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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tathra Imagines a Renewable Future

We have come down to Tathra, as part of our fact-finding mission for our upcoming solar forum.  We are fortunate to be able to arrange a meeting with Dr Mathew Nott, the man who is responsible for starting the micro generation revolution in this town. 

It was New Year’s Day and the hottest day on record for Tathra and Matt was settling in for surf life saving duties.  He was also reading Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers when he felt inspired to do his bit toward creating a cleaner environment and averting some of the consequences of climate change. Matt, an orthopaedic surgeon by day, formed Clean Energy for Eternity, a group dedicated to promoting renewable energy in the area.

In May 2006, he galvanised the community to gather on Tathra beach.  They initially formed a sign which read Clean Energy for Eternity from the air, which then dissolved to read IMAGINE.  Imaging a future powered by renewable energy is exactly what this community has proceeded to do. 

The community of Tathra has adopted an ambitious energy target of 50/50 by 2020.  This means they must reduce their consumption by 50% and also get 50% of their energy from renewables.  The initiative by this community has also led to all of local governments in the South East adopting this target, which then propels them to act toward achieving it.

The community of 30,000 people in Tathra came together and got to work, enabling their first solar and wind installation to go up on the Surf Lifesaving Club.  Tathra also boasts Australia’s first community-owned solar farm, on Council’s sewerage treatment plant which generates 30KW and is an initiative between Clean Energy for Eternity and the local Council.  The community raised $100,000 in the space of 10 months, with community contributions and contributions from both Council and State Government.  A number of sporting events including swims in the Bega River and Lake Jindabyne, and a mountain biking event all added to the pool.  The savings from the project are invested back into renewables, resulting in a 3KW system being installed each year in the area.  Unlike many other community solar projects, where investors recover their capital with interest, this scheme is purely philanthropic.  Given that Tathra is not a particularly rich area, this is truly commendable.

The list of project completed in the area is impressive, including instalments in surf clubs, RFS buildings, churches and other community building.  More information is available on the website:

We are inspired to see the results of grass roots action as a response to climate change, a clear signal to politicians that Australian’s are not buying the rhetoric from Canberra.  The donations made by local people were of the order of $250, the cost of a panel.  This project has already been a catalyst for similar projects in other parts of Australia, with the birth of a chapter in the Northern Beaches already gathering momentum. 

We felt motivated by our meeting with Matt.  He invited us to visit Tathra again so we can share ideas with the community there. We are encouraged to see the transformation that is taking place in Tathra and leave knowing we will be back to learn more and share with this wonderful community.

Monday, May 25, 2015

RePower Shoalhaven: People Power at Work

We have come down to Shoalhaven to find out a little more about the RePower Shoalhaven Projects.  RePower Shoalhaven is a not for profit organisation formed in 2013 to develop community solar projects for small business and the community to collaborate in.  Very simply, the community invests in a project, a business supplies their roof for installation of the solar and signs a contract to purchase the energy from the project for a period of time, say 10 years.  During the course of the project, the investors will get their capital paid back with interests, and at the end of contract the business will inherit the infrastructure.  Community solar projects are taking off around the world and Australia
and the project at Shoalhaven Heads Bowling & Recreation Club is one such example.

We learn that $120,000 was raised from the community and investors for the installation of this 99KW system in a period of 10 days with half the investors coming from outside of the Shoalhaven area.  They plan to roll out the model on many more local buildings in the future but what they have realised is that this model can be used to fund anything in the local area via this investment process.

It is a win-win solution for all participants.  For the business, there are no upfront costs, there are savings in their power bill, the community association will maintain the system and there is social capital to be gained by this collaboration.  For the community, it gives them a great option to be actively involved in the fight again global warming, it ensures their money stays local, enhances local employment and results in a feel good project all round. 

The system was installed in Aug 2014 with 80% of the funding coming from the community and the club chipping in with 20%.  The estimated savings to the club is approximately $400,000 during the lifetime of the panels with an estimated investor return of 7.8%, a much higher return than is currently available from banks.   

Here we see a business model that has financial, social and environmental benefits.  The club were obviously attracted to the debt-free financing solution and it is a great example for other businesses to follow.  During our time there, we met with a council representative to discuss more detail about the project.  We learnt that RePower Shoalhaven have approached Council with a proposal to collaborate on a similar project but unfortunately, it is not a simple solution when it comes to a big consumer of power such as Shoalhaven Council.  They already purchase cheap energy through bulk State Electricity Contracts, so would have to sign up for paying a higher price for solar energy.  The roof of   
the Council building is also reaching its use-by-date and hence putting expensive infrastructure on the roof is not a viable option.

What we hadn’t realised was also the fact there was a risk the panels could be subject to vandalism so protecting this valuable asset would be challenging.  Council is currently capturing its gas from landfill and they intend to look at the possibility of converting this to electricity in the future.  So, while the model might not be the most viable solution for Shoalhaven Council there are many other businesses for whom this would be an ideal solution. 

It was inspiring to once again be in a community that is actively working toward a renewable future.  People power at work in another part of Australia, doing its part in the renewable revolution. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Faces, Places, Races - Great Exposure in Local Papers

The Hornsby Advocate and the Telegraph have given great exposure to my exhibition which has just opened as part of the HeadOn 2015 festival. 

Read More:  Daily Telegraph Article

We bumped in on Monday

The exhibition will be held at the Wallarobba Arts and Culture Centre on Edgeworth David in Hornsby.  

EMPower Parramatta: Helping to Grow Solar Usage in Parramatta

We are excited to be facilitating an event in Parramatta to help grow solar usage in Parramatta.  The event is targeted toward enabling the community, business and solar installers get involved in the solar revolution.  All information in the attached flyer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Standing Up for Solar

Today, Solar Citizens launched the Stand Up for Solar campaign in Sydney.  In a country as sunny as Australia, it is unthinkable that we are still fighting for the right for solar power.  While our politicians believe that coal is good for humanity, the general public believes otherwise.  In fact, over 1.3 million Australian households have already invested in solar power and this number is growing daily.  

There was quite a buzz in the air as the event got going.  The room was packed but the majority of people there were already solar converts.  The idea was to galvanize the audience to spread the word, sign petitions in favour of a realistic Renewable Energy Target (RET), form alliances and keep working in their communities.  

A number of speakers from industry specialists to community activists were on hand to share their stories.  We learnt that the government might have inadvertently given solar a boost with their $20,000 tax write off for small business expenses.  

These businesses could potentially use this write off to invest in solar.  However, a number of threats to the expansion of solar power still exist.  The paltry feed-in tariffs are not a great incentive.  Even those who got in early and are on a more favourable rate will lose this soon. There is a possibility that electricity retailers could increase the fixed cost of electricity further undermining the uptake of solar.  

Also on show at the even was one of Australia’s first electric-powered luxury cars – the Tesla.  These vehicles are taking off around the globe but are still way beyond the reach of most people.  With a range of approximately 440km and a charging network that is now being rolled out in Australia, the future looks promising.  People were also excited to see the Zero electric motorcycle which is not only charged by solar panels, it can also be used as a battery to store excess solar energy. 

The solar industry is growing exponentially.  Have you joined the revolution or are you willing to take the risk of being left behind?  Are you an early adopter or are you a laggard?