SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Economics of Happiness Conference Byron Bay

When people asked where I was off to last weekend I found myself stammering. Somehow the admission that my destination was a conference entitled The Economics of Happiness sounded fey and clearly out of touch with 'modern economic realities'. And in my stammering state, trying to explain only made things worse. Especially when I added that the location was Byron Bay. 'Remember to pack your harem pants and headband', advised one friend.


Sure, there were headbands and harem pants galore in Byron. But there was also a sublime beach where surfers of all ages, swimmers and fisher folk mingled in unregulated harmony. I know this because we played hooky on Saturday to spend the morning there. I was keen to visit Walgan, the sacred place of the Bunjalong Nation that a young Bunjalong man, Nigel Stewart, had sung about during the conference's Welcome to Country.

Nigel Stewart

As we sat next to Walgan's ancient midden, cooled by the sea breeze, with the brush turkeys and lizards scampering about at our feet, it was easy to appreciate why the ancient and present-day Aboriginal people treasure this place. Why Bunjalong Elder Auntie Delta, speaking at the Welcome, counselled us to: 'Stop. Listen. Feel. Breathe in the Beauty.'

View of the beautiful bay and mountains from Walgan 

One of the many things I appreciated about the conference was the Aboriginal presence and the honouring of Indigenous culture in general. Another was the buzz of being surrounded by 500 people from all around the world who see things very much as I do. We might live vast distances apart, but I really felt that I had found my tribe.
One of those people, Helena Norberg Hodge, was a key organiser and inspiration for the conference. In fact her film, The Economics of Happiness, based on her long-term involvement with Himalayan Ladakh and its people, catalysed the whole movement. (For a more comprehensive outline of Helena's ideas, check out the article I wrote based on an interview with her for new matilda.)
Helena stated unabashedly that the aim of the conference was to develop a completely different economic paradigm. In her view: 'If the current global economy was a person, it would have been locked away a long time ago, never to be let out again.'

Helena Norberg-Hodge

But as the conference flier suggested: 'We know what we're against. Now is the time to decide what we're for. And how to get from here to there...'
And those are the very issues I will come back to in my next post. The conference was so life-changing for me that I'll need to talk about it - a lot.
All weekend the words of another wonderful activist kept reverberating in my mind. As Gandhi famously said: 'First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win.' This statement seemed particularly apt for this tiny group of environmental activists determined to unseat the juggernaut of economic globalisation and replace it with localization and bio-diversity.
Yesterday as I described to the curious how I had spent the weekend, I didn't stammer at all.


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