Word by Thomasz, 27 NSW
What do you imagine the next few decades will look like? Do you think we’ll solve the problems of climate change and energy depletion with new technologies and practices, or will it all collapse like a house of cards? Personally, I think we’ll end up somewhere in between, making do with what we have on hand, trying our best in an unpredictable climate. I imagine a shabby, overgrown future, full of rusting junk and regrowing rainforest, people re-learning forgotten lessons of the past. Interesting fusions of old and new, cultural mish-mashes and clever repurposing of relics of our current society. Subtropics is a thematic continuation of the writings of David Holmgren, whose work is themed around energy, climate change and ecology. The location for the piece is inspired by the region around the red volcanic soil caldera of Northern NSW, around Lismore and the Tweed River.
It had been some years since the mass exoduses from Australia’s coastal cities, plagued with unemployment, urban decay and violence. The 2020’s were a decade of ongoing government inaction on climate change and the visible collapse of ecosystems on the Australian continent. We saw a tightening of the borders, increasingly marginalised young men enacting small but highly publicised lone wolf terrorist attacks on the Sydney train network, as well as armed forces acting as hired militias protecting corporate interests and agricultural assets from vandals and rival corporations. Globally, resource and water conflicts, fought via proxy wars, dominated media coverage and spurred a nationalistic, military-centric government to power with an emphasis on protecting (and sometimes exporting to allies) the country’s abundant fossil and renewable energy wealth.
Following a particularly bloody attack on a military convoy delivering diesel, a young couple, some friends and their families decided to leave and make the risky journey beyond the city boundaries to the subtropics. The setting is a sloping property in the far north coastal hinterland of New South Wales, backing onto rugged heavily forested national park and fronted by a small river. Much of this region had grown over with dense weedscapes of camphor laurel, blackberries, and lantana in the interim years, as cattle were removed from pasture after the powdered milk export industry collapsed. These feral, overgrown, revegetating landscapes were recognised early on by sharp eyed permaculturists for their biological potential and proximity to remnant rainforest in the mountains. The area was also rich in volcanic soils, enjoyed high rainfall, and was a relative distance from centres of conflict in Australia.
Over the decades these people would attempt to create the world they wanted to live in, rather than the uncertain one they had left behind. The vision was an engineered Gondwanaland ecosystem of useful plants animals and trees – the human habitat. These were not easy days. The fuel necessary for earthworks came at huge expense. The ageing diggers often fuelled with low quality biodiesel from local macadamia farms and nut exports declined hugely as Chinese demand dried up. Seeds were difficult to find. Material for productive trees were stolen from nearby avocado, pecan and mango farms. The rainforest began to grow back in rough but beautiful assemblages of exotic and native species, spread by birds and pigs. Staple food crops like sweet potato, pumpkin, cassava, taro and coloured corn species were grown in the sunny spaces between the juvenile trees. Fertility put back into the soil by trapping and composting cane toads. The forested areas were becoming too dense in parts, and wandering goat herders were encouraged into the thickets of guava, lantana, coffee, macadamia and avocado to open up the vegetation, paying the landowners in cheese and the occasional kid to raise or slaughter.
Following the release of graphic footage of the ecoterrorist execution of a government paramilitary soldier by forcibly drinking diesel, the government supported Santos’s push into the area. They providing security services through their paramilitary groups, to frack the large reserves of natural gas the area was rumoured to have. Local bikie gangs cooking methamphetamine in shipping containers and growing marijuana in the hills had become entwined with acid hippie and ex-military survivalist groups of the area. Collectively they sought to defend their turf and a short, ugly conflict followed, using jungle guerrilla warfare techniques honed in the proxy wars of southeast Asia of the early 2020’s. Ongoing attacks elsewhere led to the organisation abandoning its push into northern New South Wales and little more was heard of the company.
The people of the area slowly built a semi functioning community, not free of friction and conflict, but functioning nonetheless. It was functioning especially when compared to the dehumanising world of VR and pornography addiction, unhealthy food, and intense corporate/government data collection and weaponisation that had characterised society. As time passed, different communities integrated patchily. Black-white families speaking bastard hybrids of remnant Bundjalung and English, others speaking Chinglish, Spanglish, using a rough Australian base dialect as lingua franca. Braindead toad lickers exchanging their unskilled labour for menial but necessary farm work on the property, accepting payment in a hot meal and permission to gather cane toads to trip on their venom. Brumby traders moving out of the New England high country in the cooler months to the coast seeking the thrill and danger of these huge animals, with long matted hair, clad in crudely stitched horse leather chaps and vests.
Owls returning to roost in the growing rainforest to manage the rat populations decimating sweet potato crops. Bees producing rich red-gold honey from eucalypts and wattle on the dry side of the mountain. A beekeeper fermenting honey into psychedelic mushroom mead, the tiny psilocybin crystals glinting blue in the viscous golden drink. Macadamia-fattened feral pigs shot in the rewilding nut groves eviscerated and cooked in earthen pits. Totemic animal figures carved out of tree stumps in the forest, quoll, owl, python, cane toad, wallaby, eagle. Elders reviving ceremonial dance rituals, skinny boys’ bodies painted with lines of white ochre. Each danced their totem. Black cockatoo: regal, voyaging. Python: ageless, patient, shapeshifting. Cane toad: erect, muscular, advancing. Bodies moving in flickering firelight.
Night time stories of international airline travel and dumpster dived food waste met with disbelief from children. A Sunday morning ritual of playing African American gospel music on a toy electronic keyboard wired crudely to an amp and hail-damaged photovoltaics, the player blasting wobbly chords across the green valley. Children building sprawling treehouse communities out of hemp rope and bamboo, floating fortresses in the canopy, creating their own legends and mysteries. Although it would be many generations before the rainforest reached the stature that whitefellas would have encountered in this region two hundred years ago, they were well on their way. Some would enter this rainforest – once a deforested wasteland – as an almost religious experience, to feel the now dark-green mountain cloud forest sway gently and breathe in the morning mist, water percolating through deepening black soil and feeding the springs that kept their families alive.