Steer nor-nor-east as you drive out of Melbourne’s CBD, try to avoid getting stuck behind the trams on Sydney Road or Nicholson Street, and soon you’ll arrive at the CERES Community Environment Park. It’s an old pug-hole turned tip on the west bank of Merri Creek, the small river that divides the city’s Green-voting heartland, taken over by alternative lifestylers more than 30 years ago.
It’s hard to see what’s changed in that time. Much of the site still resembles the dump it once was. The rest isn’t much better – a large, ragged allotment where someone has plonked down some Mad Max-inspired buildings from a high school rock eisteddfod set along with a liberal sprinkling of solar panels and Heath Robinson machinery. Solar panels, Heath Robinson machinery and ideologically sound chooks (below).
But it’s nothing to mock. It’s the future. The Green future, complete with a guide to eking an existence from the cast-off food in supermarket skips.
CERES, in the case of CERES, doesn’t just refer to the Roman goddess. It’s an acronym for the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies, whose annual report can be read here. Its mission: to “initiate and support environmental sustainability and social equity with an emphasis on cultural richness and community participation”. Yep. This is serious, Mum.
A generation of working towards these goals has produced something like the quality of life enjoyed by the peasants we glimpse in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – with the addition of a community bicycle workshop – and yet the Centre is held up as an exemplar.
Gaia’s organic take on Steptoe & Son (right) boasts 400,000 visitors a year, many of them schoolchildren, dragged along by Gaia-gaga teachers who want their charges to benefit from CERES pledge to provide “development for learners of every age and background to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future”. In other words, to emulate life in the Third World, or the fringes of civilisation, or of six-plus centuries ago. One of the area’s of public education it has undertaken is the advice never to trust The Age, which reported in 2012 that the Ceres Organic Farm (note the upper-casing) had been selling organic produce contaminated with dangerously high lead levels. Not true, responded manager Chris Ennis, the offending vegetables came from four “privately operated” plots on the former industrial tip, not the Ceres Organic Farm itself. And anyway, leaden leeks, lettuces and the like were only “slightly over ANZFSC limits.”
Naturally this folly is strongly supported by government departments, left-wing law firms, woolly-headed philanthropists and – peculiarly – the Catholic Education Office.
Across Merri Creek, on the east bank, is the suburb of Northcote, where local MP David Feeney forgot he had purchased a $2.3 million house. Or forgot to list it on the Register of Members Interests, anyway. Feeney is the member for the local seat of Batman, one of just three in the country where the two-party-preferred vote is not a battle between Labor and the Coalition, but Labor versus Greens. Naturally, the Greens paper of choice, The Age, is making the most of his discomfort. Feeney’s property is a far cry from the yurts across the creek at CERES. If you collapse your sleeping quarters after every night – or if they regularly collapse around you – it could be forgiven if you forgot to list them. But in Feeney’s case we’re talking about a four bedroom, solid-brick home.
Feeney is of the Labor Right. That makes him a particularly tempting target to the Greens and their cheerleaders at The Age. It means he might not only know some people who live beyond those suburbs serviced by tram, he might even share some of their values.
That means he is supposed to be a bulwark against the people who think emulating Manila’s rubbish-dump dwellers is the way of the future, not hand them a free kick at this stage of the game. All of which makes his blunder is even more egregious.