Wesley College Melbourne Australia

Our environment

Posted 19 June 2015

Bridgewater Lakes in the 1880s

I like sifting through our old sepia photographs, seeing people I “know”, but have never met.  I try to sense the stories behind their solemn, self-conscious groupings. In some of these faded faces I can see versions of my own, and I wonder what else has been handed down - whether we’d laugh at the same things, or would we like, or be like each other if we met?   I particularly like it when the formality is broken by a grin of a cheeky child, or the blur at someone’s feet - a scratching dog, oblivious to the desire for dignity above it.

I like the challenge of identifying exactly where some of these old images were taken, and right there is the problem. The photos may be faded, but the early ones show a fresher, more diverse and fertile land. They, and the reports from that time, show that there were soft kangaroo and tussock grasses under open woodlands, and majestic groves of She-oak and Moonah trees.  There were wombats, bandicoots and platypus. Fish and fowl were reportedly plentiful. Crayfish could barely fit into the kip that caught them. There were early stories of campfires, other voices, other ways and a wary co-existence.

These fires soon went out, and the voices around them disappeared or were displaced. Few of the big trees remain and the original grassland keeps shrinking. The wombats have gone, though their large hollows remain. No-one has seen platypus for years. Bandicoots may have gone too. However beautiful today’s photos are, in ways large and small, they show a land that is less than it was, and there is a sadness in this thought.

In my old photographs, I see the faces of the people who, intentionally or not, made these changes.  I wonder what they would think about today, and if they would harbour regrets. And I wonder if anyone, in 50 or 100 years, will flip through my own photos, thinking the same thing. We continue to change our world, intentionally or not. The myriad decisions and actions that we take each day have consequences, whether we know it or not.

It is difficult enough making choices for the here and now, even without considering the impact on other people, places or the future. The overarching mantra of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle is still pretty handy for environmental issues, but it can get very confusing in the supermarket or showroom. Should we go fair-trade or free-range? Do we save orang-utans or dolphins? Drive to a farmers market or walk to the shops?

One choice at least is becoming easier. Whatever you think about climate change, roof-top solar is now an economic proposition in its own right.  With peak power charges accelerating upwards, and system costs falling, the payback period for a roof-top solar system is rapid.  Most assets depreciate, rapidly, from the second they leave the shop or showroom. This is an asset that can pay for itself, and keep paying out for further 20 years or more.

There has been mixed press recently about the overall benefit of early government incentives, but these have all been reduced now. In any case, I think the analysts missed a vital side-effect. Once a solar system is installed, it provides a very economic benchmark for energy use within the house. At least one person, usually the bill-payer, becomes obsessed with what’s on and what could be off.  This may annoy the rest of the household, but might even be more beneficial than the solar system itself!

Hayne Meredith, Head of Outdoor Education

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