Rob Hopkins: “The stories we tell ourselves are vital.”
World Storytelling Day 21st March


  • The National Museum of Australia has launched Changing Places:: to generate discussions about the cultural and emotional dimensions of climate change at the local and national level. You are invited to upload contemporary or historic photos that show how anthropogenic climate change is changing the places we know and love. How do you feel about these changes?
  • ||||Not simply a Just World::

Not simply a Just World

We’d all like to believe in a Just World where if we are good things turn out right.

I learned very young that the real story of life has a different twist.

Both my grandfathers were very successful men in their own right.

My paternal grandfather was an accountant and held a position of respect in the firm he worked for and lived in considerable comfort in the town of Albany in Western Australia with his seven children and his wife.

My maternal grandfather had been raised as a farmer’s son in the wheat belt. He left farming and set himself up financially selling insurance to farmers for some years before buying a general store in a country town. Then he moved to the city and bought a garage in an excellent location and a large property with an elegant Federation home on it close to the river and the city in Perth. He had three children and his wife was a primary school teacher.

Then the Great Depression hit.

I was born well after the Great Depression but my parents never stopped talking about what it was like to grow up during it and they got the message through to me loud and clear.

My father’s father was completely broken by the Great Depression and never recovered. He lost his position with Miller’s and ended up breaking stones to make roads in government relief work in order to feed his family. It seared his soul. He remained a bitter man until the end of his days and left my own father extremely cautious about taking any risks whatsoever all his life.

My mother’s father was able to hold on to the garage he owned debt-free and although income dried up they were able to live very frugally. The property had two fig trees grapevines two almond trees and an apricot tree and they kept chooks and ducks. While my mother had a lot of stories about how the toilets at her school had no doors because there was no money to replace them when they got broken off she also provided an excellent model of how to forage and survive. My earliest memories of her are how she took a bucket down to a nearby bush area where there were cows to collect cow pats for the garden. We had chooks. Mum was a great forager and always the first to find a bargain or buy in bulk at the markets.

Later in my own life I was to learn that being a good girl doing the right thing and working hard did not bring immutable guarantees. I studied hard at university married a bright young lecturer straight out of Oxford and we set off into a bright future with a great social life a happy home and some time later the pleasure of looking forward to the birth of our baby. Out of the blue at six months of pregnancy I miscarried and the little girl died a few hours later. We were shattered. There could never be any clear reasons for the loss. One in five pregnancies abort naturally. Ours was one of them.

Some years later after yet another miscarriage at six months and nine weeks in the maternity hospital I was delivered of a healthy baby boy full term a very much wanted child. We put the two lost babies behind us and were delighted with our bright vigorous son. We were devoted parents I loved breast-feeding and it was a very meaningful time. Then I started crying and couldn’t stop. Fifteen years later I finally closed the door on a black hole of depression and psychosis that left my life like a burnt Earth. Everything was gone except the tiniest spark of my will to live to recover my vivacity my vim my vitality my vigour. My marriage my family my friends my social status and world my financial base my self-esteem and self-confidence were all completely blown away. About all that I could do without feeling inadequate was to wash up dishes. All our high-status friends who we had so many elaborate dinner parties with were gone when I needed them. Instead the people who helped were much more ordinary and kind. The Uniting Church mothers who left a food parcel anonymously on my doorstep the Scouts who taught my son some practical skills the old bush woodcutter who brought me wood for my fire and tomatoes and rockmelons from his garden neighbours who watched out for me and shared a cuppa and a chat the social worker who came and stood with me while I cooked tea for my son alone and struggling – these were the sorts of people who enabled me to make it through. I learned to live on the smell of an oil rag and to keep out of debt. I also learned Permaculture and started to grow my own food and to understand the principles of designing cyclic resilient systems. Along the way I had to do a lot of forgiving myself life and others.

It is a testimony to resilience and the power of recovery that I have built back from there and established a whole new life that is comfortable filled with love and meaning and in which I find many ways to be useful and to contribute in worthwhile ways.

A decade later I was working for Arthur Andersen a global corporate at the pinnacle of consulting success to corporations nations and the mega-rich employing many thousands of highly qualified staff around the world. Watching it implode to nothing several years later as a consequence of the bad ethical judgement of one of its many directors was like watching the Twin Towers going up in flames. Such things are close to unimagineable.

The man I am now married to had a successful accounting software consulting business that had operated stably for some decades. One day without warning the software products he worked with were purchased by a corporation in the UK who folded them into another package changed all the contract rules and overnight made the business model completely unviable. We were left with the taxation requirements of a business with a monthly turnover of $10000 that had gone up in a puff of smoke. We weren’t even entitled to any support from Centrelink. For ten months we lived on close to nothing except the food reserves in the cupboard while we unravelled the business chaos and found a way back into employment in our late fifties.

It is hardly surprising that I respond to ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ the Aesop fable about the wise ant who stores up the summer’s abundance for the cold winter months while the stupid grasshopper just plays without making any preparation for what is ahead.

When airplanes crash or ocean liners sink a handful of people survive. Studies have shown that most people make no attempt to save themselves but sit like stunned mullet in their seats without heading for the exits while there is a chance. They continue to dance in the ballroom long after the warning siren has gone off.

The people who survive are shown to plan ahead for contingencies. They take note of the route to the emergency doors and mentally step themselves through the procedure for getting out. During the emergency it is too late.

I worked for a year for CSBP a giant chemical plant that produces dangerous chemicals in bulk. They had risk management plans set in place that calculated the risk of an ammonia bulk carrier exploding at the loading wharf. The risks were miniscule but the contingency plans were prepared in detail and regularly practiced so that people knew what to do ahead of time.

We enjoy our good times and Australia has had it very good the last decade. Even when the whole world was hit with the global financial crisis we were able to get through with very little disruption to our lifestyles. Most of us haven’t noticed how hard people in the US England Greece and many other places are doing it. The tectonics of debt are playing themselves out inexorably in ways that are changing the whole global power base. The effects of climate change are visiting themselves more and more upon us and the prognosis ahead looks alarming. Food and water crises are already playing themselves out around the world. The risk of pandemics is high. Oil supply peaking is also hitting different countries at different rates. Now that the UK is well past peak in its North Sea oil supply the UK is right up against it having to pay out more and more to import the oil it has come to rely on for its way of life. The US is also making harder and harder decisions in relation to oil. We are also past peak in Australia but we still have a buoyant enough cash flow to buy oil on global markets without it being more painful than we can bear.

Planning for the future and putting in place contingency infrastructure involves spending time and resources in the present that would otherwise be used to consume more abundantly now. It is a choice.

My life the lives of my parents and grandparents have taught me that abundance is a wonderful blessing to be enjoyed but not to be taken for granted that it won’t suddenly be cut off. I’ve learned that when that does happen having plans and skills in place makes a great deal of difference for surviving the experience. I’ve found that planning contingently living frugally without waste and debt designing sustainable cyclic systems along Permaculture principles forgiving and looking after and being looked after by a close caring community are essential practices for life.

I’m an ant not a grasshopper. If you respond to the message of my story I hope you will share in working to plan for the future in putting in place contingency infrastructure and in building a close caring community that we may find essential for survival in future.

  • ||||Our story::

The universe was created 13.7 billion years ago. There was light. For a long time it was all made of hydrogen then in a cosmological instant it transformed into 100 billion galaxies. In the centres of the stars in the galaxies under great pressure the hydrogen was transformed into all the other heavier elements that now make up the universe: iron nickel cadmium carbon oxygen gold the whole periodic table. The stars grew old and went into supernovas exploding and spreading their contents across the universe. From this material a second generation of stars formed and our solar system took shape. 5 billion years ago the Earth formed as a molten orb and for 1 billion years it was still a molten orb. From this molten lava water oxygen and life emerged and became magnificently diverse creating new forms new structures. The Earth that was once molten lava now has life singing opera. Every being is sacred worthy of reverence and respect. We are deeply connected to the whole universe. Our bodies are made of star-dust. The universe is continuing to be created and to unfold. We are not isolated. Who we are really matters. Even the smallest things are profound.

While the universe is vast there is also vastness at the nano level. Of the trillions of cells in the human body most aren’t even human! We are a vast community of beings. We are part of the tide of history. Our destiny is to make a contribution through the intersection of our passion with the needs of the planet.  Every culture has ‘the great work’ to do. In Mediaeval times it was to build cathedrals. In our times it is to create a human civilization that fits into the self-sustaining systems of the earth floating through the universe. Everything that is on the earth is the earth. The earth sees flies writes poetry dreams thinks looks back through telescopes to the origins of the universe. We live subject to the laws of the universe such as gravity and entropy.There is immense creative invigorative potential.