Monthly Archives: January 2023

Mycellium 2023 #5 Foraging

Foraging for mushrooms on the floor of a forest takes knowledge of the season, what is edible, intel about where to look and a mix of preparation and improvisation. Gathering something wild to bring home to your kitchen or to gobble and go on the run, nature’s generosity without a price tag.  I notice I do a fair bit of foraging in the forest of ideas, picking up bits and pieces here and there and consuming them with gratitude for landing at my feet. In reality, though I have actually done my own preparation, known where to be and when, and able to notice and pick and choose which ones are going to be nourishing and which ones might be poisonous or lead me down the wrong track.

I had a huge honour this week, receiving 86 new citizens as they took their pledge to Australia as they took their final step to become citizens.  I think all Australian born people should take a pledge when they reach voting age as part of the process to step into the rights and responsibilities of adulthood in front of their communities as well. We take so much for granted. On the stage in the Hopgood Theatre there were 20 countries represented.  I had two favourites, a little boy who was suited up resplendent with a bow tie to top off the outfit, who had clearly rehearsed and knew the lines of the pledge off by heart and from his small statue and with all the innocence of his childhood proudly and confidently, and loudly, recited the pledge. I picked up that wild moment to savour for later, when I get disappointed or worried about what it means to belong. I will draw on this memory to hold me. 

Billowing folds of yellow cotton, wrapped around his body and a name of the week giving away his national identity as Ghana. I love Ghana, was a treat too. I spent a short time there when I was working for the International Association of Public Participation. The women were not scared of colour or curves, the men holding each other’s hands and dancing with ease at the drop of a hat. There is a lot of joy in Ghana. One of my foraged moments from that trip was the underfed and enthusiastic chickens that roamed around the inside gates of their Parliament House. The low protein value of those eggs didn’t stop the chickens being their parliamentary selves. I often think of those hens when I am with my own who are well fed.

Amidst the ongoing backdrop of police reports, security checks, studying up rules and regulations of the Local Government Act, advising and supporting elected members, responding to my peers in other councils, juggling the inner and outer quandaries of Australia Day, and taking in the love of friends and family, as I prepare for another interesting week, foraging and finding gems to ground me isn’t that hard. There are so many acts of kindness and beauty all around me. Being able to laugh, be colourful, be proud and confident, is a warm set of advice from my foraging this week. Everything is connected and the fruits of the mycelium are there to be foraged.

Mycelium 2023 #4 : Reading Challenge

Strengthening the undergrowth starts by feeding the soil and helping the spores land in fertile soil. This week I had a glorious experience of being at the finale of the Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge. This is a summer holidays activity where school age children are set a challenge. It was all set to start just after I was elected and I talked with the team leader delivering the program in my earliest days in the new role to see how the program could be taken to the next level.  As a result the number of books to be read to complete the challenge went up to seven books and an additional quest was added in for those who wanted to be extended a little bit more which was to visit all six libraries, and we added in some features about the books to be read such as something about First Nations and something about climate.  

Around 240 young readers signed up for the challenge and seventy were there for the Finale to receive their certificates from me and a free book. 34 of the readers completed the extra piece of visiting all six libraries. One Mum told me they did their “Great Race” in one day calculating distances between libraries, how much time they could spend at each location, and building a whole day out around the locations.  Enthusiastic staff commented on the high amount of engagement with readers coming in, parents sharing their old favourites from childhood and borrowing more books themselves.

When I arrived at the host library site, there were over a 100 children, adults and staff ready to celebrate their efforts. As 2pm arrived the room stilled to silence, there was no big announcement, no bell to say we were starting the room just fell respectfully into silence. Such a contrast to the experience I had on Tuesday night at the Council meeting where before I had started the meeting a person from the Gallery was yelling at me and then the meeting had to be adjourned because of public disturbance and an inability for the public to be quiet enough to hear proceedings. If you’ve been following along you will know there were around 20 police and security involved to clear the Council building. The stories are all in the media so you will find them there. But back to the quiet of the library. I am moved by this action of families and children getting ready to listen and to acknowledge their achievements.  Books and learning are the spores and libraries are central institution to democracy.

As the silence opened up the space, the librarian who led the project welcomed and thanked everyone for coming and introduced me as their Mayor. I got such a warm round of applause – it was very heartening. Then I sat on the stage, microphone in hand and gave them a big smile and started with Ninna Marni (how are you in Kaurna) and all the children replied back Marni Aii (we’re good). I thought I was going to burst with pride and joy  – a generation ago this would not have happened. In fact on that very site, the day I was there when we broke ground for the Seaford Ecumenical Mission to be built which is across the road from the library, we raised an Australian flag and I felt sick from what seemed like yet another act of colonialism on the unceded Kaurna Yerta. But here I was siting down and hearing these words back at me and I swelled with hope and courage to keep going on this path, these young ones taking leadership and showing so simply that they already know this, they are growing up with this knowledge.

After this simple greeting I told them what my favourite book was when I was a young reader (FYI – the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and how books are places to go when we want to laugh, learn something, have our imaginations fed and to be opened up to new and different ideas and have our minds blown in imaginative worlds. I told them how next year their job is to recruit one more person each to the challenge so my arm will ache from having to sign so many certificates. I told them to give themselves a pat of the back for their good work and a big hug to remind them that they love learning through reading.  This is how we grow mycelium for hope, building on what works, what is fertile and what we already have in our midst.

The libraries of Onkaparinga announced on Friday my next adventure with them which is me going to do reading a story at each of the libraries with the toddler groups throughout the year. When I was campaigning to get elected this was an idea I came up with inspired to some extent by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. When he was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement he set about only talking to young people under 30 for some years as he felt the future was with them and so that change was always going to come from their efforts. I have taken that lesson and am starting small with the reading challenge and now story-time. I will be looking for more ways to connect with the young one as they step into their everyday leadership.

Out in the bush and forests of local government and across my Council I will be foraging for fruits that can be harvested to help us with our discernment and decision-making. I will be fostering the growth of mycelium down pathways of curiosity, equity and justice, and reminding myself that out of the decay and humus grows goodness.

My mum was a junior primary teacher and had a mantra: “The more you read, the more you grow, the more you grow the more you read, so read, read read.”  In this day and age with so much fake news, algorithms that grow destructive pathways and people find it hard to navigate what is real and what is fantasy, libraries as a source of truth are going to become even more important. They can be trusted spaces and places to help secure democracy. Get along to a library soon, send your love to a librarian you know they are the information guardians and technicians of our past, present and future. Share stories and be a storyteller, build mycelium for good.

Mycelium 2023 #3 Summer’s Day

Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer’s Day has been the mycelium of the past week, showing up in the undergrowth and popping up here and there.

The last line and what are you doing with your one wild and precious life, continues to offer up potential. Such an open-ended question, yet deeply determined by the paths already trod and curiously encoded with unlimited possibilities. (It was this line that haunted me when I was discerning whether to run for the public office of Mayor.)

Summer is here in my part of the world and the coastline is full of locals and visitors. There are scenes of happy intergenerational families, flushes of new loves, ancient friendships and teens trusted to be alone for the first time. Between sandcastles and jet skis, ice-creams and sunblock there is the stickiness and ephemeral qualities of a day at the beach. The wild and precious moments being made into memories. Like the poet I witness and wonder how these lives will unfold.  I do this with a little more curiosity and care this summer than I have done in the last. This summer I am the Mayor and that brings into view ways we might all be safe together, support our environment, build community, and trust, and be welcoming to the stranger and respect the custodians. I hold questions like: How are these values fostered in the wild and precious lives of those who arrive on any summer’s day?

There are slurs and taunts, some with great mirth attached to them and others more like orders from a five star general, being shouted into the blue sky between beach cricket matches and speeding cars putting little ones at risk. Hearing some of the language peppered with violent intent, worries me about how those voices are being fed in their undergrowth. I continue to be shocked by the unfiltered nature of many of the words I hear with no regard to the wild and precious lives of others. There is always an arrogance and sense of privilege that irks me, when I hear that kind of language and in that kind of voice in public places.

But nothing will move me from the beauty of the poem and then it shows up again in the celebration of a dear friends 50th anniversary of her profession as a religious sister. Along with two of her faith companions celebrating the same phenomena, they collectively chose this poem as one which has held and inspired their lives.   Invoking the words, they arrive with deep love into my heart – as celebration of all that has been, confirmation of what has been achieved, and an invitation to an open door into the future – blessed, without judgement and totally undefended and vulnerable to all possibilities.

I muse on the meanings and let the words roll around in my head and off my tongue as I recite it again and again after I leave the ritual (and generous celebratory High Tea).  I too don’t know what prayer is, but I do know when I see people gather and share their lives and I am in the presence of those who live their truth and find themselves in the elements, I am party to grace and goodness. I know when I feel the sun on me and take the hand of a child, I am being offered gifts and receiving them with deep gratitude. I see the grains of sand and can’t help but notice the joy they give when shovelled into little buckets that get upturned and created into magical and mysterious worlds.  On a summer’s day, like any day, there is a day to be honoured and respected for all that it brings to any of our wild and precious lives. It is a constant unfolding, like the grasshopper’s wings to open and shut and make a flight path of mycelium to take all that you have found and known, and questions that are emerging from one summer’s day into another and then another and then another.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

2023 Mycelium #2 : Fuel for toadstools

Following a line of enquiry can lead you down a rabbit hole. You pick one thread and try to find its source and along the way you may well bump into other threads connecting and communicating with one another.

I have been reflecting on how this might be the way conspiracy theories take hold online. Here is what happened to me this week. A colleague sent a video, I did not trust its content and so went looking for its source. I found plenty of material to convince me it was fake news and also substantial evidence of it being used as an instrument to build followers and connections.  I doubt my correspondent had done the same, trusting instead the person they would have received it from. The place of trust seems to be central in building these pathways and even a moment of lapse and lack of vigilance can give you a ride into a foreign land that you do not and may not want to have, a passport for.

In my investigations I lost more confidence in the source, the deeper I went looking for the truth and or an explanation on why I might have been sent the video in the first place. Confidence in source material and knowing what and who to trust with news and information is fragile. Allied to this in a parallel path is information that is correct that is shared outside of process and without authority.  When these two threads come together, they have a nasty habit of reinforcing one another, even though the content is not connected.

The fuel for these is fear, guilt, shame. While I want to swat it away like annoying buzzing mosquitos, both fake news and leaking confidential information are toxins to the mycelium of democracy.  For generations now some of the largest media platforms from Murdoch to Zuckerberg, have been the playground of predators. These places are home to half and incomplete truths as well as to facts that are used to scare and maim.

I have been consistent in my use of social media as a place to cheer on who is doing well, to offer up positivity and play, to join and connect like minded and to find respite in humour and beauty. I am getting more and more disturbed by the platforms; the algorithms and the way information travels in these above and below ground networks. The fruits that appear on the surface, when eaten can be as harmful and dangerous as any inedible toadstool. They too bring hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, pain.

Cutting off supply has been my main technique over the years. I find these threads however are very deep, very strong and exceedingly complex. Over the years, my phone has been tapped by police (with my permission to find people who were making threats to me and my family), multiple attempts at discrediting me in public places, social media slagging and trolling, fake accounts being set up in my image is this year’s version. It is very annoying and distracting. It is also a sign I am probably at the edge, which is where I like to be, of changemaking. As a young Christian anti-racist activist in the 80s, I took the view that it was a blessing of the Holy Spirit, as a woman well into my crone years now, I still take it as a sign I must be doing something right. Even if it is AI or some mathematical algorithm at play, a human somewhere along the line has entered data.

And, if you do see something from me that doesn’t look right, check it out and take some action.

Let’s build mycelium for good and not fuel for toadstools. Seek out the truth, cut off supply, build trust and confidence by being trust worthy. Check yourself that you are not providing fodder for something nasty to pop up from underground.

Photo by Adrian Infernus on Unsplash

Welcome to 2023: Mycelium

Week 1

This year’s theme is mycelium.

Mycelium is incredible. It is the largest living organism on the planet. If there is life on other planets it is likely to be mycelium. Humans and fungi generate energy by consuming ingredients from ecossystems, instead of producing food, like plants do. Fascinatingly the genetic composition of mushrooms is actually more similar to humans than plants. If you want to dig into (pardon the pun) more about mycelium and their fruits – mushrooms there is plenty on line and this might be a useful place to start.

Mycelium is going to be my blog theme for 2023. I hope it will drive my thinking and reflections on what connects us all, how networks and ideas intersect, where the nutrients of community flow and branch out and perhaps too the way love travels and appears as fruit from the spores of hope, trust and faith. In the breakdown and subsequent creation of debri and consumption, transformation is possible and I may even argue inevitable.

I will be looking for things that pop up with strength through the concrete, for ideas that can travel underground and nourish an entire old growth forest, for thoughts that network me to new worlds, forbeing fuelled by decay as food.

At this threshold of one year to another, it is a time to acknowledge courage and protection, a time to bless and be blessed by those who have witnessed my arrival to this threshold. For all of you in my life who watch each threshold rising up like fruit from the mycelium, I give a deep and sincere bow of gratitude.

I start this year at a new frontier, knowing with confidence, in the networked life under my feet that holds me up, feeds me, follows me and takes me to new places.

This blessing is for you, dear reader, and for me too so we might bless each other, and on John O’Donohue’s instruction, also bless the space between us.

A Mycelium Blessing

May the mycelium in your life;

Connect you deeply across great expanses

Transmit love with all the power of an electrical storm

Harvest hope and bring forth new fruit.

May you be mycelium to others

Open up networks of care and compassion

Find ways to breakthrough and breakdown

Branch out to uncharted territory.

May you be your own mycelium

Flowing as your breathe in and out

Cultivating deep and wide your relationships

Being intentional about what brings you alive.

1 Jan 2023