The majority of Australian secondary schools are missing practical environmental sustainability projects. The same projects are increasingly prevalent in Australian primary schools.
The projects include compost bins, organic gardens, nature play areas or native gardens. Very few secondary schools in Australia allow teenage students to get their hands dirty and experience practical environmental projects.
How do I know?
I’m a secondary school teacher. I’ve taught full-time or part-time in many different secondary schools throughout Australia and I’ve seen very few practical environmental sustainability projects in any of the schools.
Secondary students learn environmental education, so why don’t they have the chance to put this theory into practice?
Yes, the Australian secondary school curriculum is very crowded and education authorities seem determined to cram even more topics into it every year. Yes, schools would need to find a time and space to include practical environmental activities, as well as finding qualified teachers to deliver them. However, projects such as compost bins do not need to be taught in a specific subject at the expense of other topics.
Students can use compost bins when they eat. They can fill compost bins at recess and lunch time to dispose of organic food waste. Students would need to be taught which food scarps can and can’t go into the bins and their use would need to be monitored, but most teenagers should be smart enough to learn how to correctly us compost bins. Many already use them at home. The food waste can then be added to soil to create earth, especially if the school has some kind of native garden or organic food garden. Students could lead the project which converts the food waste to soil.
In my experience, the only secondary schools conducting this sort of program are Steiner schools or specific environmental schools.
Lack of space
Yes, inner-city and urban secondary schools are restricted by the lack of physical space in the school grounds. This in itself, however, can be turned into a learning point. How do we create a sustainable project in such a small space? How do we colectively solve the problem? Teenagers can be more adaptive and creative than many people think. Also, many of the same teenagers are likely to live in high-density areas when they leave school, so school is a great time for them to learn about how to create a sustainable project in restricted space. Urban sustainability is a growing movement, and many people have found practical solutions to this problem. It is possible.
Yes, government schools in Australia are underfunded. That said, government primary schools manage to access funds for compost bins and other resources required for practical environmental projects. Can secondary schools do the same. Private schools certainly don’t lack money – when will they spend it on environmental resources?
Are teenagers too old?
Many primary school students are involved in environmentally-friendly projects on a daily basis. Many primary schools have compost bins, where students from Kindergarten to Yr 6 place their food scraps, after being educated on which food waste can go in compost.
Some primary schools even have separate rubbish bins in their classroom, and students are encouraged to avoid putting any items in the waste bin. It can even become a source of pride for the class to produce ‘zero waste’ on any given day or week. Of course, students are encouraged by incentives, but it has been successful in many schools, and some primary schools now produce very little waste for landfill, instead sending it to recycling or to compost. The compost then nourishes the school’s own organic garden.
Why can’t this be done with teenagers?
Teenagers are surely more able to distinguish between landfill, recyclables and organic waste. However, it is unusual to see a compost bin in any Australian secondary school.
Teenagers are more suited to practical environmental projects. They are old enough to design, plan and prepare a project, and old enough to create the project with their bare hands, with appropriate supervision. Teenagers could realistically create a native plant garden or organic garden from scratch.
Why should they?
Children will inherit the planet we are now shaping. They are also just a few years from becoming the decision makers in the world.
Do you know why?
If you’ve read this far, and you know why practical environmental projects are scarce in Australian secondary schools, feel free to get in touch. Better still, if you know of secondary schools which are doing this, and you know how to convince other schools to do the same, let us know.
Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:
She rolled over again
6am, the clock read. She wasn’t wrong, and she wasn’t dreaming.
Yeah, they did it!
She rushed into Yarrow’s room. He wasn’t bashing toy soldiers together. He was lying on his bed with a huge smile on his face.
“Good morning,” they chirped at Mum and Dad when they went into the kitchen for breakfast.
“You’re looking very happy and energetic today,” their Mum commented.
“Yes, Ralph woke up at 6 o’clock this morning, not at 4 o’clock.”
“Wow. How did you do it?” asked Mum.
“We got another rooster from Mr Hart on the next property, and we put that rooster in the pen with Ralph,” said Edie.
“Yeah, he just wanted a friend,” explained Yarrow.
That day at school, Mrs Kauff asked a question. Edie shot her hand up in the air.
“Photosynthesis,” she answered.
“Correct, well done.”
At recess, Yarrow played handball again and made it to King. He stayed there all during recess, and he stayed in King all the way through lunch. He was unbeatable.
Yarrow and Edie were happy and relaxed when they got home from school. They dumped their bags and raced through the house towards Ralph’s pen.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” asked Dad.
To play with Ralph and … they still hadn’t chosen a name for the new rooster.
“Well, you’ll need this,” and Dad handed Yarrow an extra bucket of food scraps.
Yarrow and Edie scattered the double dose of food scraps all over the pen, and tried to decide what they should call Ralph’s new friend. When the roosters finished eating, the children started chasing them all over the enclosure. They ran around and around and around while smiling and laughing with energy and happiness.
Suddenly, Ralph stopped. Then the new rooster stopped. So did Yarrow, then Edie. Ralph put his beak up in the air, like he was smelling something, and Yarrow and Edie copied him.
I wondered how long the water bottle full of Powerade had been in the fridge.
I’d put it in the night before a long ride, but never did the long ride. Lockdown got in the way, then a sore back, then lockdown, rain, lockdown, mechanical problems…and another lockdown. Today’s hike is long enough to justify Powerade and a second bottle of water; even a cut lunch. And bubble tea.
I took a sip of my bubble tea before I set off on the long descent down the steep rocky steps which would carry me into the valley below. The sun was climbing and the light breeze on top of the escarpment was pleasantly cool.
About 10 minutes into the hike, I saw a man dragging himself up the steps.
“Hi,” he exhaled, looking frantic, tired and sweaty, it was warmer beneath the canopy.
“Are you going to the bottom?” he asked.
“My sons are halfway down, one of them left the stove on so I’ve gotta go to the top to get reception,” he puffed, “…to tell someone to turn it off. Can you check on them?”
And he resumed his battle with the steps.
The boys were comfortable and in good spirits. They had food and water.
“Are you guys hiking with your Dad?”
“He’s nearly at the top,” I explained, “he shouldn’t be too long.”
“Yeah,” they grunted, with the customary enthusiasm of adolescence. I had to ask:
“Which one of you left the stove on?”
“Me,” replied the youngest, about 12 or 13.
“Well, he made us come down here, and we made him go up there,” added the 15-year-old, “…so now we’re even.”
I kept walking.
After about 40 minutes of descending step after step after step I reached the valley floor and walked among towering blue gums set against a backdrop of sandstone cliffs. The sun pierced through the canopy and the birds played and sang in the trees, their melody broken only by a call from a fellow hiker.
“Oh, it’s Keith,” she exclaimed to a group of young adults who were listening to her engrossing tale.
I’m not Keith, and she soon realised as I approached.
“You look like Keith.”
I greeted the small group and asked them where they’d started their hike; at the top of the stairs I’d just descended, or from one of the two other trails which meet at this junction.
Hiker’s small talk, curiosity, politeness…
No response. The friend of Keith had returned immediately to her engrossing tale.
I kept walking.
I followed the river towards a campsite I hadn’t yet visited and wondered if I could reach the other side of the escarpment and make it back to the carpark in two to three hours. I had limited food but plenty of fluids, even some bubble tea.
I soon came across a friendly older gentlemen taking samples of the flora and making notes in a notebook. He told me he was an ecologist conducting a survey on the health of the bush in this particular patch of the valley. He was waiting for a young man whose impressive technological equipment would make his mapping much easier. Maybe I’d seen him.
Maybe. He might be among the group of young people at the junction, listening to a tale from a young woman with a backpack.
“Oh, Wendy, yeah, I know her. She’s on a five day expedition trying to get away from people and find some solitude, but apparently she keeps running into people, even people she knows.”
Including Keith, I surmised.
I left the ecologist to continue his survey and found a beautiful spot by the river to enjoy a peaceful lunch in the sunshine. I watched the water fold itself over and around the stones and followed the bubbles sliding like mercury over the stones in the refracted light.
I savoured my cut lunch and water, and sipped on my bubble tea, not yet realising it was bubble tea. To me it just tasted like Powerade and delightful refreshment as my body responded to the heat of the valley floor.
I followed the river for a few more minutes then turned back, deciding to tackle the hike to the other side of the escarpment another day, when I had more food, less hunger, new hiking shoes and more bubble tea.
I didn’t see the ecologists on the way back, nor did I see Wendy. Perhaps she’d found that elusive solitude. I didn’t meet Keith, nor would I know if I had, and I didn’t see the boys or their father. Hopefully he’d found someone to turn the stove off. Hopefully he’s found a way to motivate his reluctant teenagers.
Alas, all that was left was to ignore the heat and the accumulating sweat and ascend the steps to the carpark.
Step after step after step.
Sip after sip after sip.
My water was running low, but not yet empty. My bubble tea was running low, but not yet empty. I’d timed it well and should run out of water at the car park. Every sip of hydration was fuelling my body, but I knew at this point that the fillip was as much psychological.
A few more steps, a few more steps – and there it was. The viewpoint, the reward, and the end of a solid hike.
I shed myself of my sweaty, smelly shirt and slipped into something more comfortable for the short drive home. I also decided to empty the remnants of my water supply into the bottle with the Powerade, to sip on the way home.
That’s when I realised I’d made bubble tea…accidentally. I squeezed the remaining mixture from the bottom of the water bottle and felt something solid, but gooey, in my mouth.
I spat it out.
It felt like bubble tea. Solidified something wrapped in a coating of gooeyness. The translucent destruction of flavoursome iced-tea. Famous throughout Asia, but I’m not Asian.
“I’m very like bubble tea,” Chinese people would tell me in broken English. I’m very dislike bubble tea.
I spat out the bubble and realised there could be more in the bottom of the water bottle, so I ditched it. I reached for my other water bottle to wash my mouth out with water. It was empty. Of course, the water was in the bottom of the other bottle – with the bubble tea. It was the bubble tea.
How did this happen?
What have I been drinking all morning?
Will I get sick?
I rushed to the kitchen tap to rinse and replace the bubble tea. It was only when I emptied the water bottle into the sink that I saw it.
One single blob of solidified Powerade, like an oversized bubble in a bubble tea. Then I saw more, looking like bacteria or tadpoles. Had I just consumed tadpoles? I don’t think so, surely I would have felt them sliding down my throat. Why didn’t I know I was drinking bubble tea this whole time? I thought it was just plain old Powerade. Then I saw it. The blobs had attached themselves tightly to the inner walls of the water bottle. I had to scrape some off with my fingers.
I didn’t get sick. But then I didn’t get sick from my first COVID jab either. The water bottle has been soaked numerous times with hot water. I’m still deciding whether it’s safe to use again.
I will never again leave a bottle of Powerade in the fridge for weeks on end. I don’t recommend home-brewed bubble tea.
Would you do anything for your grandchildren, and do you care about the world they will inherit?
Protect the planet which will provide your grandchildren with a long and healthy life.
Make your vote count.
If you live in a democratic country with open elections, the way you vote could determine the planet your grandchildren inherit.
If you are offered a genuine choice between candidates, vote according to which candidate will protect the planet. Many conservative parties claim they are better at managing the economy, but supporting old industries such as fossil fuels is bad economic policy. Renewable energy is the future, and countries which fail to embrace this will be left behind financially.
Remember, your grandchildren cannot vote until they are at least 18, so you are making a decision about the future of the planet on their behalf.
Where is your super?
Superannuation funds are all the same aren’t they? Not quite. Some funds invest in the fossil fuel industry, others don’t. More and more superannuation providers are divesting from fossil fuels and from other unsustainable business, and are offering what is known commonly as ‘ethical super’.
Do some research and find out if your current super fund invests in environmentally destructive businesses. If it does, find another super fund which does not. Destructive businesses cannot operate without financial support from companies such as super funds.
What about my savings?
You worked hard to earn and save your money, and it should work for you in retirement. Ethical super funds offer strong returns, which is why many people are switching.
Speaking of energy, what powers your home; solar, fossil fuels?
Could you install solar panels? Yes, they’re expensive, but they save money in the long run and they are a much cleaner form of energy. With efficient battery storage, they also work when the sun doesn’t shine. Even if you can’t install solar panels where you live, you can normally choose greener options through your energy provider.
What about water tanks?
If you have space in the garden, install a water tank to catch rain water for use in the garden and inside the house.
Grow your own food.
The water from the water tank can nourish your plants, and reduce your water bill.
Grow a few tomatoes and herbs, or create a large organic garden with enough fruit and vegetables for an entire meal. It’s fresh, it’s healthy and it’s free.
Locally grown food also protects the planet and the health of your grandchildren. It protects the soil and the entire ecosystem which is used to grow food. If the environment is damaged, growing food becomes more difficult. As a consequence, basic food stuffs will become more expensive.
How much do you want your grandkids to pay for food in the future?
A cup of tea, toast and the morning paper. An age-old tradition, and one that’s easier to enjoy in retirement. The media you consume, including newspaper, radio, television and internet content, determines the way you think about the world.
Most tabloid and conservative newspapers report negatively on environmental issues, and many blatantly deny climate change because this bias appeals to their audience.
If you live in countries such as Australia, The UK and The USA, it’s hard to avoid NewsCorp media, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has been described as a cancer on democracy due to the content of his media networks, which run blatant propaganda.
Do you let Rupert Murdoch tell you what to think?
Incidentally, most tabloid newspapers are written at a literacy level of a 9th-grade student. It’s a long time since you were in the 9th grade. Furthermore, a study by the The University of London’s Institute of Education found that people who read tabloid newspapers have smaller vocabularies than people who do not read newspapers
I want your presence, not your presents.
It’s a great Dad joke, but it’s also a worthy sentiment. Spending time with your grandkids is better than any random toy, and there are other ways to spoil the little ones in a sustainable way.
Consider buying ethical gifts for the next special celebration. Give the children an endangered animal to adopt through a wildlife organisation. Give them a tree or plant for the garden which grows as they grow. Make something for the kids, or even make it with them, instead of buying a random gift from a shop.
Spend money on experiences for your grandchildren. Pay for a healthy, fun holiday activity which gets the kids outdoors and active. The more time they spend in nature, the more likely they are to protect it.
How long before this gift ends up in landfill?
If you buy your children a plastic toy based on the latest fad, you can be sure that toy will be discarded as soon as the next fad arrives.
Kids have too much these days.
Very true. So don’t add to this clutter by buying disposable presents. Instead, choose a more sustainable gift.
Travel is one of the great advantages of retirement. Even if you’re still working, it’s a great way to get away from work and enjoy life. If you fly, offset your flight when you buy the ticket. Most airlines offer carbon offsets. Think also about the method of transport you use to reach your holiday destination, and find ways to make all of your holidays more environmentally sustainable.
A healthy, clean planet, with fresh air and clean water, with lush forests and abundant wildlife is better for your health as well. The longer you stay healthy, the longer you can enjoy quality time with your grandkids.
How can baby boomers be enticed into environmental activism?
They are an untapped resource for the environment movement and could be transformed from a barrier to change into a force for change.
For anyone who hasn’t heard the term, a baby boomer is a person aged 70 or older who was born during the post World War II baby boom. Most of them have reached the age of retirement, and in many countries they comprise a large percentage of the population.
Why should baby boomers be encouraged to act on behalf of the environment?
Because they’re bored.
So many baby boomers are bored. Once they’ve played golf, trimmed the roses and babysat their grandkids, they’re bored. You’ve seen them, sitting in cafes on weekdays, gazing at the ocean or scrolling lovingly through photos of their grandkids. You’ve seen them streaming up and down the highways in their caravans on seemingly endless holidays.
Of course, some of them fill their days with fun, constructive and meaningful activities before enjoying the spare time they have earned. Many of them, however, are searching for ways to occupy their time after leaving the workforce.
Because they are capable. Before retiring they raised families, ran businesses, managed organisations and worked in occupations as diverse as teaching, medicine, engineering, trades, travel…They still possess the skills and attributes which are required to perform those roles, and they offer so much to the environment movement.
They have time.
One great advantage of baby boomers is that they have spare time to devote to activism. Younger activists often have to make the choice between paying the rent and fighting for the environment – there are only so many hours in a day. Baby boomers have a lot of time.
They have grandchildren. Those grandchildren will inherit the planet that we are creating. Grand parents would do anything for their grandchildren and the environment movement would do well to link the daily actions of retirees to the state of the planet when their grand children grow up.
From hindrance to help.
Baby Boomers collectively stifle environmental activism. They generally vote for conservative parties which commonly reject sustainable practices and support destructive policies. If baby boomers become more involved in the environment movement, they might change the way they vote, and convince their peers to do the same. Baby boomers also consume conservative, mainstream media which often denies the climate crisis and supports destructive practices such as the use of fossil fuels.
Retirees remember life before environmental destruction. They remember swimming in local ponds or rivers near their house, which are now too polluted for swimming.
They remember breathing clean air in major cities before modern machines choked these cities with smog.
They remember eating fruit from trees which grew naturally in their backyard. They remember a diet with far less processed food.
This is a reality from the recent past, and baby boomers lived it. They can also remind us of this reality and the fact that we can return many natural areas to their natural state.
Ironically, retirees might reject sustainability but they are the original conservationists. Baby Boomers are frugal. Frugality is akin to conservation because it embraces the philosophy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Baby Boomers have always found multiple uses for items and repaired them again and again before, if ever, throwing them out. They reject the meaningless consumption which drives environmental destruction and they already live the principles of conservation.
Perhaps the environment movement needs to adjust or target its narrative to demonstrate to baby boomers that some of their daily habits and their upbringing are already helping to protect the earth.
Similarly, the environment movement may need to debunk stereotypes of environmental activism in order to win over baby boomers. Many retirees associate the term environmental activist with a long haired, dreadlocked hippy chaining themselves to a bulldozer. However, activism can take many forms.
Some retirees are already activists. They march in protests, sign petitions, contact local politicians and organise actions. Famous activists include the Knitting Nannas in Australia and indigenous activists throughout the world.
The Knitting Nannas call themselves “…an international disorganisation where people come together to ensure that our land, air and water are preserved for our children and grandchildren. We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and bear witness to the war against the greedy, short-sighted corporations that are trying to rape our land and divide our communities.”
That’s right. They’re a group of women who sit in a certain place (outside a politicians’ office) and knit…
Indigenous activist groups are traditionally led by elders. They hold the knowledge of the land and culture that is threatened by environmental destruction, and they hold the respect of the youth in their communities, who look to them for leadership.
Baby boomers could be engaged in so many ways.
Is there anything more powerful than a baby boomer with an email account?
They could be tasked with sending emails to politicians or local businesses to encourage positive action for the environment. They could compile and manage databases or develop educational resources. They could manage and coordinate local groups or hold small-scale events in their local community – or they could inspire national or international action which forces genuine and lasting change. They can do this because they employed similar skills during their working lives and they haven’t lost these skills.
So, how do we get baby boomers involved in environmental activism?
‘I’m not going to attack’, I wanted her to know. I mean no harm.
But I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t reassure her until I was so close that she would fear me or question my intentions. The wind was blowing strongly into our faces and the cicadas were in full voice. I wanted to warn her of my presence and ask to pass on the narrow hiking track, but she hadn’t heard the scrunch of my hiking shoes on the loose stones and I feared that if I yelled it would startle her even more.
The she turned.
“OOH!” she yelped in shock and panic. I raised my hands to indicate I meant no harm and that I was just another hiker enjoying the fine weather and the surrounding beauty. I wasn’t a crazy stalker or pervert, despite the fact that I was walking without a pack or a water bottle. I’d walked this trail many times before and was completing my daily work out. I could hydrate at home.
“Oh. you scared me. I didn’t hear you.”
Probably because she was wearing headphones.
I don’t understand why people wear headphones while in the bush. Isn’t the point of hiking or biking to experience the natural world? To engage the five senses and immerse oneself in the sounds of nature. Hearing the wind rush through the trees and the birds sing. Listening to the water babble through the stream or thunder off the waterfall into the pool below. Even the squelch of sodden, muddy hiking shoes reminds you you’re alive.
Why do people deliberately shut this out when they venture into the bush?
How do they do it?
In an Australian summer, when the cicadas are in full voice, the din is so deafening that it must be impossible to hear the music without doing permanent damage to one’s eardrums.
Isn’t it dangerous?
Dangerous animals lurk in the woods. We play in their world. Many of them are silent but others are not. Surely it’s better to hear the animals before they set upon you, before it’s too late. At least give yourself a chance to escape, or to extract the bear spray from your pack.
The silent killers offer no warning. They lurk in hidden corners or sometimes display themselves proudly and fearlessly in full view. Concentrating on what lies ahead could save your life. Concentrating on what lies ahead is more difficult when you’re engrossed in a playlist or a compelling podcast.
What are you missing out on?
With headphones firmly attached you will only notice what exists in your immediate surroundings. What lies off the track? What lies just metres from the trail? You’ll never know if you remain plugged into your headphones. You won’t hear the distinctive grunt of a koala up a tree or have the chance to sit below it and watch it gorge on gum leaves. The next time you see a koala might be at a zoo surrounded by hysterical tourists jostling for that perfect selfie with Australia’s most lovable creature.
You might miss the perfectly camouflaged creatures who inhabit the natural world, or the impossibly colourful Australian parrot varieties.
Maybe some people just can’t disconnect. Venturing into the outdoors is one of the best ways to disconnect from the pervasive technology of the modern world, yet some people take it with them.
Disconnect from technology and connect with nature.
Someone I have never met told me they thought I was a woman. I’m not. They made this assumption based on my Instagram account.
The person is a friend of a friend and stumbled upon my Instagram account, as people do within the world of social media. They requested to follow, I accepted, and they perused my photos.
The person then messaged me in surprise and told me that she thought I was female.
Because of the content of my Instagram posts.
Essentially, all of my posts depict nature or books. Once I’ve read a book that I like, I take a photo of the cover and maybe and excerpt from the book and I post it on my account. Actually, I haven’t done this for a while, I think I just forgot.
Otherwise, my Instagram account contains images of nature. When I go hiking, cycling, camping or into nature, I like to take photos of sunsets, beaches, plants, trees, skylines and animals. I’d like to have more photos of animals but they’re hard to capture with a basic smartphone lacking a decent zoom. If I do capture an animal it’s always a bonus.
Almost every one of my posts depicts lakes, rivers, mountains, trees, rocks, sand, sun and surf, because I love nature and try to spend as much time in it as possible. My account contains almost no images of myself.
I don’t like appearing on camera and I’m not vain or beautiful enough to be an Instagram model, so I don’t take many selfies. I do appear in other people’s photos or have friends take photos of me, but I just have no interest in posting them online.
I explained to the woman that I am in fact a man, and we had a good laugh about it. It did make me think, however.
Why would someone think that I was female after seeing photos of books and nature?
Have we been conditioned to think that an interest in or respect for nature is feminine? Can only women appreciate and express an appreciation for nature, and is this linked to a woman’s role as a nurturer and care giver?
If this is the case, does it explain the current state of the world’s climate and the natural environment?
Mother Earth, as we often call it, is in trouble after years and years of human abuse, and this abuse is continuing even though we now know better. We now know that previous practices are harming the planet upon which we rely for our survival but we continue with these practices.
Is this cycle of destruction perpetuated because men still rule the world? Certain organisations, businesses and countries have a woman in the top job, but the system which was created by men is still controlled by men. If a man is not expected to love nature, even via an Instagram account, protecting the environment into the future will be very difficult, because men are still making most of the decisions which determine the state of the planet.
Is it time to give women a turn? Really give them a turn. Not just appoint a few women to the position of national or corporate president, not just vote women onto boards or executive positions, but replace men in large numbers at every level of government, business and other sectors of society. Men had their turn running the world, the planet is in very bad shape, so maybe it’s time they were replaced.
If the men running the world were the starting players on a sporting team, their results suggest it’s time they were taken off and replaced by those who have been waiting their turn on the reserves bench.
Can you love nature and still be a man?
Do we have to change paradigms of masculinity to include respect for nature and pride in publicly expressing a love for the natural world?
Do we need to reach a point at which assumptions cannot be made about someone’s gender because they display images of nature on a social media account?
The Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains of NSW is certainly less grand than its famous name sake, but the hike is a rewarding walk through beautiful bush land which ends with a stunning view.
The walk snakes its way along the base of the canyon after descending from either of the two starting points near the mountain town of Blackheath.
Beautiful native vegetation, ancient trees, waterfalls and the river are on display throughout the walk, and native wildlife is slowly returning after the destruction of the most recent bush fires. Lush green plants juxtapose with sandstone cliffs. Slim, pale eucalyptus trees are dotted along the trail and the cliff tops and water falls dance in the sunlight.
Walkers can start from Evans Lookout and complete the walk at the Neates Glen car park, or walk in the opposite direction. Starting at Neates Glen car park rewards hikers with the stunning vista from Evans Lookout at the end of the hike – a great spot for a drink and a well-earned snack.
Whichever direction hikers take, they will start the hike with a staired descent and finish with a hike up some stairs. The steep stairs which bookend the hike explain the advisory on the official NPWS website which recommends 3 – 4 hours to complete the journey. Hikers with a reasonable level of fitness can finish the walk in about 1 hour at a steady pace, even after stopping to take photos and admire the scenery.
Photographers are rewarded on this trail and its worth taking a snack and stopping at the bottom of the trail in one of the rest areas to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife, as well as the peace and quiet on a weekday.
Early in the morning or late afternoon are the best times to enjoy the Grand Canyon. Early mornings in winter can be very cold, but can treat the hiker to mountain mist or sharp, blue skies. Mornings and late afternoons are also the best times to watch the sun bounce off the stunning yellow sandstone cliffs for which the Blue Mountains are famous.
At present, the hike is restricted to the Grand Canyon walk. The cliff top walk from Evans Lookout to Govett’s Leap Lookout is unfortunately closed due to bush fires, as are the longer and more challenging hikes which branch off the main track. Most long hikes in the region will apparently be closed for the rest of 2020.
The Grand Canyon walk is reachable by train. From Blackheath station it is about a one hour walk to the trail head, either walking back along the highway and turning left at the big brown sign to Evans Lookout, or by walking though suburban streets to Braeside fire trail, then towards the starting point.
I DO love you, I DO care about you, and I DO care about the planet. For that reason, I want my wedding to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.
Why should I make my special day as sustainable as possible?
It’s all about sharing the love. Embrace the love for your partner and those around you, and share that love with the planet. Plus, your marriage will likely create a family, and it is vital to leave a healthy, liveable planet for your children.
How do I make my wedding as sustainable as possible?
The materials which comprise a wedding or engagement ring include precious metals, gemstone and diamonds which are often mined destructively and on such a large scale that it inspired the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio – and his failed attempt at a South African accent.
Thankfully, ethical wedding jewellers can be found online. They source recycled or conflict-free diamonds and materials, or even lab grown diamonds. Lab grown diamonds are increasing in popularity as they are equal to mined diamonds and have a much smaller environmental and social impact, as well as being less expensive. You’re not only saving the planet, you’re also saving the world from another Hollywood actor butchering a ‘foreign’ accent.
Indoor or outdoor
To narrow down the choice of venue, decide whether you and your better half want to wed indoors or outdoors.
Outdoor venues tend to be more sustainable as they require less lighting and air conditioning. Locations such as vineyards, botanical gardens, lakes, refurbished farm properties and eco-lodges are beautiful locations with stunning backdrops. In the right season, they can be simply blissful. Modern outdoor venues also provide modern conveniences, so you can celebrate in comfort.
What about a barefoot wedding on the beach?
Indoor venues can also be green. Choose a venue which catches natural light, and book the right venue in the right season. Search for reception venues which recycle and use energy efficient appliances, solar and biodegradable products.
Hold the ceremony and the reception at the same place, or next door. If you plan to marry in a religious ceremony, host the reception nearby, and if you plan to exchange vows in a civil ceremony, organise both events at the same place.
Transport and Accommodation
Holding the reception and ceremony at the same place can reduce emissions. You could also arrange accommodation at the same place. Destinations such as vineyards are not only spectacular places to tie the knot, but often provide a location for the ceremony plus the reception and accommodation, all at the one site.
Of course, vineyards are expensive and while you may be prepared to bear the cost, some of your guests may not. How about DIY? Host the celebration in a more humble location and do the decoration yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of your imagination and ingenuity.
Ask your guests to car pool. This not only saves on emissions, but allows friends, workmates, relatives and former classmates to mingle on the way to the reception, so that by the time they arrive, everyone is ready to party.
You can also recommend accommodation providers near the venue which have proven environmental credentials.
Many families and guests fly to weddings, and air travel is the most environmentally destructive form of transport. If you must fly, encourage your guests to offset their carbon emissions. For a few extra dollars, the airline will contribute to a project which benefits the planet, such as tree planting, and neutralise the emissions of the flight.
Eating local reduces the carbon footprint of a meal. Look for caterers who source their food from local suppliers. Also ask caterers whether the food waste will be composted after the wedding. You can also plan a menu which uses ingredients that are in season. What’s more, the Farm-to-Table movement has made fresh, locally-sourced ingredients more commonplace, and many of them are organic, which is even more sustainable.
What about the cake?
It is a centrepiece of the reception. How was it made? Can you find a cake made with locally-sourced eggs and diary products?
Why not replace conventional table décor with herb plants in terra cotta pots? Guests can then add basil or cilantro straight to their meals.
Avoid plastic plates and utensils
Disposable plastic plates and utensils are easy, especially if you’re planning a casual, low-budget DIY wedding. They are harmful though. Plastic cutlery and dishes end up in landfill. Instead, use compostable or reusable dishware. Try to avoid plastic straws, as the next time you see them could be in the belly of a turtle.
If you’re hiring a catering company, ask if they can avoid using plastic, disposable items. You could go even further by giving each guest their own glass or cup for the reception, which cuts down on washing and the use of water and detergent. You could also customise the receptacle and they can take it home with them.
Put on a keg
Skip the individual cans and bottles at the bar and serve drinks in a keg, and favour bottles of wine over cute rose cans. This will help to reduce packaging and waste.
Traditional Bridal registries were created for a certain time. A time when newlyweds would move into the marital home and thus required new household items. These days, many couples are already living together and have accumulated homewares. This means you can be more creative with your registry.
Request non-tangible gifts.
Register for items such as gift cards or vouchers for experiences, or ask your guests to contribute to the cost of the honeymoon flights, transport, accommodation or restaurants, as these require less harmful packaging.
Fortunately, almost every item you might like to list on your register has an eco-friendly alternative. Search for the origin and materials of the items, and consider alternatives such as organic bedding, cloth shopping bags, reusable bamboo plates and natural kitchen and bath products.
Do away with tradition, and encourage guests to donate to a charity as their gift to you, and send this money to an environmental organisation.
Flowers are synonymous with weddings, but what happens to them after they’ve decorated the venue?
Various online organisations arrange for flowers to be donated to places such as health care facilities. Encourage guests to take flowers home if possible, or arrange for the flowers to be composted. Plants can be more easily composted if they are sustainably sourced in the first place, so do some research before ordering the flowers.
For decorative flowers which do not end up in landfill, also consider potted plants and succulents. Plants in pots can serve as favours as well as décor. These types of plants will last longer and can provide a reminder of the special day for years to come.
When considering invitations, you have a number of choices:
– Eco-conscious stationery
Many brands are now producing beautiful paper products with minimal impact on the environment.
– Plantable paper
This is paper made without harm to trees. It is made with post-consumer materials, and it is embedded with seeds. When planted, the paper composts and the seeds grow.
– Electronic invitations
Embrace the electronic age and send out digital invitations which require no paper. Let’s face it, most guests will text you their confirmation and will use their GPS to find the venue anyway, so go paperless.
It’s all about the dress, and why not. It’s your day, and you want to shine. So how do you protect the planet while choosing your wedding dress?
Research sustainable wedding attire designers (for the bride and the groom – or both brides and grooms). Maybe ask your maid of honour or groomsman to help do some of the leg work in finding an outfit sourced and created ethically. Many eco-friendly options exist, using materials such as organic cotton, silk, hemp or even pineapple leaves.
Secondhand or pre-loved dresses are more sustainable. Secondhand conjures up images of poor-quality items sold at charity stores, but this is not the case with wedding dresses. Remember, a wedding dress has only been worn once (hopefully) and most are kept in great condition. Online stores and organisations sell pre-loved dresses, often much cheaper than a new dress, and some donate part of the profits to charities. A friend claims she filled half her wardrobe with clothes from charity stores in wealthy suburbs – it’s amazing what rich people throw away.
Vintage dresses can also be found online, so you can celebrate with a unique look.
Of course, you could always wear your mum’s dress, and this is a popular tradition. Get out the bobby pins and the sewing machine if you have to, and watch your mum beam with immense pride as you walk down the aisle.
Also be sure to check vintage clothing shops and consignment boutiques. Try renting the gown, or fit out the entire wedding party in their own clothes. With a bit of planning (over a glass of wine) you can all put together a great ensemble for the day.
Don’t forget to encourage the groom to get on board with an eco-friendly outfit as well.
Some more handy hints
Reuse décor elements throughout the day, as this will save the planet and save money. For example, a ceremony backdrop can become a photo booth backdrop and bouquets can become décor for food stations, the bar or the cake table. The décor can also come home with you. Place locally-grown flowers in glass bottles and use them to decorate your home.
Get rid of balloons, floating lanterns and sparklers. They look pretty, but balloons are very harmful for the land as they are not biodegradable, and they can be consumed by animals.
Sparklers end up in landfill, and while floating lanterns look beautiful, they can be a fire hazard at the wedding itself and as they float away, they could spark a bush fire.
A grand exit.
How will you leave the ceremony? In style of course.
Remember that sparklers, glow sticks and confetti are harmful to the environment, so consider biodegradable confetti or an alternative element for your grand departure.
You’d love to thank all of your friends and relatives who made your day special. Do so without the footprint. Offer favours such as small plants or seed packets, which can start a small garden. Give them consumable favours, such as coffee beans, chocolate, jams or preserves in reusable jars, or send the guests home with some of the flowers from the wedding day.
Bride or groom?
Are you the bride or the groom? How many people who read this article will be men? In heterosexual relationships, it is a long-standing tradition that women take on more of the planning of a wedding. It is important to involve the groom in creating a sustainable wedding because he makes up one half of the equation, and because his friends and family also need to enter into the spirit of the wedding to make sure it is a special day for both of you.
You know that relative you don’t like? The one you’re obliged to invite because they’re a blood relative. You could prevent them from coming. A cheeky friend of mine hosted an outdoor and largely sustainable wedding but cheekily exaggerated some of the eco-friendly elements of the wedding weekend on the invite, hoping that it would deter certain people from attending. It worked. The unpleasant relative was invited so awkward family conflict was averted, and the ‘conservative’ relative declined the invitation.
It’s a lot of work…
Planning an environmentally sustainable wedding may seem like a lot of work – but planning any wedding is a major undertaking. Do your planning and preparation well in advance, involve your bridal party and groomsmen in the organisation of the wedding, then enjoy a wonderful day devoted to a celebration of love.
Narrow Neck Trail is a scenic and challenging cycling trail in the Blue Mountains National Park near Katoomba which offers off-road cyclists a solid workout with some spectacular views.
The trail itself is a shared hiking and cycling fire trail which snakes its way along the Narrow Neck ridge for about 10 kilometres in either direction, and finishes at a lookout point which promises views of the national park, farm land to the west and even to Sydney on a clear day.
Cyclists weave their way in and out of bush land and exposed sections with beautiful views, and share the bush with birds and other native animals, which are slowly returning after the severe 2019/2020 bush fires which ripped through the Blue Mountains.
Evidence of the fires follows riders along the trails and the charred remains of trees contrast starkly with the bright blue sky and the striking green shoots of new growth.
Narrow Neck presents a solid workout. Short sharp climbs are scattered throughout the trail, and flat sections are interspersed with long, slow climbs. The halfway point features a few very steep climbs whose ‘whoa boys’, (water drainage humps), add an extra challenge to an ascent. They’re guaranteed to burn the legs – but they’re great fun on the way down.
Furthermore, Narrow Neck trail lies at about 1000 metres altitude. On some of the tougher climbs you can definitely feel the difference in the lungs.
Winter can be cold in the mountains – very cold. Its not uncommon to start the ride with the temperature hovering around 0, and the exposed sections get very chilly on a windy day. Don’t be surprised if you ride through patches of ice early in the morning.
An advantage of riding the trail in winter is the chance to see the valley covered in mist and to ride through clouds.
The trail head sits about 2 kilometres along the access road, which begins in the suburbs of Katoomba. It’s possible to drive right to the trail head, and the advantage of driving is that it cuts out a steep hill just before the trail head – a hill so steep it has been concreted to avoid erosion. This steep and nasty hill is quite a warm up.
For those who are not afraid of a little climbing, it’s possible to reach the trail from Katoomba town centre and from the train station. It lies a few kilometres from the station and can be easily found. Just head to Cliff Drive then keep an eye out for the sign to Narrow Neck trail and the dirt road.
A cycling trail also exists between Katoomba and Leura, and Katoomba and Blackheath and is a mixture of dirt, bitumen and suburban streets. At Blackheath, riders are rewarded with some genuine single trail.
Cycling to and from the trail also forces riders to climb back out to Katoomba, along the dirt access road. After a hilly 20km ride at 1000m, you’ll feel like a sprinter in a Tour de France mountain stage – just tap out a tempo.
Most cyclists tackle the trail on a mountain bike, but it would be achievable with a gravel bike and some decent bike handling skills.
Most importantly, the trail lies close enough to Katoomba for cyclists to finish their ride with a coffee.