elaine. I know she had a lot in the pantry ready to bottle."
"O.K.. Thanks. Well, have fun with your sludge!"
"Now lets get you to the bank. I checked yesterday with Rob and hell be free in ten minutes to explain a bit about how it operates. You coming Jan?"
"Yes, but Ill go to the co-op; we need a few things for lunch."
Although they walked briskly they had to stop several times as Pete or Jan pointed out something or chatted to someone.
Out of the blue Jan said, "By the way, remember Barry yesterday, he brought the eggs? Well would you be surprised if I told you he was a semi-retired eye surgeon, only teaching part-time now?"
"Well yes, I would."
"What did you think he might be?"
" he just seemed like a nice but slightly doddery grandpa, whod be a bit stretched even delivering the eggs."
"Delivering eggs is important."
"Yes, but this is about status. An eye surgeon eh?"
"I didnt say he was."
"Oh, what are you trying to do here, confuse me again?"
"I was thinking about how its a mistake to classify someone by their social position or job or education. That doesnt tell me much about them. That doesnt tell me whether they are nice, or reliable or friendly or generous or helpful or anything that really matters when you live here. You cant sum up Barry or his status or quality or significance with an occupational or educational label. That doesnt tell you his status. Youd have to live here a long time and interact with him before you would have any important knowledge of him, and know what respect is due. I know his nature and capacities and weaknesses because Ive rubbed shoulders with him for years. If theres a problem I can judge whether to ask him for help or advice, and to me that sort of thing constitutes his status. So we arent very impressed by appearances or labels. They just dont tell us much thats important or how to regard or respect someone. And you cant bluff around here. No good putting on make up to give the impression you dont have spots, because people see you all the time and they know what youre like."
"That makes sense. But tell me, is he really an eye-surgeon?
Jan smiled, and after a few seconds said quietly, "Nope."
"Well, then, what is he?"
"OK, I got that, but nope hes not an eye surgeon?"
Thats not what I meant. I meant nope, I dont want to tell you."
"Because you would use that to fix him, to classify him, wouldnt you? If I said yes, then next time you met him you would tend to defer wouldnt you. But if hes only an egg deliverer you wouldnt. So its not good for your education young Michael to know. I think its best if you deal with the problem of how to regard Barry in terms of your experience of him."
"So you wont tell me?"
"Im saying I dont want to. I will if you really want to know."
"Why dont you just refuse? Cant stick to your principles?"
"I dont want to be authoritarian, and force my position on you."
"Hmm. Very interesting. Very interesting Ill think about it and my people might get in touch with your people later, right?"
"Bank ahead!" Pete said. "There it is. Now hows that for grandiose architecture.
Appropriate for the towns premier financial institution?"
"You mean that?", said Mike, pointing to a modest single storey building.
"No, the one this side."
"You mean the tiny weatherboard cottage?"
"Yep; thats it. Come and read the sign out front."
"Ill leave you financial giants here," said Jan. "Ive got more important business to do.
Patsy says my new darning needles have come in. Pete lost my best one."
The sign said, "THE GLEN CREDIT UNION AND BUSINESS INCUBATOR. Open 10-3,
Wed. and Fri." and then gave a phone number.
"Impressed?" asked Pete with a laugh. "This my dear Michael is actually about the most
important institution in this town."
"Yes. And you will soon agree."
"Why is it so important?
"Tell me, when you put your savings in your local bank who invests them? Who borrows
them and uses them?"
"Wouldnt have a clue."
"Thats my first point. Now, where are they invested. What are they used to do?"
"I dont know. Whatever the bank lends them for I suppose."
"Right again, and that means your savings are probably used by some transnational
corporation far away, and used to do something you probably wouldnt approve of, such
as building another arms factory. They get the loans because they can pay the interest
rate and make most profit on the investment. And your savings and all those of all the
people who live in your neighbourhood do not get invested in anything that will develop
and enrich your neighbourhood do they?"
"Well when we put our savings in this bank we know that the money will only be lent to
someone who is going to do something that will benefit the town, such as set up a new
little firm that will supply something important."
"Just then a tall young man in a T shirt and genes came out of the cottage, bending his
head down to clear the low veranda arch, and called to Pete, "Saw you there. Come on
"Hi Rob. Just started explaining the bank to Mike. Mike this is Rob, bank CEO."
In a few paces they had gone through the gate, past the little garden and across the old
wooden decking into a small office. Rob waved them to comfortable old chairs close to a
coffee table beside his desk. He dropped into one of the chairs, sitting with his long legs
crossed, jutting out beside Mikes chair, hands on head. Mike noticed his worn and dusty
boots, and small holes in one sock. At least this bank wasnt squandering shareholder
funds on Italian suits for its manager.
Rob grinned. "Want a loan?"
"Depends." Mike snapped back. "What interest rate?"
"Depends," said Rob. "Maybe 10%. Maybe nothing. In fact we might just give you the
money and not ask for it back."
Pete said, "Now man, you got bankers like that where you come from?"
"Er, dont think so. The only kind we got are bastards."
"Rob, we keep hitting the poor bloke with things that dont make sense. Explain it to him."
"OK. OK. Its all very simple really. About twenty years ago a group of people got
together to pool their savings and make them available to each other to borrow, mostly to
build houses. It was just a mutual fund. At first they just had an account at the ordinary
bank in town. It grew a little for a few years, but then the bank closed its branch because
the town was slowly dying. So they just decided to develop their fund into a kind of bank
of their own. In fact its now officially a credit union and we had to jump through lots of
bureaucratic legal hoops to form it, but we did, and now this town owns its own mini bank.
The important point however is that we developed our own special rules. Oh, I should say
that by we I just mean all the depositors in the cooperative. We voted on the rules and
one of them says all of the money deposited in this bank must be lent only to ventures in
and close to the town, and those things must be socially and ecologically desirable. They
must improve the town in some way."
"Yes I mentioned that, but explain the interest rates."
"Now people who receive many of our loans are viable little firms and can pay normal
interest rates, so were in a position to use that income to subsidise other loans for good
purposes at lower interest, or sometimes at no interest, and indeed sometimes we can
give a grant to a good venture, that is give the money without expecting anything to be
"Thats how Henry got started isnt it?"
"Yes. Henry tried to start a little shoe repair business, but couldnt make it pay. He
needed better equipment and a bigger work place. We discussed the situation and
concluded that it was a good thing for this town to have shoes repaired and kept going
rather than being thrown away, and that this would save money for people."
" and provide Henry and his family with a livelihood."
"Thats right. And that eliminates the cost of Henry being in the unemployed ranks. So
we gave Henry the money to fit out a little workshop."
" which the town built for him in three days, through working bees, a small mud
"Yes, our grant mainly paid for his stitching machines."
"See, because we have a bank were able to take a lot of control over our own
development. Were in a position to say, This development would be good for the town,
so lets fund it. Most of the ventures we lend for are quite viable and bring in enough
income to cross subsidise others. Its a non-profit mutual thing. We dont have to
send any of our income out to shareholders, so everything we make can be lent to more
borrowers and good causes, after costs are met."
"Explain the cross subsidising point more."
"Its just a way of transferring a little wealth from those more fortunate to those
less so. People who can pay a higher interest rate are helping out those who cant. Mind
you, they benefit anyway, because they get their loan at a better rate than a normal bank
"Like I said, repayments to this bank dont have to generate profits for shareholders, and
they dont have to pay astronomical salaries to CEOs, or cover elaborate offices,
uniforms or advertising, or teleconferencing or business class air travel."
"But if you are lending to people other than those who can pay the highest interest rates,
the bank isnt efficient is it. Its not maximising its returns. In the normal world youd be
taken over by a corporation that would cut out those inefficiencies and prosper much
"Yes thats right. Thats what the neo-liiberal would do, but that would be to totally ignore
all other goals, like whats good for the town."
"But your depositors are actually paying a cost in interest foregone to prop up Henry."
"Yep. Thats the way we operate in this town. Always protect and subsidise, and always
reduce efficiency, when taking those steps makes sense, when its a sensible price to
pay for retaining society and livelihoods and ecosystems. People who deposit in our bank
understand all that. They are citizens, not self-interested wealth maximising consumers."
"And Rob, explain the business incubator, because it was important in getting Henry
where he is today wasnt it?"
"Yes. The bank only takes up two rooms of this little old house. The back part has three
rooms where people running small firms can get assistance with, for example, a visiting
accountant and tax expert, computers, a fax machine, part time secretarial assistance
and gophers. Again sometimes theyll be able to pay for these and sometimes we give
them without payment to firms we think its important to keep alive."
Pete said, "Then theres the really important brains trust part."
"Yes. If anyone comes along with a business idea we can call on many experienced
people to come in and brain storm the idea, to see if it is viable, to make suggestions, to
work out how it might best be got off the ground. So little entrepreneurs with good ideas but no experience are not left to sink or swim. The trust is also a vast memory and store knowledge about the locality, so its able to make good judgments about what will work and what wont."
Pete said, "It was Randle wasnt it who came up with the idea of Henry buying more
elaborate machinery than he had intended, so he could do a wider rage of leather and
harness and canvass work. Henry at first had only thought of boot repair, but now he has
bigger operation. He can make and repair many other things."
"Thats right, but he couldnt have bought that gear with the loan he first sought. We
actually suggested to him changing his goals."
"And now were all very happy that he did. We have access to many more services, and
he has an income and the satisfaction of being a worthwhile member of our community."
"And his business enriches the town, I mean makes it a more diverse and interesting
place. You can drop in and watch him sewing and riveting. In fact he now makes
saddles, for pony riding and for cart horses. He did a course on that "
"Which we paid for with another loan."
"Yes but that was a loan he was happy to repay with interest, because at that stage his
business was viable."
"Thats essentially it. You now understand banking well enough."
"Who makes the decisions?"
"The board. There are ten of us, elected by the town, and we have a wider circle we can
get advice from, all voluntary of course. No outrageous consultation fees. Often well put
out a discussion paper on a proposal to get input from anyone with ideas."
"Are you paid?"
"Yes. Four of us staff the desk part time, and the bank is only open a few hours a week.
Thats enough. If you want to discuss a loan you arrange to come when someones here;
waste of time keeping a place like this open all the time."
"Sounds just great," said Mike. "Why dont all towns and suburbs do the same?"
"Exactly!" said Rob. "Why not? I guess because they dont understand how
effective a town bank can be in giving the power to control your own local development."
Pete said, "Maybe we should explain a bit more about interest payments. They are not
really interest. See in a stable no-growth economy there cant be any interest. In a
capitalist economy the few with most of the capital invest it and get back more than
they had, and then they want to invest all that, so the amount of capital invested grows all
the time and therefore the amount of production grows. Thats not acceptable in a
sustainable world. Your must have a steady state economy eventually, operating on
much lower rates of GDP per capita than Australia has now. Our interest payments are
really only intended to cover the costs of the bank, plus to transfer some wealth from
some people to others in order to ensure that little people have livelihoods and can play a
valuable role in the town."
"Thats right. We look on them as fees for service."
"Another important thing about the bank," said Pete, "is that it is one of the mechanisms
the town owns and runs for the purpose of performing crucial services for the town. Its
not a private firm whose only aim is to make as much money as possible for distant
shareholders. Its like the oil pump on an engine. This town needs ways for gett9ing
loans to its people, ways for keeping little businesses going, preserving the livelihoods of
its people, enabling us to produce things we otherwise would have to import. Our bank
helps to provide these services. Therefore its role and motivation are not like those of
normal banks. No normal bank would have a branch in this town, because it couldnt
make much profit here. If it did have a branch here, it wouldnt do the town-maintaining
things this bank does."
Then, looking suddenly at his watch, Rob exclaimed, "Oops, must run. I have to phone
Tony Binns. His committee thinks we should help finance a footbridge over Tallow creek.
Mike drop in again any time."
"Thanks. Ill work up a proposal. Think this town could find work for a slightly worn out
and embittered journo?"
"Be nice to have you. We do have a town newspaper, but most of the work is voluntary."
"Might have guessed."
Pete explained that he had arranged for them to meet with Tom at his carpentry and
joinery shop in half an hour but that he had something to do before then, so Mike might
as well stroll around town.
He headed to the South West as he hadnt been there before. After meandering for some
minutes he heard kids carrying on enthusiastically some way ahead. The lane came out
onto a park, although it was more like a meadow with long grass and three goats tethered
to one side.
As he came around a bend there before him on the grass were about ten youngsters maybe from five to fifteen excitedly and noisily scampering around what looked like a big pile of colourful rags. He stopped and moved to a bench, deciding not to ask but to watch what they were doing.
There was much calling of advice as if negotiating and getting organised. Mikes best guess was that they were putting up a shelter of some kind, but this seemed less plausible after a minute or so as all of them had got hold of a rope and had moved back into a circle. Everyone seemed to be telling someone else what to do next.
"Emily, pull now!" "I am." "It must be Sarahs." "Wally, stop." "Not so fast."
As the ropes were pulled the fabric moved a little, in a chaotic way. There seemed to be pieces of wood underneath to which the ropes were attached. All the ropes seemed to run under the fabric to a central point. Mike then saw that one of the kids was Amy.
After more calling and trial and error someone called "Thats it. Donnies got the head."
Donnie was about five years old and was pulling hard on his rope. Most of the others stopped hat they were doing and watched or gave advice and encouragement. Mike wondered why someone didnt help him, especially as some of the teenagers were quite big.
As Donnie tugged a huge comical head slowly rose from the fabric. It reached vertical, wobbled and fell forward. Two of the kids each cried out "Mine!" as their ropes jerked forward a little. They immediately hauled and the head rose backwards and they steadied, jerking Donnies hands forward a little. The three of them adjusted their tensions and the head stabilised.
Immediately the others began chattering and tugging. "Im a leg!" someone called. "Well dont pull yet." Someone else said.
"Hey, look!" a girl said and giggled as she pulled and released her rope a big hand rose and fell.
More confusing calls. "Dudley, you try." "Everyone stop!" "No, it must be Pats."
One of the girls pulled and the head rose a little. The three holding the head ropes managed to get the head into a vertical position, but this time higher in the air and Mike could see that the rope Dudley had pulled had started to lift a huge torso from the lying position. He pulled slowly and it angled up a little more, but the head again started to tip. He stopped while the three others adjusted their ropes to get the head back to vertical. Then he pulled again slowly while the others managed to coordinate their holds to keep the head more or less where it should be.
As Dudley and the other three got the torso and head upright some of the other kids were able to see that their ropes controlled the arms and hands. They immediately began tugging and giggling, making the arms and hands move about wildly.
"OK, OK, Calm down," someone said. "Lets get the arms organised."
As the torso began to tip forward the arms were moved out forward and the hands placed on the ground.
"Now lets go around one at a time." While the first four held their ropes steady the others pulled their ropes in turn, causing various tremors and jerks. Soon one of these experiments resulted in a convulsive upwards jerk in the figures rump.
"Jason. Which side?"
"Cant tell. Lets keep going then."
Others pulled in turn until there was another lurch.
"Amy! Youre right knee. Jasons left."
"OK, lets go."
There was relative quiet as several now began to pull carefully on their ropes. Mike watched as the giant puppets backside rose slowly until he was wobbling uncertainly in a kneeling position. With much "Sarah, hold on!" and "Jenny let go!" the puppet gathered forward speed and pitched onto its face, with elbows jutting out and rump in the air. Then it wobbled from side to side and threatened to go down completely. More consternation and frantic orders and tugging, and he stabilised, as if a Moslem at prayer.
They got organised again and began to haul him back up, and Mike could now see what a difficult and uncertain task it was because it meant that several of the rope holders would have to coordinate their movements well. While some had to pull on their ropes others had to let rope out. Sometimes several would have to keep the right tension while letting rope out. If they got it wrong the figure could topple. It was all made more difficult and amusing by the fact that some of the kids were so young. He wondered why the big kids didnt swap ropes with them. Obviously they all had to work together pretty well or they would never get him up.
When they had the puppet again on his hands and knees another critical point seemed to have been reached. This time the task was to half straighten the knee joint, while moving the body weight backwards over the feet to make it possible for the figure to stand. Evidently this involved maintaining support with one hand but moving the other backwards to help as a counterweight to tip the balance back enough. Twice Mike thought all was lost because puppet seemed certain to fall to the side, but disaster was narrowly avoided amid great commotion of alarm and instructions and little kids nearly pulled off their feet. Mike was now thoroughly drawn into the campaign, joining in the cheering and the groaning along with the passers by who had stopped to watch.
At last the puppet was stable enough and in a crouching stand on two feet. They didnt have so much trouble straightening him up into a standing position. Then those controlling the arms and hands raised them high over his head and the puppet performed a fist clenching self-congratulatory victory salute. Even the head swivelled from side to side.
"Manfred stands again!"
"Calisthenics !" someone called.
"No. Limbo dance!" someone else called.
One or two of the people who had been watching changed places with some of the original participants. They decided on limbo dance and again with a mixture of urgent cries and advice and confusion the puppet began to sag backwards while wobbling precariously on his big feet.
The puppet stood about five metres high, evidently made of very light materials. The ropes let into the puppet at ground level so it was not possible to see how they operated the limbs. He wore a very sloppy costume and this is what had made him look like a collapsed tent at the start.
At one point he started to sag to one side and then back again. Amy and Jason controlling the sideways movement of the knees thought they would add to the excitement by setting up a swaying, but this gave the whole venture such an uncertain future they were quickly persuaded to just hold him firmly.
As he approached horizontal backwards some of the participants lowered one of his hands to the ground for support. When they got his chest and head level the hand was raised and all cheered. But evidently the tension was all too much for poor old Manfred because with a shudder he began to tip further back and to the side, gathered pace and crumpled to the grass despite the commotion from the struggling rope holders. Donnie was yanked off his feet and dragged along the grass. Everyone else was dancing around jubilantly.
Mike turned to the couple who had also sat on his bench. The older man said, "They did well. Its days since anyone got him up. Margaret and I joined in last week. I was a knee and I let the team down. Just couldnt fine tune with my other knee. Mind you Im 75 and he was 6."
"Why didnt someone help Donnie?" asked Mike. "He slowed them down. He did well for a little fellow but the head seemed crucial; if its in the wrong place the balance is all out. If hed swapped with Max they would have done better."
"Oh you see the rule is that they all take a rope to start with not knowing what they have and you then stick with that and the task is to see if your team can get him up and doing things. You might find that your littlest player has the most difficult job, then you have to try to help but only verbally."
Toms carpentry and Joinery was a large low cluttered, cave-like shed not far from the shops and within 100metres of the community workshop. The whole front of the shed was more or less open and Mike and Pete stood on the footpath looking in at the benches, wood racks and tools. The floor was covered in shavings and sawdust. Various incomplete jobs could be seen, including a dismantled old chair with re-glued parts held in clamps, and a large new cupboard nearly completed. Jigs and tools hung from the low ceiling beams, made from saplings. The uprights were heavy logs with rusty bolts and iron work. In a big wooden vice was a partly finished rocking horse head. To one side of the workshop was a little nest of old chairs and a small low bench clustered around a pot belly stove in which a fire was smouldering. Cups and jugs sat on the table beside the fire and a kettle perched on the edge of the stove.
As they approached Pete said, "Toms outfit is typical of the small businesses around here. Most of our cash economy is made up of these, operated by an individual or a family or a small coop, and producing mostly for use in their neighbourhood or town. The next level up are the bigger firms that produce mainly to supply the region containing several towns, and exporting some of their products further afield. Well take you to the fridge factory over at Scotsdale this afternoon. You dont need a fridge factory in every town, but you do need one for the region. Most of the everyday things bought in The Glenn are produced in households and little farms and firms like Toms joinery, and the bakery, and the dairy and the fish farms."
A figure came in through the back door carrying an armful of planks. Pete called out and
they walked into the shed to meet Tom. After introducing Mike Pete pointed to the bench and said, "What you doing Tom?"
"About eight things, but mainly the rocking horse for Polly. Its to be a surprise so Im living in dread that shell wander in so Ive put the parts in different places, see front legs over there. This woods for the body. Hope Zac comes in with the tail soon."
"What will it be made from?"
"Long hair from one of his Clydesdales, so it will look pretty real. Same for the mayne. Kerrys weaving a straw hat for it."
"Are the leather straps from Goldilocks."
"No. From some old harness I keep mostly for toys and hinges. Cant beat leather."
"Whos the cupboard for?"
"Made to order I take it?"
"Yes. Cant get around to the staining. See Im working mostly on Jennys house. She wants to move in sooner than she thought at first."
"Toms building Jennys pole house. Hope we have time to take you up there."
"Whats a pole house?"
"Just ten long heavy posts sunk into the slope with the floor and roof cross-beams bolted into notches. She insisted the house had to be way up the side of the hill. Reckon it must be over 30 degree slope there. See you can just about make a pole house on any slope. The views from the veranda will be fabulous."
Tom took them around, explaining various projects. Mike saw tools hed never seen before, including spokeshaves, augres, drawknives and adzes. Tom mostly used hand tools but there was a small electric saw bench and planer, and a drill press and wood turning lathe. On one shelf was a large array of strangely shaped steel blades. "They fit into this plane, for cutting differently shaped mouldings and rebates, see, for windows, picture frames. My dad was an apprentice carpenter and he had to grind all his own blades before he got his ticket. This set is over 60 years old."
"Nice smell of wood," said Mike.
"Yes" said Pete, "Helps to make a great atmosphere doesnt it, if you know what I mean."
"And of course the aroma depends on the wood Im using. Most of this", said Tom looking at the shavings on the floor, "is Camphor Laurel. Here, take a whiff." He picked up an off cut from the floor and held it under Mikes nose.
"Wow, isnt it strong; sure is camphor."
"How about a cuppa?" Tom said gesturing towards the pot belly stove.
"Great idea. Ill crank up, said Pete, scratching up shavings and chips and opening the fire box door.
"Any questions about my corporation?" said Tom.
"Total number of staff and line?" asked Pete.
"Full time? Maybe equates to half a person."
"Weekly payroll and turnover?"
"Level of employee satisfaction?" said Pete.
"Perfect. Nothing in the world Id rather do than make things out of wood. I went to sleep last night mulling over how best to do this rocking horse head, came in all set to carve this morning, but I havent been able to get to it yet. Nancy was waiting with the chair. One of the kids broke it and the friend who gave it to her is coming over from Wintonvale tomorrow so we gotta get it back into shape quickly."
Mike fell silent as the tea was made and Tom got out a bowl of scones, butter and jam. There was a lull and Mike said, "Look, its terrific, really cute, but I just cant see how this is at all economic, I mean how you survive when big corporations can mass produce furniture very cheaply. Yet here you are making things one at a time, mostly with hand tools. Can you explain how this is a viable business."
"Well, first I dont need much of a cash income, living here in The Glen. Second my aim is only to earn that much in money, not to accumulate and expand the business, and above all my goal in life is to do woodwork; I just love it. I get a wide range of jobs, furniture repair, toys, horse carriage work, even building whole houses."
"Are you the only woodworker in town?"
Pete laughed. "There are probably 100 woodworkers in this town. But therere only three who get a significant proportion of their monetary income from it. Thats all we need, and thats all we have. Hec doesnt do much these days. Ben does more but he also does ironwork, welding and blacksmithing."
"Is the competition strong?"
"No. Theres no competition at all."
"Why not? How come?"
"Well, we just seem to have a certain level of need for woodwork, and we just seem to have enough people wanting to do it. People who want things made or repaired seem to come along to each of us now and then and we all get about the amount of work and income we want."
"But without competition you cant expect innovation or improved efficiency."
"Why not?" Tom shot back. "Im always exploring new production and organization ideas, and Im always designing and trying new gadgets. Do you think this can only be motivated by the prospect of increased sales and wealth or the need to beat a rival. Why do you think I innovate?"
Mike remained silent.
"Because I like designing and making things and working out better devices! I like my little enterprise. I like to see it chugging along, so Im delighted to find better ways, that maybe save me some time, or make stronger joints."
"But thats to do with the individual small firm level. Big things like corporations will get lazy and lose interest in innovation unless they are in competition."
"Not necessarily. What about the CSIRO in its heyday? It did a vast amount of valuable research and came out with many new methods, especially for agriculture, all done by people who didnt even get any direct benefit, because they were scientists paid a salary. Why did they work hard and innovate? Because they loved that work."
"What if some gung-ho entrepreneur came to town and set up with lots of modern machinery and started to produce furniture more cheaply than you could?"
"Then hed go broke immediately," said Pete.
"What? I said if he could undercut Toms prices?"
"Makes no difference. He wouldnt be able to sell anything."
"Because we wouldnt buy from him! Why did you think we would?"
" because he can sell things more cheaply of course!" Mike was getting a little agitated, but he was aware of Petes tendency sometimes to make his point in a puzzling way.
"Look, in the economy you come from thats all that matters isnt it, whether he can sell at the lowest price, and if he can you let him ruin every other firm in his line. But not here. In our economy we take into account all the factors that matter and there are many factors that are far more important than the price of the item sold."
"Such as whether or not Tom has a livelihood or is thrown onto the scrap heap of unemployment, for starters! Livelihood is an extremely important and neglected concept. Do you think whether or not Tom has the means to earn the small amount of money he needs, and to go on enjoying his craft and getting satisfaction from providing us with rocking horses, are irrelevant? These are among the important consequences, costs and benefits involved in the issue. Its not satisfactory to let his fate be determined by one factor, again, who can sell cheapest."
"But what if Tom becomes very inefficient and lazy and you start paying more than you need to for woodwork?"
"Oh then wed have a problem and wed have to think about what to do about it. We would probably say, Hey Tom, can we help you smarten up a bit. Do you need a loan, or bigger premises, or to do a course, or to move to another activity?"
"But what if he has just become bone lazy and wont smarten up and there this energetic entrepreneur eager to set up?"
"Then people might eventually say, Sorry Tom, the net benefit would come from having a a new firm and if this new guy sets up many of us will probably buy from him, given that you refuse to lift your game. But it wouldnt ever come to that."
"So you are in effect willing to subsidise Tom, when you dont have to?"
"Yes, of course. We wouldnt have to do that if our only concern was to minimize our purchasing price, but again that would be to focus on only one relevant consideration here. We do have to, as you say subsidise, pay more than we could, if we are to keep Tom in a livelihood, and keep the town that much richer because it has Tom and Linda and the kids in it."
"And," said Tom, "...its only because were willing to do this for each other that there is still a town here. I get my trousers from the Harrisons when I could be getting them from a supermarket more cheaply, but then the Harrisons wouldnt have a livelihood. So we work for each other, often paying a bit more, and that keeps us all in work, and it keeps the town in existence."
"See, this way we spread the business opportunities, the market around. Its no good one big firm gobbling up all the sales opportunities when that business could be spread over many little family firms, enabling them all to have a livelihood. In your economy it is OK for all that business to be taken by one firm al all the wealth generated to go to a few distant shareholders while many people like Tom become unemployed."
"Mike one of the biggest mistakes you people make is failing to distinguish between the economy and society. You let what the market wants to do determine what happens in society. We dont. lf your economy says this firm can produce cheapest you just let it take all the sales and ruin the people who used to have a livelihood, and cause immense social and ecological wreckage, but we make sure that whats done is whats good for our society and environment, and in general that means preventing the economy from doing what it would otherwise do."
"you have to understand that this town in a sense owns and runs its economy. We make sure we have the production and distribution systems we want. We dont leave those things to the market or the corporations or to people with lots of capital to invest. We decide whether this town needs another carpentry works, or what to do if this one becomes inefficient. You dont do that in your economy."
After a pause, Pete said, "Remember weve only been talking about one sector of the whole economy around here, the one made up of small local firms like Toms."
"What are the others?"
"The biggest and most important sector of any economy of course is the household. Most work and production within the entire economy takes place there. Monetary costs and profits have no relevance in that sector whatsoever. It operates on rules like, everyone has a right to breakfast, even useless granpas. You dont miss out because you are poorer than someone else. Amy gets fed even though she couldnt pay as much as I can, and does much less work around our house. In other words market forces play no part in the household sector of the economy. And the household sectors cuts zillions off what has to be imported to the town and bought at shops. And much of it is better thought of as hobby production or leisure activity, like our craft and gardening. "
"OK, what are the others?"
"The next huge sector is made up of the commons, the source of free goods. Look, out there, you can just see one of them from here," said Pete, pointing out the window to a patch of high and scruffy grassy tufts beside Toms fence.
"Thats what you used this morning to sweep the veranda. Its a sorghum, also known as broom corn. This patch is another of our commons. No one in this town has to buy broom corn switches, because everyone can cut them here and there from the patches maintained by the working bees, or buy made-up brooms from Miriam, one of the weavers and basket makers. Its the same for willows for baskets, fire wood, clay, saplings, bamboo, water, timber, mulch, fish and fruit and nuts and leisure resources, and the library and the workshop. And the swimming hole. These are all the commons, public resources and facilities. Then theres all the networks of familiarity and friendship and mutual aid that give us help, and advice and company and entertainment. These things are not privately owned and the goods and services they produce are not bought or sold. Theyre free, or at least dont involve money transactions. None of the work going into working bees and committees or into decision making is done for money. But all this is crucial economic activity, part of the production, distribution and development system here. This sector is far more important in our welfare than the one that involves firms producing to sell."
When Pete finally paused for breath Tom said, "And thats a major reason why most of us only work for money about one day a week."
Pete forged ahead again. "But there is a sector of our economy that does operate according to market forces. It is actually quite big. It includes many little firms like Toms. This sector settles many rather unimportant things like whether to produce blue or pink bicycles. We leave those decisions entirely to market forces; if people dont want blue bicycles they wont buy them. And market forces largely determine things like the price of the goods and materials imported into the general store from far away. If there is a drought and the price of their ingredients rise then the cost of selling them here will be higher. But were always in a position to intervene contrary to market forces. It must always be possible for us as a society to say, No, we will not let market forces do this or that, we will regulate or subsidise or ban, to make sure that the outcome is right for our society and the environment. The economy should be assessed and organized for the benefit of society and the environment, and that means society must always be in a position to intervene and make the right things happen when market forces would make the wrong decision. Probably the biggest fault in your economy is that you dont do this you let market forces do massive damage to individuals, the society and to the environment, because you dont intervene and regulate and control when thats essential."
Tom said, "The most important thing we never let market forces do is determine distribution. Thats what it is most evil at. We make sure that if things get scarce the rich dont take them all.""
"Just by deciding how they should be distributed, if theres a problem, which usually means making sure they go first to those who need them most."
"But economists would tell you the most efficient way to run an economy is to free the
best producers to do their thing. If on gets rich that means hes the best at doing that
Wed get quite anxious if one of the bakers was prospering much more than the other
and getting rich. Thats not good."
"Why not!?" again with a little more consternation than he had intended to reveal.
"Because he would be taking more than he needs! He would be taking more than a
satisfactory share of the business and welfare that the baking industry can provide to
people around here. It can support three families, so it is not good if one family gets it all
and the other two are cut off from a satisfying livelihood is it?."
"And if he gets rich hell probably purchase and consume a lot more, and thats not
good. He doesnt need to do that, so its not only wasteful, its one family being able to
get goods that were going to three."
"But if he is more efficient and can undercut their prices hell provide you with cheaper
bread than they can?"
"Thats an important consideration, but again the trouble with your economy is thats
allowed to be the only consideration. If some distant giant corporation can sell more
cheaply, then no other factor is allowed to determine what happens, and the local little
supplier is forced into bankruptcy and the corporation takes those sales and that wealth.
So globalisation involves removing the protection that once prevented that from
happening and millions of little firms all around the world are being driven into bankruptcy
and millions of little people are loosing their livelihood and being dumped into destitution,
while a tiny few very rich shareholders take the business opportunities they had and get
much richer in the process. In your economy people dont see anything at all wrong with
that, just because one firm is able to undercut another in price then all that social
wreckage is quite acceptable. Well thats not how we operate!"
Tom said, "What we do is simply make sure that other considerations are taken into
account. When we decide the fate of a firm we consider things like the impact on the
town, the impact on employment here, on its import bill, on its energy use, on the local
environment, and above all on the overall quality of life of people here."
"And probably the most important of those factors is the provision of livelihood. We will
not tolerate someone being cut off from a livelihood, a way of earning income and feeling
that they are making a worthwhile contribution. That is far more important than whether
you can get your bread two cents cheaper, dont you think?"
Pete said, "Mike its like when a modern economist goes into a peasant society and sees
all sorts of inefficiencies, opportunities to increase production and sales, like cutting more
of the abundant grasses and trees. But the peasant is far wiser because he knows that
the most important consideration is not income now but security and sustainability in the
long term. He knows he could cut more reeds this year but next year there might be a
drought and then you will be glad you left as much as you could this year unharvested.
Here we focus on sufficiency and therefore on taking only as much as we need from
nature, not on what will maximise output or income. Again this is because we live here
and are highly dependent on our ecosystems. For a corporation its totally
different. They can cut all the trees down this year then just move to some other location."
"Alright, but doesnt taking social control of the economy mean youll end up with a
totalitarian state, a big centralised authority ruling and preventing and contradicting
"Well thats a way of trying to regulate that we dont endorse, and its easily avoided. We
are strongly against states doing these things. If control is necessary well do it at the local
level where theres almost no professional bureaucracy and everyone can participate."
"OK, but youre talking about a totally different economic principle to the economy I come from."
"Emphatically yes! In many ways. Its organized to maximise the general welfare. Its basically driven by a collective attitude, even though most of the producers are private little firms. And what is done is not determined by someone with a lot of capital. We decide what will be developed or whether a firm will close. So it is not driven by profit or market forces, although it involves them. We set up just enough firms to meet the needs around here comfortably and give work and worthwhile activity to all."
"Isnt that socialism or communism?"
"Ah, labels are a problem here. Those mean such different things to different people. What we are for is control of the economy in the hands of society, not in the hands of the few with most of the capital. Unfortunately socialism is usually taken to mean control by a state, which is usually authoritarian, and thats very definitely not what were for. We are for very open, participatory democracy, with everyone able to have a direct say in controlling the economy, and that becomes possible when you mostly have very small scale local economies. We would probably still need things like states, at least bureaucracies looking after things like the railways, but wed have nothing like the huge state governments we have now. See the focal economic institutions are small and local. They are the household, the neighbourhood, the town and to a lesser extent the surrounding region. Thats where most of the things you need can come from."
"Another way itws hugely different Mike is that there is far far less production taking place. We have no or very little in the way of fishing fleets, florists, insurance, waste disposal, semi-trailers, tractors, warehouses,. Cosmetics. Our houses are small. Our wardrobes are small. No lawn movers. Things are built to last and to be repaired at home. We have almost no artificial aged care. We dont need lawyers or financial advisers or stock brokers; theres no need to raise huge sums of capital. Rob down at the bank can handle loans. Our government costs nothing, because we do it ourselves. Yours costs one third of GDP. We dont need any prisons, courts, welfare agencies, and almost no policemen. We dont want to travel much ,so we almost dont need to produce any cars, trucks, aircraft or ships, or hotels or ,suitcases. And for the things we do produce theres no cost in advertising, packaging, no profit margins for absentee shareholders, no exorbitant salaries for CEOs or consultants or PR officers, so that much less work to do. All this is work we avoid and resource use we avoid. No wonder we only need to work for money about a day a week.
"Lunch in ten minutes," Gran called as they came through the arch of vines.
"How did she know we were here?"
"Have you seen the view from the sink? We put in big windows there so we can wash up
or work at the bench and gaze across half the town. She could have seen us coming way
off. Petes first principle of domestic architectureis, put a big window in front of the sink and
you get huge leisure benefits while washing up."
"Can we help?"
"No thanks. Go for a walk round the yard."
Mike went out the front door, strolled around the side of the house, down a very narrow path tunnelling under vines and tree branches, and came out onto the patch of lawn in the back garden just below the steps. There was the sheep hed encountered the night before, busily grazing. When it saw Mike it turned and started to walk quickly towards him.
This was approximately the second time in his life that Mike had had anything to do with sheep so he didnt know what to expect. Was it one of the killer variety? It put its head down as it got within two metres and Mike concluded that he was about to be the butted, so he deftly raised his foot, planted it on the sheeps forehead and pushed rather vigorously. That did the trick. The monster backed off, lifted its head and just stood looking dumbly at Mike, who also took the opportunity to back off.
With no further thought about the encounter he continued to amble further down the slope, impressed by the complexity of the garden. No wonder Pete and Jan didnt have much time to tizz up the front rend of the yard. There seemed to be no back fence because garden beds, chicken pens, sheds, fruit trees bath tups full of water and pocket meadows just seemed to blend into the distance. Further down he came to the big bamboo and marvelled at its size; must have been 20 metres high with stems so jammed together at the base that a snake couldnt have found its way through. Even though there was hardly a breeze it was muttering to itself with the imperceptible movement of stems against each other. How many little people is that mass of fallen leaves and husks a home to. How nice and cool it would be to sit on that old bench there under this enormous umbrella on a summer day. Yes, look how predictably placed that damn seat is; you could lean back against the bamboo and gaze down across the town to the mountains.
As they sat down to lunch Mike said, "I saw Manfred in action." Jan said, "Oh yes, Amy said the kids would meet there. Did they get him up?"
"Yes," said Mike, "She was a knee. Tell me whose idea the puppet was."
"I have no idea", said Jan. "Hes been there for ages, in one form or another. Hes just one of the games a group can play. There are other things like him around. Some can be worked by two or three kids. For example theres a pedal car that needs two to pedal and one to steer. And theres the sea saw jet assisted diving board down at the swimming hole. Two kids jump on one end and the one on the other end goes into orbit. And the flying foxes and gondolas over the creek need someone to pull you along."
"I get it," Mike said. "Theyre activities they have to work together on."
"Thats right, theyre cooperative games. They have to cooperate, help each other, coordinate, or they wont get the thing to work."
It suddenly struck Mike that he had not picked up any notion of sport. "But do they play proper games, I mean like team sports"
"Yes, Manfred is a team game."
"No, I mean where one team plays against another."
"No," said Jan, "We dont do that. All our games for kids and adult are cooperative."
"Really?. You mean no one I mean dont you how can anyone win then?:"
"No one does. We dont like winning. Its not nice."
"If someone wins everybody else loses, havent you noticed that? Besides its not good for you to win."
"What? It does me good. Boy oh boy there are some people in my office I like to beat!"
"Would you feel good if you beat one of your friends? Friends dont get satisfaction from proving that they are superior to each other. Friends only want to help each other do things, or enjoy a game with them."
"But that means you cant play tennis, or chess."
"Oh yes, we do. But we dont play those games to win, to beat the other person. We play to enjoy the game. Look if Pete puts up a lollypop and Im at the net and his court is wide open whats the sense of me slamming the ball there so he cant hit it. If I do that the rally is over and we all have to waste time while he goes and gets the ball and we can start again. Much more sensible to hit it somewhere near him so he can have the fun of hitting it well and the game can go on."
Mike looked stunned. "But that takes all the fun out of it"
"No it keeps all the fun in it! Or do you think its fun standing there while Pete goes hunting for the ball I slammed past him? Pete and I are not very good at tennis and the court we play on is very rough so the ball bounces here and there and its often difficult to hit it well. To us the point is to keep an enjoyable rally going as long as possible, and thats not easy. It usually takes more skill than Ive got to get it back to where Pete can hit it and I like exercising the skill to make it go there if I can."
"Well what about Chess? How can you enjoy that without trying to win?"
"We just enjoy trying to think out the next move. Often well get half way through a game and turn the board around, I mean swap sides, and then try to think out whats the best thing to do given the situation you find yourself in. This way if you win it isnt clearly because you played brilliantly or were superior. Maybe its because you left your side of the board in bad shape. So it isnt meaningful to say one of us won and at the end neither of us has any sense of having organised a win or suffered a defeat."
"But a good chess player wouldnt be in that, because he couldnt organise a strategy and play it out to the end."
"Thats too bad for him. We think it is more important to avoid competing and winning than to play games that enable or encourage that sort of enjoyment. So we dont play any competitive games at all."
"Well all sports I know are competitive."
"Thats right! You might think about that. How sad that you dont even have any cooperative sports. People around here have put a lot of time and effort over the years into working out and refining cooperative games, and some are quite exciting. Like getting Manfred to do Limbo dancing. Thats difficult and uncertain and the team has to work together. Theres the little railway near the timber mill, the one with rails half a metre apart. It has a little train and carriages the kids can sit in, and can lift if they get together. It runs down a slight slope from the mill and they can sit in and slowly roll along. The rails are moveable and groups of kids are always rearranging them to run somewhere else. Sometimes they build a low trestle bridge across the creek. Theres a tunnel too. I think theres about 200 metres of rail now. They cant rearrange it much without a group discussion and decision and then all helping to unhook and relay the rails. And theres climbing the pinacle, on the slopes of the mountain. Four or five teenagers have to work together to get up there."
"Who makes these things?"
"Well anyone who gets an idea about something the kids or others might like to play with, but the leisure committee works on projects like this, building new things and revising. People might feed ideas in to them, and they might arrange for working bees to paint or maintain or make up devices. One implication of course is that there are tons of activities for kids and adults to do for leisure."
"Oh Jan, did you know well be playing "When the balloon goes up" next weekend?"
"Really? Thats great. Amy and Gran love that."
"Whats it about?"
"Well everyone who wants to play collects on the green on the appointed day and a big hot air balloon is lit and rises carrying a big sack. When its about 50 metres high, less if theres a wind, the sack rips open and bits of stuff rain down. The bits are clues and everyone collects them and starts trying to put it all together and figure out the answer. You might find a fragment of yellow paper on which there is part of a message, so youd go around asking if anyone has seen the other part. Others might be trying to put together things that seem to be intended as tools to be used. The players can be from little kids to old people. Everyone can be of some use in solving the puzzle."
"Whatever the devious cootes on Games Committee have come up with this time.. What they often do is build in sub problems that draw on knowledge of skills that only a few or only one person has. For example there is one person in town from Croatia and once the key clue was in creation but it took us a long time to realize that and get Petra to translate it. See the games committee is always thinking up angles like that, and when any of us gets an idea that could be used in a game we feed it into the committee. They have fun putting the events together. They play jokes on us sometimes. Once Alby put in a clue that was on the label on his wifes undies. Should have seen the debate that caused. "Well get them off, youre holding everything up! No!! Come on we gotta have that clue! Never! The girls formed a huddle and we got our clue. She was a good sport. Screams of laughter all round. Not sure Albys screams were of laughter when she figured out hed organised it though."
"Mike said, "And I bet its relived again and again."
"Thats right. Its gone into the village history and folklore.
"Thats very important," said Pete. "There are many things like that that people remember and retell, like Kev being left on the flying fox. Thats all part of our local culture, our history, our shared story. It a source of entertainment but more importantly its a source of cohesion, things we share and things that bind."
"It must take ages to think out all the detail of a game like the balloon one."
"Yes, but remember people around here have plenty of time for doing things like this, and they enjoy it. Its like enjoying cooking a great dinner you know the family will enjoy. And they know it is important in contributing to solidarity. Then theres the appreciation they get from the town afterwards."
"Do they develop things for specific groups, like the kids or the oldies?"
"Sometimes, but for the big events they think out how to include everyone. So part of the
puzzle might involve childrens rhymes that mean nothing to the older people, so they are dependent on the kids and the kids get a sense of their important contribution to nutting the whole thing out. Meanwhile some other questions might require a knowledge of the towns ancient history. Like once I remember a step required us to know what colour button to press on a box. We had only three chances and 10 buttons so we couldnt just press at random. The previous clues enabled us to work out that the colour was the colour of the saw mill before it burned down. Now that was thirty years ago but several of the oldies could remember. For some strange reasons it had been bright yellow. We got the box open. So everyones important and all can play. Not like your Saturday afternoon football sports where a) the wingers and goalies die of boredom because the ball might never comes near them,. b) half the players go home heartbroken because they lost, c)99% of the people there take no part in the game because they are only spectators, d) the whole thing is about beating others."
Mike had been quiet throughout most of lunch time. So had Amy. In fact Mike was puzzled. She had seemed cheerful and chatty when shed come in but now seemed sullen. At one point Jan had asked her if she was alright. She left the table early.
Eventually Gran said, "Michael, what are you thinking about?"
Mike took his time, "Oh a lot of things Gran." Then after some seconds, "Look, its all very quaint, cute. Its very nice but economically and industrially its well much of its not even Twentieth century. Yes you use a few modern things, like computers, but I mean handmade furniture and bread and slippers and pottery. Its delightful, but "
"Irrelevant, to the Twenty-first century?"
"Yes, to be brutally honest. I like it. Dont get me wrong. Its cute. But you are a
backwater. For the billion people out there in developed countries bread and crockery are
made in gigantic high tech industrialized factories, shipped all around the world in
containers, and you buy them in supermarkets and take them home in your four wheel
drive.. The world cant be expected to take any notice of you lot making things in tiny
family owned firms, and making than by craft ways."
"Maybe not, but "
"Look, its just too extreme. Dont you take the quaint, cute thing much too far? Surely
its not necessary to go that far. Surely we can move to sustainable ways within a
modern, industrial and consumer society, for instance by tightening pollution legislation,
more recycling, moving off the fossil fuels."
"Hang on. Firstly you do realize dont you that we have some normal modern factories in
the region. The fridge center for example, and the radio complex, I mean where radios
are made and repaired. And theres the shoe factory over at Wintonvale. Its very small,
because it mostly only supplies this region, but it has high tech mass production
"Yes I realise that. But as you explained most of your real economy is not at that
level. Its households and working bees and commons and Toms bakery and the pottery
and bike repair, all operating with, actually with feudal .technology, I mean hand tools
and human energy. Really. People will say, why the hell should bread be made by hand
when it can be made by the megaton by computerized factories and trucked into the local
Mike thought this must have struck home because Pete and Jan looked a bit stunned.
Then Pete said, "Well I suppose that just means you werent too convinced by the
preamble in our position statement."
"What position statement?"
"The one that was sent three weeks ago."
"What? I didnt get anything."
"Oh no. Oh, for Petes sake. That explains quite a few things. Well, well "
Jan and Pete again looked at each other for a few moments, Pete rubbing his chin.
"I guess well have to try to rewind the tape a bit. See we were proceeding on the
assumption that you had read the preamble and had understood the background, the
reasons why we are doing all this at The Glen, the way we see the world and therefore
why were trying to pioneer a radically different way. Crumbs, without knowing that most
of what you have seen will not have made much sense at all. It will have seemed like a
nutty obsession, or at best a lifestyle option or hobby that people can follow if they feel like
it but isnt important. Gawd, where to begin?"
"Well, Im sorry but nothing got to me. Mind you I can believe that our office stuffed up. It
will probably be in my in tray when I get back. What was it?"
"Well, this, " said Pete, reaching over to rummage through a stack of papers and pulling
out a stapled document. He passed it to Mike. "It summarises the entire world view and
rationale for what we are doing in this town "
" and it makes clear why what we are doing would seem extreme and quaint and
irelevant to someone who had no idea about this background," said Jan.
"Well look, I really am sorry. So, OK, lets try to rewind a bit. Can you summarise the
main themes quickly, and Ill go through the document when I get a bit of time later?"
"Yes. Lets try. Pete, get the man another cup of tea." Jan reached to take another copy
of the document from Pete, folded back the top sheet and took a few seconds to glance
down the page.
"Mike , our beginning point is a very clear and firm conviction that consumer-capitalist
society is grossly unsustainable and unjust. I dont just mean that it has serious problems.
I mean that there is no possibility that it can be kept going for long, let alone that the so
called living standards you have could ever be extended to all the worlds people. I mean
the per capita rate of resource use, and environmental impact is many many times
greater than can be sustained. The overshoot is so huge that it is extremely unlikely that
technical advance could ever solve the problems being caused by the rates of production,
consumption and resource use."
She paused, turning another page and scanning down.
"And mainstream society is grotesquely, brutally unjust. The global economy not only
delivers almost all of the worlds resource wealth to the few who live in rich countries, it
takes the productive capacity of most of the worlds people, the people in the Third World,
and devotes it mostly to the enrichment of the corporations and those who go to
supermarkets in rich countries. For example most of their best land produces crops for
our supermarkets. If it was a just world, if you had to get by on your fair share of the
worlds oil or fish or rubber your living standard would be a small fraction of what it is."
Another pause. Mike said nothing.
"See, its the magnitude of the over-shoot, the degree of unsustainability thats crucial.
There are many ways this can be shown. For example if we want to stop the
concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from rising above twice the pre-
industrial level, the per capita emission rate we would have to keep below would be
around one eighteenth of the present Australian rate. Now how the hell do you expect to
do that unless you face up to enormous reduction in the volume of producing and
consuming going on. And that means largely scrapping this economy, and accepting
revolutionary change in values and habits, to very frugal and simple lifestyles. You will not
be able to have freighters bringing goods half way around the world to your
Again Mike indicated that she should go on without interruption. Pete sat looking down,
with chin in hand. All had forgotten about Mikes second cup of tea.
"And I havent yet referred to the most disturbing aspect of the situation. Ive only
indicated some of the lines of argument showing that our present way of life is quite
unsustainable. But the situation becomes far worse when you realize that our societys
supreme goal, its totally unquestioned commitment, is to increase the volume of producing
and consuming going on all the time, as fast as possible and with no limit in sight. The top
national priority is economic growth, when we are already far beyond sustainable or
generalisable levels of production and consumption."
Pete finally spoke. "See the fundamental cause of the global mess, the cause of the
ecological destruction, the poverty of the Third World, most of the conflicts, the resource
depletion, is simply the obsession with affluent lifestyles and growth. The entire Western
way is about living affluently and getting richer, and the resources of the planet cant
sustain that, let alone extend it to all people. Only one sixth of the worlds people have it
Mike replied, "But havent you completely overlooked technical advance. Theyre
always finding better ways of producing without polluting, and better recycling, and
developing renewable energy sources. Surely your conclusion is far too extreme. We
dont need to make such huge changes. The Glen is a million miles too austere, frugal.
Surely well defuse the problems if we get everyone to do things like sort their garbage,
use efficient shower heads, and get companies to recycle their wastes and shift off coal to
solar power "
Mike cut across him. "While everyone goes on living affluently and corporations go on
increasing the volume of sales through supermarkets, and governments go on seeking to
increase the GDP, for ever?"
"Well, thats what ecologically sustainable development is about isnt it, finding ways to run
our economy and provide our high living standards without causing the problems we have
"Yes thats precisely what people who rattle on about ESD are trying to do, but its
impossible. The problems are due essentially to grossly unsustainable levels of
production and consumption and a sustainable society cant be achieved without dramatic
reduction in these, hence dramatic change in lifestyles and in the economy, and dramatic
change from consumer values. Most of the rhetoric about ESD never realises this. Yes of
course, advances in technology are being made all the time but the task is clearly far to
"How do you know they are too big? Thats the crucial point in your position isnt it?"
" Its easy to show that by looking at some basic multiples. For example if by 2070 the
expected 9 billion people were to rise to the level of consumption that we in Australia
would have if we average a mere 3% p.a. growth until then, then the total volume of world
production in 2070 would be how many times as great as it is today?"
"Five? Maybe ten? Could the world cope with ten times as much production and
consumption going on all the time as there is today?"
"It emphatically could not, because present levels are unsustainable. But the multiple
Mike, is actually 60. There would be 60 times as much producing and consuming going
"And," said Jan, "No economist would be satisfied with 3% growth. Theyd want 4% at
least, and that still wouldnt eliminate unemployment. At 4% the multiple is not 60, its 120.
Now letsassume technical advance could cut the impact and resource use rates per unit
of economic output to one-sixtieth of todays amount, then we would still have a total
impact equal to what it is today, which is grossly unsustainable!"
"OK, Ill check your arithmetic later, but that does sound impressive."
"Now if were right about this Limits to Growth analysis of the global predicament, then
the solution is clear and inescapable. It has to be in terms of shifting to ways of living that
do not involve anywhere near so much resource use, transport, production, work,
investment, trade, travel, etc. The change has to be extreme, far more extensive and
radical than most people who talk about sustainability ever imagine. And thats why firms
like Toms carpentry and our old house and Fran s tiny palace and Petes patched trousers
make sense. They might be quaint and 19th century but they allow us to function on a
minute rate of use of non-renewable resources, while they provide satisfying livelihoods to
people and provide crucial goods for the town."
Pete took up the explanation. "Thats the context for everything we do here. Thats why
we build from mud and live in very small houses and have edible landscape and
commons and bicycles for getting to work and little firms close by and leisure rich
landscapes and a localised economy, because only those extremely frugal and self-
sufficient and cooperative ways can deliver a secure high quality of life on very very small
rates of resource use and environmental impact. There is no other way. The solution has
to be some kind of Simpler Way. Does it all make more sense now?"
"Yes, I think so, in outline."
"And the most important point The Glen is trying to make is that the Simpler Way yields a
higher quality of life than the consumer rat race, that we can move to ways that not only
save the planet, get the rich world off the Third Worlds back and defuse most global
conflict, but actually deliver to everyone a much nicer life experience than they had when
they were receiving large incomes and having to spend them in supermarkets."
Mike sat looking at the floor. After a pause Pete said, "Well, thats basically it. Thats
where were coming from. If you can see where were mistaken, let us know."
"Yeah. Sorry I didnt get the documents. They would have got me off to a better start in
grasping what youre up to."
Pete suddenly said, "Oh damn! If you didnt get this document, that means you also didnt
get our suggested itinery."
Again Pete and Jan exchanged worried glances.
"So you didnt know we had all this activity lined up, or that youd be staying with us?"
Stunned silence. "Aw hell. Our turn to say sorry. You must have thought wed gone mad.
Body snatchers at best. Weve taken you over, bullied you here and there all day."
"Well I did feel a bit overwhelmed. I thought Id sleep most of the day in a hotel room
and come out now and then to take a look at the town, maybe even talk to someone occasionally."
"Oh dear, oh dear." Jan sighed, rolling back in her chair. "Look we explained in the
documentation what we do for special visitors, I mean, the full on, guided tour, crammed
demonstration of how the place works."
"Its OK. Ive capitulated long ago. Im happy to go along with the itinery."
"Well are you sure its OK? We have things lined up pretty continually but we dont
want to push you through all that if you arent comfortable with it."
"No, no, its OK. Ive adjusted my grasp. Its all very interesting. Im looking forward to
what youve got lined up."
Jan started clearing the table. "What time are you due at Cedrics Peter?"
"No fixed time. Well cycle over when were ready, maybe in twenty minutes. That alright Mike?."
"How about I wash up? "said Mike.
"Oh thanks but we usually do the days lot after dinner. Can help then if you
like. Grab the opportunity to get away from us for a second!"
He took the advice, ambled down the back steps and across the grass, then found himself
looking over the low fence through a gap in the foliage into Harrys vegetable garden.
Frieda and harry were there, Harry hoeing between knee high rows while Frieda was
pulling out weeds and trimming foliage, putting bits into a basket and taking them to the
compost heap. He thought about saying something, but then concluded hed had quite
enough people for a while, so just watched them at work, occasionally chatting and pointing things out to each other. "OK Gran" he said to himself, "I can see that they are not really working. I must admit youd feel pretty good to have grown all that virile looking tucker."
Before he got to the kitchen door he overheard Jan say to Pete, "I think there must be
some problem between Mike and Amy."
"She said she didnt like him very much."
"Well, he is an alien."
"No, its more than that. Somethings wrong. I think we should keep our ears open."
Mike had paused, out of sight, then decided not to reveal that he had heard. He thought for a while, and decided that he should try to sort it out as soon as possible. Might be a good idea to go look for Amy. She probably wouldnt be around but he decided to take a quick walk around the house.
He found her sitting on the front steps. She was distinctly unresponsive and he could see that there was indeed some kind of problem. Best to get it out into the open. "Is there something wrong. You seem cheezed off with me."
"Well, maybe I am."
Amy paused, then said, "Because you kicked Padme."
Mikes mind raced, then got it. "Oh, you mean on the lawn, before lunch? I didnt know you were watching."
"You mean you wouldnt have kicked her if I had been?"
"No. I mean no I didnt kick her. I thought she was going to butt me. She was coming at me, so I sort of stopped her with my foot, and sort of pushed her off."
Amy was clearly unconvinced. "She never butts anyone."
"Well I dont know much about sheep and she seemed to be coming in for the kill. Shed lowered her head as she got closer."
"Of course, she does that because she wants a pat. Why do you think shes called Padme?"
"Padme? I dont know."
"Because whenever she sees anyone she comes up, puts her hear down and says Pat Me!" Amys exasperated tone said, "Fancy having to explain all this". She glared at Mike, then turned and walked off. Mike thought it best to let her digest his account and try to assess later whether on reflection he had been acquitted.
Anyway Pete came to the rescue without knowing it. "Come and have a look at our home workshop."
Pete led across into the shed just down past the lawn. Because it was largely covered with vines and under the branches of big low trees growing over from next door Mike had hardly noticed it, and certainly didnt realise how big it was. It seemed crammed and cluttered, with all manner of things on benches and in racks and hanging from rafters.
"Beautiful illustration of a Permaculture principle," Pete said. "Dont confuse order and efficiency with neatness and tidiness. Rainforests are almost perfectly efficient nutrient cycling systems; almost nothing flows out in the clear stream waters. But what a mess to look at. This workshop looks chaotic but we get a lot of production through here. Must be 6 jobs on the benches there half done. See Amys bedside light; must fix that switch today. Theres a broken rake handle . Theres a saw to be sharpened. And, under all this, is Jans Christmas present for the year before last. Its a glass fronted cupboard. I dont think shell be getting it this year either."
"Does she use the shed?"
"Oh yes. See over there. Shes gluing up a vase we broke. And thats here basket making area. Theres our drill press, and theres the saw bench. Its very small because any bigger planks I need to rip I can take down to the saw bench at the community workshop. Theres a lathe down there too, so I can do any heavier metal work there. I made this small wood turning lathe. We made the bowls and candle stick holders in the living room on it. By the way down at the community workshop theres a big one we can turn veranda posts on. Plumbing things over there. Our house is old so theres always maintenance to do. We do most of the fixing. These are some taps we replaced but Ill get them apart sometime and make them useful again. Ah, and this is, I hope, going to be a better solar tracker, but Im having a bit of trouble nutting it out at the moment. If I get it going well there are several places around the town where itll be useful."
"Whats that, buried there? A tramp ship?"
"Yeah. Gee it must be ten years since I did anything on that. Lets see if I can lift these aside."
He pulled out some sheets of three ply aside to expose a two metre ship hull, a long way from complete and covered in dust. "Its to go on the lake, some day."
"Great!" said Mike. "I was into model aircraft as a kid. The interest never really dies out does it. Often wish I could get time to tinker again. My kids arent interested in making things much. Most practical thing they do is get the television switch into the on position. But you have five days a week more than I do for things like this."
"Yes, I should have got it finished long ago. But I do get some windjammer models done. I made the one in the case in the house. Look, where are they now this one I think." He reached for a drawer in a large cupboard. "These are spars for the one Im on now."
"You all seem to be doing thousands of things at once."
"Yes, thats true. I like it like that way. Do a little of this when it takes your fancy, and then something else will catch your attention. Finishing it isnt very important, with arts and crafts anyway, its the making that you enjoy. Gardening is like that, and Gran knits because she likes knitting and cooks for the same reason. I think its enjoying the journey and not just focusing on the arriving. Means rather than ends."
Mike said, "you mean you dont paint a picture in order to have a picture."
"Exactly. And to me life is about making things, creating, sometimes just making a new door stop, up to working on your artistic Magnum Opus, making sould gates, chicken pens, and tapestri9es and pottery. And a bit part of it is design. You are always thinking about plans how could I best do that trackjer, whats a good layout for the anjhn8uals this year, whats a nice pattern to decorate the new pot with. I think about things like that most of the day, and then you watch how you projects are comning on over time, and that feedsback into your ideas about how to make the next one."
"Thats pretty different to my neighbourhood. Our houses hardly have any backyards so people cant do much there in their leisure time other than watch TV."
And thats so passive. They arent creating things, or initiating, or planning or producing. Most people never experience how satisfying creating is. Its one of the bitg distinctions between consumer society and us. And I think it feeds directly into the readiness to take social responsibility."
"How? That seems a big jump."
"Yes, Im not surprised. I see it in terms of having a practical outlook, a strong desire to make things work well, to design and develop and trial better ways, a better gaget for the gate or a better social arrangement. Around the homestead you have to be thinking all the time about how well or otherwise things are working. If the gate latch doesnt work the goat will get out, so you have to take responsibility for that and create something tat will work well. Thats how I think about our society. Its made up of arrangements that sometimes need fixing and we should always be thinking about how well they work and what might be a better design. You know, things like poverty and drug abuse strike me much the same as a gate that squeaks; its disturbing to think that something has been neglected and needs fixing, its ugly. An engineer would be ashamed to think hed let the oil run dry. Lets just get out there and fix it.
"Are there any other ship builders in town?"
"Oh yes, all sorts of hobbies around here. Not much television watched; notice we dont have a set. Anyway people are mostly active, engaged in projects and building things, and they have all that time to get into arts and crafts. And for any one activity there are many people in town who are very good at it, so you can get advice on anything any time. I have no idea how many drama and dance groups there are in the region. By the way, hope you can ride a bike."
"Good. Want to check your seat height? Itll only take fifteen minutes to get over to the fridge factory though."
"OK. Now where did I leave my pad?"