Friday, July 3, 2015

Our Lives in Transition

We are on the cusp of a significant change in our lives.

From 12 July 2015 we will be moving into our campervan and becoming a mobile consultancy. This means we will be able to offer our services to people, communities, government authorities, political parties and businesses anywhere in Australia.


In addition to our traditional work in flood risk management and town planning we are also offering workshops and presentations.  Have a look at our workshops page for information on some of the topics we offer.  We are setup to work remotely and look forward to continuing the partnerships already established and forging new ones.  

On our home page we provide a list of our upcoming events. Just a couple of weeks ago we did a presentation on business models for community funded solar energy projects for the Parramatta community. This was through Julie OwensMP, the local Federal member.  As of yesterday they have now started up a group that is looking for businesses in the area who can host the solar panels. For more info read our blog entry here.

Our next event is ‘From a Linear to a Circular economy’ for the Petersham-Newtown Greens and we attach a copy of the flyer for anyone who is interested in attending.

We are soon heading to Alice Springs where we are lining up our next event in August.  Our journey to Alice is completely flexible and spontaneous and we will be open to staying in communities and presenting workshops as opportunities come up. Please let us know if you know of any opportunities or Council contacts who may be interested in what we offer.  

Nil will continue to document migrant stories around Australia to widen the scope of her successful exhibition in Hornsby.  We have also just completed a documentary photography project for Parramatta Council on Food Waste. Check our photography page for a sample of what we offer.  

We have had interest from people in Hobart, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane for workshops on transition ideas so stay tuned for upcoming events. Becoming mobile will allow us to take advantage of offers like these as they come up and hope to travel to Melbourne, Tasmania and Adelaide in the summer.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Empowering Parramatta: A Model for Sustainable Energy

“Community notices unmet needs long before governments do. Community knows something isn’t working and great thinkers all over the world are trying to find a work-around. Social entrepreneurs are creating models of community building and influence, business leaders are finding a new language to describe social responsibility and a new breed of investors are finding ways to put their money where it counts.” ~Julie Owens, MP for Parramatta


We were really excited to have facilitated our first forum on community renewable energy to a packed house in Parramatta on behalf of Julie Owens. It was encouraging to see that so many people from advocacy groups, community action groups, residents interested in these ideas and solar installers all gathered together under one roof inspired to create a new model to source our basic needs.
We introduce ourselves as a consultancy that is committed to working toward a goal of helping communities be more resilient and source their needs of energy, water, food and housing locally, thus creating a healthier local economy. 
We commenced the presentation by discussing some of the global trends in solar and noted that the price of solar has come down drastically from US$76/watt to US$0.30/watt.  This reduction in price coupled with favourable policies in the European countries had seen a huge uptake in solar PV in the early years.  While Australia is lagging behind the European players like Germany and Italy, it is not doing too badly when we look at the uptake per capita.  Over 1.3 million households now have solar on their roofs.
We then went on to discuss business models for solar investment.  The model that we advocate is that of community renewable energy.  This is a partnership between a community of investor and a business, which has a roof on which the infrastructure can be installed.  The business repays the investors who often get a better return than if they invested their money in the bank. The business pays of the solar in 10 years, then inherits the infrastructure and gets free energy for the next 15 years or so.  A great model especially if you are a business that is operating during the day.
We also shared a lot of resources and web links to many of the players in this space and discussed some of the changes such as the introduction of affordable storage. 
You can view our presentation at this link
The forum concluded with presentations by Parramatta City Council, Pingalla, Community Power Agency and Sydney Renewable Energy.  It was a great evening and we knew people were inspired when they were still long after the forum had ended.
We were greatly encourage when we heard a few days later that Parramatta residents have formed a group to take the idea of community renewable energy forward and we were asked to be part of this process.  We have started to sew the seeds.  Let’s see what we can grow together with people who wish to take back their lives and create a low carbon future for their children, leaving a legacy of resilient, vibrant communities that are working to create decentralised communities that can live off grid. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Wind Energy: The Answer is Blowing in the Wind...

Today our Prime Minister stated that he hates wind farms.  He laments they are visually awful and wishes he could further restrict the growth of the renewable energy sector.  He further states that he thinks these wind farms could have health impacts.  While speaking with 2GB’s Alan Jones, he said wind farms are visually awful and make a lot of noise.

So what of coal fired power plants? I have not come across anyone who finds the holes in the ground that are dug in the search for coal or the criss-cross of electricity transmission lines visually appealing. I find his statements appalling at a time when most of the rest of the world is turning to renewable energy with a vigour that is inspiring. So, I decided to look up the NSW State Government fact sheet of wind energy and summarise what they say.

At present wind energy is not only the cheapest renewable technology available, it is also the only one ready for large-scale deployment. Despite the political rhetoric in Australia, wind energy is growing at a rapid rate with approximately 1700 megawatts of wind farms in operation.  Of course, wind energy is free and limitless.  There are many American states obtaining more than 10% of their energy from wind, in Denmark it is 20% and in Portugal 50% of their energy is from wind.  Here in NSW, we have higher wind speeds than many European nations so the fact this potential energy is just blowing away is economical and environmentally wasteful.

Of course, renewables are not available 24/7 but with the rapid advancement and decelerating cost of battery technology, it will be possible to store energy for those times when the wind dies down.  The good news is that the efficiency of converting wind to electricity is approximately 45-50% while that of coal is only 29-37%. The scientific consensus is that we must start to reduce our green house gas emissions within the decade to avert a dangerous climate. Electricity accounts for about a third of green house gas emissions and Australia has the second highest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced.

While our Prime Minister also tries to ignite people’s fear by stating that these farms are dangerous, the NSW State Government fact sheet tells me that wind farms are safe.  The fire risk is a minimum and while they can be struck by lightning, they have lightning protecting systems that ensure currents are safely transferred to the ground. The turbines are built to international standards that ensure they are safe in high wind and all high voltage connections are underground. Modern turbines are also designed to minimise noise as noise represents lost energy. An application for a wind farm development is not approved if it is unable to demonstrate that the farm will meet the applicable noise limits.

Even if you are a climatic sceptic, it just makes economic sense, so why do the majority of conservative politicians oppose this?  Perhaps it is because their funding comes from those who may lose out, if the renewable energy industry takes hold. The United Nations Energy Program states that renewable energy produces more jobs per dollar invested than conventional power generation systems such as coal and gas. In the drought stricken regions of Australia, this could be a valuable income stream for many farmers.   

The benefits of wind are obvious.  They have a smaller footprint.  They can co-exist with other occupants of the land.  Coal powered plants use huge amounts of water for cooling towers and boilers.  We know that water is a resource that is often scarce in this wide brown land of ours, and using a source of energy such as wind also reduces our use of water.

The most comprehensives study to date by the NSW Valuer General has found that wind farms have no impact on land values.  This is consistent with similar studies done overseas. In 2010 the NSW Government commissioned a study of 2000 rural residents and 300 businesses, and found strong community support for this form of energy.


Politicians are meant to be representatives of their communities in government.  Then why do they consistently refuse to listen to the Australian public?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Launch of Faces, Places, Races: Migrant Stories from the Hornsby Shire

My exhibition Faces, Places, Races: Migrant Stories from the Hornsby Shire was launched by the Mayor of Hornsby, Steve Russell on the 29th of May, 2015.  It was a wonderful evening and a great celebration of the stories and journeys of the 24 migrants who took part in this project. I am so inspired by the stories I heard that I plan to expand this project and document the stories of migrants around Australia.  Here, I include my speech at the opening.  

Good evening everyone and many thanks to all of you for coming along to our opening. Mr. Mayor, thank you for your kind words. We do appreciate you taking the time to open this exhibition. 

Let me begin by thanking Hornsby Shire Council for accepting my proposal to collaborate on this uplifting project for HeadOn 2015 – Australia’s largest Photo Festival!  I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Council on this exhibition and wish to thank Joanna Joyce in particular—for her advice along the way, with the selection of the images and for keeping me on my toes with tight time frames.  Thanks to Michael Brown as well, who helped me with the hanging and for organising the opening.  It is thanks to Council’s networks that many of the participants in this exhibition came forward and I am grateful to the exposure created by your emails, Facebook groups and word of mouth. I am also always grateful to my partner Steven Liaros, a son of migrants himself, who is my constant support and always encourages me to push the boundaries.

Today, we are here to celebrate the stories of first generation migrants, people who were born overseas and found their way to our beautiful Bushland Shire. This exhibition would not be here without the 24 wonderful people who stepped forward to share their stories.  I want to thank each of you for your honesty, your patience and for letting me in to your lives, to document your stories and your journey to get here. 

The stories of migrants are the stories of Australia. The threads of our lives, woven together make up the colourful tapestry that is our island home.  As a migrant myself, I find the tales of my fellow travellers fascinating. What drives someone to pull up stakes and travel halfway across the world to re-start their lives?  We know it isn’t easy to leave behind our friends and family and the safety of our comfort zones. Yet, something inside of us propels us to do so. 

The stories I heard were incredibly diverse and included snippets of loss & courage, love & hardship, adventure & desire, opportunity & aspiration, and the search for a better or different life as well as a new place to call home.  Some people left because they felt there was no other choice; others simply because they wanted to discover who they were, or to reinvent themselves. 

The migrants I interviewed felt a huge sense of gratitude to Australia, their adopted home.  They are connected by a desire to give back and to maximise the opportunity that has been afforded them.  They appreciate the egalitarian nature of this country and revel in the sense of freedom and peace
they experience here in the land of opportunity. 

This exhibition celebrates the diversity that abounds in Hornsby Shire.  I have interviewed first generation migrants from every continent except Antarctica and know there are many more of you out there who may wish to share your story.  Please do contact me if this is so, as I dream of expanding this exhibition to document stories of migrants all over Australia, not just in Hornsby. 

Today, let us celebrate the lives of those who took their destiny into their hands and made a conscious choice to become Australian.  Let us not lose sight of the fact that we are a community of migrants and we would not be here without the hard work of those who came before us and that we can continue to grow with the contribution of those who are yet to come here.  Let us continue to be a society who welcomes new migrants and who eases their transition to a new life.

As a child, my mum always told me, that the more you give, the more you get back.  As I grow older and reflect on the life she led I see the wisdom in her words.  So, let’s embrace diversity, let us not be fearful of those who are different to us but learn from them. Today, please join me in applauding the 24 stories of migrant journeys that have been documented here. 

As you read their stories, reflect on these words by Lyndon Johnson.
 “The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources―because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples”.

Thank you