Essay: Some Islands (Joshua Nash and Jason Sweeney)

Backyard Radical Permacultural Hope

My questions are simple. Enough:

How can I live in hope?

And what does it mean to be radical?

Terrible questions, actually, but ones I wish to address in the worded, in the moving image, and in the parental.

We are here possibly for a good time, definitely not for a long time. Thus comes another question: How do I want to live my life and spend my remaining days? I’d say doing permaculture. At least parts of my days. And with doing permanent agriculture in suburban West Croydon, South Australia, with every seed that is sown comes an aspiration for something beyond. Even if I plant a tree on a property I don’t own of whose fruit I might never see even less eat, I do it anyway. Just because. That’s how I roll. It’s humbling, it’s fun, and if nothing else, I can merely watch it get bigger. Spring comes and the grass grows by itself. The child is nurtured as the seasons roll on.

During a garden tour in 2015 associated with a conference about ecological economics at my family’s rental property in Armidale, New South Wales, on which we had planted many fruit trees and established productive garden beds, I was quizzed by one of the attendees: ‘How is what you’re doing here helping to abate climate change?’ My rejoinder was simple yet filled with radical hope: ‘I have no idea. All I know is what I put in these garden beds.’

Manure, cardboard, mulch. Manure, paper, mulch. Water. Wait. Plant. Watch.

Renegade radicality implies change. It might also mean pushing boundaries. Being avant-garde, man. Being a rebel without a clue, dude. Doing things differently. Turning a tabula rasa of grass frontyard and almost desert-like backyard into a setting of potential plenty with child looking on.

Sanctified sanctuaries
Human humus
Wozzy worms
Composed compost

The future. The future. That which is and has potential. The unborn and inchoative. No-thing — that is, life, Centre, the Greater — needs thing — namely, the biological, the active, the physical — to be made world. The art of creating blends with the objective and expectancy of the scientific in the outlayed. In gardens things move in whichever direction. Weird shit happens, wildness occurs. Child and father sometimes sit and watch, sometimes not. Neighbours and locals pass, stop, take in the view. Some produce is handed over. ‘How is this reducing waste? Do I go to the shop fewer times than I would have without planting these bunching onions, kale, and radical radishes? How is this changing the world? Do people notice the garden when they walk past? Am I ok?’ It doesn’t really matter if someone is watching. The nape of nature is a place of optimism and promise, worthwhile ground upon which to initiate more somethings.

This all reminds me of words from a book, Little House on a Small Planet, wherein the author writes that, curiously, the act of, say, planting a garden or building a bunk bed, creates in many people a sense of home security that buying or building more house does not.

Perpetual permaculture
Ephemeral eatables
Neighbourly negotiations
Actualised espaliers
Anarchic acrostics
That expression again – radical hope

I’ve heard it said one becomes more conservative with age. Voting is one thing, being aligned with a party, a person, or ideology is another. Wokeness to me seems moderate and predictable. Get woke, go broke. Growing food keeps me away from the supermarket. That’s hopeful. The child seems to enjoy picking snowpeas. That’s promising. And the stances of the Malcolms Fraser and Turnbull appear so much more aligned with what I am striving for than the vibe I get from present-day social justice warriors and their political correctness. I don’t care much about what number I will append to specific names on 21 May 2022 for the Australian Federal Election, nor do I care much about The Greens, though I’ll probably vote for them simply out of habit. The devil you know. Planting stuff seems much more worthwhile. Perhaps I can hang a statue of Costa from Gardening Australia, a banner stating ‘classical liberalism – welcome here’, and a copy of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac on my gate. Those who know will know.

Deep Ecology
The Land Ethic
Animal Liberation
Locke, Bentham, Singer
Property, utility, intrinsic value, moral considerability

I liken urban permaculture to maddened, sweeping optimism without boundaries or much of a care for tomorrow. Still, child and garden are about nothing but the hereafter, a buoyant promise. This process is contradictory. It is as much about the free – utilising freely available resources and turning them into soil – and senses of freedom – you can leave rental joints whenever you want, as it is about a wild state of positivity of and for the permanent. Trees are grounded. Produce is given away. Birds steal sprouting seeds. Hope is a double-edged sword. Where it may end up is anyone’s guess. Still, one plants stuff, often without much attachment to the result. It all just goes on. And thus things remain ever thus.

A note on Some Islands, the attributed authors of this piece:

Some Islands is an experimental and investigational academic and artistic thinking group, read: band, dedicated to querying what linguistics is and might be and letting such ideas graze in the open airs and potential of art and science. The main protagonists are Joshua Nash, linguist and writer, and Jason Sweeney, musician and filmmaker. Some Islands deals with literal islands, like those found, for example, in the South Pacific, as much as metaphorical islands, like how we may view landed property, chairs, and ways of thinking as being island-like. This presentation deals with figurative islanding.

Backyard Radical Permacultural Hope was part of Provocations #4: ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers’, a symposium presented by the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice at the University of Adelaide on 28 April 2022.