They say that you will never hear a man on his deathbed pondering his life as it draws to a close, and stating “I wish I had spent more time at work”
Like many, I find myself caught up in the never ending cycle of work, appointments, school, kids sport, housework. As last year wound up, I was left wondering where it went. Much of it now seems meaningless. An endless blur of stuff happening. I’ve been musing over some of this lately. What is really worth spending my time on? I find myself less and less chanting the mantra of our modern society – own more, build more, earn more, increase productivity and efficiency.
Efficiency is of course a good thing. Consuming less to create more. But the modern efficiency drive is not about less consumption – it is more production for less money. Increase in sales with less staff; build cheaper widgets so people buy more things that they don’t need. We are no longer here to survive – we are here to consume. Retail giants cry in their cocktails when people tighten their discretionary spending, which is often money they don’t really have anyway. We now seem to exist to feed the consumer economy.
What is existence worth anyway? At work I am measured – my contribution boils down to a number that has to be better than last year. I am an employee number working to achieve a number. There is no satisfaction in numbers.
We are in general, wealthier than the previous generation, but in the middle of all this, I don’t see people being more content, happy or fulfilled. The expanded shopping centre down the road apparently is ‘shopping redefined’. Hmmm. Why did it need to be ‘redefined’? Why do we need more shops anyway? Don’t we already have enough stuff?
I am still intrigued by the concept of ‘uncivilisation’, promoted by the group curiously named the “Dark Mountain Project” which encourages stripping away conventional thinking of ‘growth, progress and human glory’ and gets us looking away from ourselves and back at the world we seem hell-bent on destroying. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to all of their philosophical musings and explorations, they provide much food for thought. The planet does not belong to us humans. We are not the centre of the universe, but rather we are part of an incredibly complex and wonderful ecosphere.
I think an important part of this is getting our kids away from their electronic screens and out into this ecosphere and realising that there is more to life than the first world ‘civilisation’ we find ourselves in. A civilisation that is increasingly self-centred, uncaring, and wasteful. A civilisation that now perhaps finds itself in a dreamless sleep. Without vision, without original thoughts and ultimately will find itself mindlessly programmed by the media and popular culture. Puppets for the rich and powerful.
For me, touring and camping are perfect for getting ‘uncivilised’. Stripping back to the basics – simple food, simple shelter, and simple fun. Rolling out of your swag to an empty schedule. No meetings, no rush.
Our most memorable trip a couple of years ago was wonderfully uncivilised. Bush camping beside a river with no power or facilities. No phones, computers, no TV. The kids caught fish and redclaw. We kayaked, walked, explored, swam, saw birds we hadn’t seen before. We balanced precariously on a fallen tree to cross the river. And no, we didn’t do a risk assessment or safety analysis. We let the kids build the fire. And light it themselves. The nanny state would certainly not have approved.
We weren’t fully devoid of technology here. We found our first geocache here in the middle of nowhere – a challenging pastime that is enjoyed by many thousands of people made possible by inexpensive GPS technology.
The beauty of camping is that we are outsiders in this environment. It is not about us. Watching an Australian Darter and Little Black Cormorant up close diving for fish in his habitat really highlights the message that these rivers and creeks are vitally important. Our haul of redclaw (or lack thereof) teaches us that food is not an endless supply to be taken for granted. There are inter-dependencies.
We disturbed a couple of spectacular wedge-tail eagles feasting on a kangaroo carcass in the middle of a lonely dirt road. The circle of life is a lesson that doesn’t need a movie soundtrack.
We stopped in the middle of a huge flock of Galahs, a swirling, chaotic mass of colour and noise. Life out here is both simple and spectacularly complex at the same time.
We now regret not taking the kids on the ‘big lap’ around Australia when they were younger. For many Australians, this is where they find themselves, a rite of passage when they are young, or a last bucket list challenge for the retired. The lessons learned and friends made last a lifetime. As long as this is a popular tradition, I remain hopeful about our generation.
We find even the short trips up to the tropical National Parks nearby stick in their minds. The snakes, goannas, rock slides, waterfalls and march flies. This is life …for real. We even climbed a volcano one trip. It was extinct of course, much to the kids’ disappointment.
It was funny to see our kids that are often ‘so bored’ at a home (which incidentally is full of typical first world electronic entertainment devices) spending hours jumping into a creek off a platform. Jump in. Climb out. Jump in…ad nauseum. Nobody was bored…except perhaps for the supervising parents of course.
Like it or not, we still have to work. We can’t all be hermits living in a cave. But we can change our mindset. We don’t need to buy more stuff. We don’t necessarily need a bigger house. We can make decisions that are more considerate of the environment. We don’t need to mindlessly accept society’s definition of what is important.
For me, I often feeling like I am unravelling – trapped in a mundane 9-5 existence. As a cure for this, nothing beats hitting the road.
I’m realising how important it is to get our kids out there appreciating the wonder and importance of the ecosphere of which they are a part. The best part is that you don’t always need the latest 4wd or camping equipment. Plenty of people are doing it on a budget. Toss swag in your ute. Get a cheap tent and (and a good tarp). Got an expensive rig? Make the most of it. It’s
the most fun you’ll have with four wheels on the ground. Get it dirty. Get it scratched. Someone will run a key or shopping trolley down it anyway eventually, so you might as well get it scratched the fun way – out on the tracks.
Then some time in the future, you can lay back on your deathbed in that moment, smile and say “It’s been a great ride – We had some great times and visited some magical places.”
It’s time to get a little Uncivilised….