I was blessed with an almost idyllic childhood growing up on a little farm in Australia. Despite that, I can always remember wanting to get it over and done with quickly. To grow up so that I could view the world from full adult height then ‘go out and do something useful.’
‘Doing something useful’ I have since come to understand means different things to different folks, and my interpretation is no more or less legitimate than that proposed by others.
My life’s dream of ‘usefulness’ was enabled by a three-year tertiary Diploma of Agriculture which included practical experience in a broad spectrum of rural activities.
These included barbed-wire fence construction, chicken sexing, repairing farm vehicles using only Jesus Juice, pliers and fencing wire, blacksmithing, doing time trials with Howard mini-tractors racing in reverse gear around chook sheds, milking cows and making butter, butchering almost anything which moved and was edible, distributing DDT liberally onto anything which moved and was inedible, and shoveling more tons of animal shit and stinking fermented silage than any city dweller would think possible.
I’m exhausted just recalling this comprehensive education and indeed the Diploma proved to be one of Great Usefulness.
Then followed twelve years inflicting these dubious skills upon unsuspecting natives in remote parts of New Guinea, but taking time also to observe the inner workings of the Government Department for which I worked.
The experience taught me that many corpulent people who were even more pale-skinned than I actually ‘worked’ in comfortable town office buildings, and they considered that shuffling pieces of paper and attending committee meetings and conferences constituted a genuine form of ‘usefulness’. Perhaps it did. They certainly thought it did.
For me ‘usefulness’ invariably meant doing physical work and constructing something tangible. Preferably alone. I always pig-headedly and obstinately refused assistance from well-intentioned friends and neighbours. Perhaps this is an unfortunate legacy of being raised as an ‘only child’.
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As the curtain closes on 2011, I will sit on the verandah each evening watching the cumulo-nimbus clouds germinate in a clear blue sky before burgeoning into massive tropical thunderheads at 40,000 feet.
I will reflect upon the absolute magnificence of the nature which surrounds me and review my lifetime spent attempting to do ‘useful’ things. I will absolve myself from transgressions made during the year past thereby allowing myself to repeat the more enjoyable ones in 2012 without any guilt.
I will also accept that most forms of human ‘usefulness’ including my own are a cosmic irrelevance and when reviewed from half a millenium hence my lifetime achievements will have been of no greater value or lasting importance than those of Nelson the dog who is presently attempting to dehusk a coconut outside on the lawn.
Nevertheless I am absolutely content with my place in the universe and my limited understanding of it. Despite a lifetime punctuated by some regrettable occasions of ineptitude and thoughtlessness I am satisfied that I did my best to be ‘useful’ in the only way I knew how.
In the final anaylsis nothing much really matters apart from treating ourselves, our families, other people and Mother Nature with the care and respect they deserve.
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The following “before” and “after” photographs show the results of our ongoing 20 year reforestation project covering 30 acres.
A token act of appreciation for this small piece of earth which has sustained and nourished our little family for the past 29 years, but which should never have had it’s rainforest clear-felled by the original lease-holders half a century ago.
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