While Sylvie, WOMAD volunteer, instructs James in the art of expressing his wishes, Sylvie’s girlfriend Bec has a tougher gig.
She is part of a young team recruited to help run a Community Consultation Day about flood prevention work on Brownhill Creek.
Bec is studying Marketing and this is a great opportunity to observe the negotiating process. Obviously the needs of the various stakeholders may conflict. She sees it as a matter of mediation, of compromise, of finding paths to mutual cooperation.
So far Bec’s main job has been to organize a sausage sizzle. Bec doesn’t approve of sausages, but she understands that in grass-roots work you have to respect the local culture. She’s compensated by recruiting a friend to make fruit smoothies in a blender powered by a bicycle. In this inner-city suburb smoothies are probably part of the culture.
The weather is good, the atmosphere cheerful. Bec and her young colleagues are fully briefed. They stand in front of displays relating to different aspects of the project: dams, culverts, rail crossings, roadwork, fencing. Bec has wangled revegetation.
Her first customer is James’ grandmother, though of course neither of them is aware of the coincidence.
‘I’m extremely concerned about the loss of tree canopy around here in the last few years,’ Anne says. ‘We can’t afford to lose any more trees in a time of global warming.’
Bec is prepared for this. ‘Yes …’
‘It’s not just about shade and summer temperature,’ Anne continues.
‘No …’
‘Trees are essential carbon-sinks and they also clean the air.’
‘The Council will be replanting …’
Anne snorts. “The Council can’t replant trees. There won’t be enough soil. The Council uses cement instead of soil to refill holes. Be lucky if they can grow grass.’
‘Uh …’
‘The cement manufacturers are pissing in the Council’s pocket.’
‘Er …’
‘Oh just give me the form to fill in.’
Bec watches Anne walk away with the piece of paper. That didn’t seem to go quite right.
But as the day wears on Bec becomes more confident and has interesting conversations with local residents about the open space they’d like: urban orchards, sensory gardens for the vision impaired, vegetables. Duck farming perhaps. Bec visualizes a happy creek-side community.
At the end of the day Bec packs up next to an older woman, and tells her about the experience with Anne.
‘I guess some people are just very negative,’ she says.
The other woman looks at her. ‘Probably seen it all before.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well you know it’s a done deal, don’t you?’
‘What is?’
‘This. This whole area’s going.’
‘The park? The open space?’
‘Yeah. Council’s already voted. Today was just window dressing. The creek’s going underground and the land is for in-fill housing.’
Bec is horrified. What about the ducks? On the tram home she does some serious thinking and by the time she gets home to Sylvie she’s made up her mind.
‘Let’s go and live in Tasmania. Off the grid. This city sucks.’