Who are we?
Jess is a compassionate environmental scientist and complex problem solver. Fascinated by living systems, she studied broadly within a Bachelors of Science (Environmental). While simultaneously completing a Bachelors of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, she developed strong problem-solving skills and applied them in various projects around campus such as at the UTS Vegan Society (2017), UTS Environment Collective (2018), and her election to the UTS Students Association Student Representative Council (2019). Since completing a capstone project exploring Indigenous Solidarity and graduating, she is focused on her job hunt and further developing her anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, social justice and environmental advocacy.
Dan is a habitat designer for all creatures of this earth. From humans, to bacteria in the soil, he has a passion for building homes using materials obtained directly from the earth, like clay, sand, and wood. He applies this creative process, learned through his studies of Design and the Bachelors of Creative Intelligence and Innovation at UTS, to create beautiful homes that afford beautiful lives for the creatures that inhabit them. Since graduating, he has finished designing his own tiny home on the back of a truck, and developed his understanding of permaculture, beginning work building a food forest on a property in Rossglen, northern NSW.
Since having this conversation, Dan and I have realised that this skill (or sense) we described in the below conversation — listening to your environment and yourself in order to recognise the right course of action and the feeling of being connected with the world around you — isn’t something new. Many cultures, including Indigenous customs, have developed an advanced sense for ‘sustainability’ and deep sacred connections between people, the earth, and their living ecosystems.
Although Dan and I explored this idea through our different academic learnings and our own lived experiences, there is so much more for us to learn. If this article sparks an interest in readers to explore this feeling-oriented process of sustainability, we urge them to recognise and respect relevant sacred and cultural ties, and look to support First Nations liberation and leadership movements in Australia.
↓↓↓ Two UTS graduates, just over a year out of university and one pandemic later, sit down for a late-night chat about sustainability. Friends, Daniel Ferreira (Living on Bidjigal Land) and Jessica Respall (Living on Birpi Land), discuss their evolving understanding of the term 'sustainability' and try their best to make sense of the matter, if not a sense.
So, I have noticed these days that everyone's talking about 'sustainability.' It’s the new buzzword across every discipline, but people seem to have different definitions of it. What is your definition of sustainability? How did you form it? And how has it changed over time?
Ugh… This is a conversation that I need to set boundaries around in terms of what feels healthy for me. I can sit through a few conversations about ‘ra-ra the environment and ra-ra sustainability’. I can engage in those, and it might even be a bit of fun. But in terms of how I want to approach sustainability in my life now, it’s more about the body, feeling, and intuition. To have a conversation in the analytical, rational, masculine energy is okay, but it also needs to be balanced with the more grounded, feeling, sensing, feminine energy.
I’m yearning to make a contribution to myself, my community and the planet. What is my gift? I haven’t really decided per se. I find myself cycling through creative processes and experiences, and my intended output is constantly changing and unfolding.
Right now, I’m at Rossglen. The imagination I have for this space currently is to grow a food forest. The actions I’m taking to allow for this don’t feel strenuous or laborious or difficult. I have no structure or set rules to achieve it, I just trust in myself and what I am called to do next. For me, sustainability is emergent behaviour that I am called to do each day and just trusting in that emergent path that is allowed for me in a moment. It’s like a flow state.
That kind of reminds me of what I have learned about in Ecology about how healthy ecosystems operate. In a healthy, working ecosystem all resources (for example: water, sunlight, space, nitrate) tend to be pretty locked, and so too the available actions of creatures and plants within it. As a result, an ecosystem maintains its population sizes and ratios. An ecosystem also dictates movement and available travel paths, allowing different creatures to occupy different ecological niches (unique habitats and roles). This is how ecosystems sustain themselves, this is how they work. It is less about what a creature or plant wills to do, but what path the ecosystem allows for them in order to maintain the balance and healthy function of the ecosystem as a whole. In this case, sustainability isn’t something designed or defined by any one creature, but by the ecosystem itself. I guess what you’re describing is being able to listen to that, to recognise that emergent path and to trust in it being what is right at that moment. To go with the flow.
That flow state sounds pretty special though… and I feel like I too experienced that when I visited you up at Rossglen. Things just happened. For example, I remember one afternoon we were just chilling and talking inside the guest studio, and we decided to go for a walk. We noticed that some plants on the property had dried out and their seed pods had opened, and the seeds were ready for harvesting. With no prior planning, we knew we needed to collect these seeds. After that, we walked down to the river, saw the boat and we both had this urge to go out on the boat for no apparent reason. While travelling down the river, we passed this block of land that had recently become available and we pulled up and explored the property and had conversations about what if we had access to this land and the food forest extended down the river. We returned to the studio, harvested and sorted the seeds and jammed until the sun went down. It was a completely emergent afternoon, but we got really important things done that we didn’t even know needed to get done at the beginning of the day. That was such a weird experience, but it was so nice.
Have you experienced this vibe anywhere else or do you think it’s something unique to Rossglen?
The vibe isn’t location-based, it’s very internal. That moment to moment, unplanned beingness, is a state that seems to be accessible most of the time just within myself. Unless there’s some nasty stuff happening, like a bad conflict or I’m not vibing a moment, then, I kinda snap out of that a little bit. But in general, the flow state feels available to me most of the time. And then when you find someone else who is in that flow state, like we were in Rossglen, it’s so glorious.
Oh wow! That’s so true — why should it have to be special to Rossglen? I could just take that state with me. Although, have you found anything beyond yourself that has impacted your capacity to be in this state?
Recently I have been travelling around and visiting lots of different ecovillages that you could say are doing similar work to what’s being done at Rossglen. I have noticed that any leadership or structure haven’t ever seemed to be a catalyst for this 'flow state' and way of being.
Bureaucracy, hierarchies of roles and responsibilities, and rule structures are all in the rational, logical understanding space. They’re in the masculine space — a completely different realm. They’re okay, but to talk about them in the same sentence doesn’t work.
Not to put this idea of 'flow state' on a pedestal, as if it’s better or to be desired anymore than the more rational, analytical thinking. I just think it’s easier for me to appreciate, because the alternative rational and analytical thinking is so abundant and I feel like it drowns out most of the discussion around sustainability these days.
What seems to be the gift I am giving with Rossglen, isn’t so much the food forest or the project itself, but perhaps simply the invitation I am giving to others. I am holding space for that energy, for that more body-based, intuition-based style of living. I am just inviting people to drop into that experience of self and just being...
What inner work did you need to do to let yourself trust in this way of doing things?
I very much came from a place of thinking I was an independent and isolated individual in this world. I thought I was separate from nature, other people, my family, plants, and houses.
My healing process has been my reintegration into everything. I am everything. These words seem so superficial because the real internal meaning of these words is so much deeper than the words themselves. I am everything and everything is me. Every movement or interaction giving or receiving is me.
I guess some humans have removed themselves from nature, and created these bubbles of concrete, infrastructure, and technology that stops them from experiencing or hearing natural cues anymore. Or at least with so much going on, natural cues can be harder to recognise. You holding space for people to reintegrate themselves with nature and with themselves is really special.