the most unlikely place

Whitehaven Beach, on Whitsunday Island off Queensland’s central coastline, is an amazing place. It’s regularly named as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, and it’s no wonder. 7km of stunning sandy beachline, backed by pristine coastal forest on an island that is 100% National Park. Apart from a few picnic sheds up one end, and the steady stream of visiting tourist boats anchored off-shore, you could be forgiven for thinking that the beach hasn’t changed in centuries.

Whitehaven Beach on a moody day

On the day we visited it was overcast and moody….the brooding clouds dark on the horizon lending an amazing atmosphere to the beach and the surrounding islands. Swallowtail dart swam around us as we floated in the pristine waters (wearing our seasonally necessary stinger suits of course!). Even without a postcard blue sky and sunny day, it was astonishingly, achingly beautiful. The natural world at its very finest.

Except that only moments before diving into the waters we had wandered along the beach, beyond the designated tourist area. There on a 15 minute walk along these pearly white sands my eye kept being caught by things that didn’t belong. Bits of plastic, and rubber and rope. A face mask that had protected someone from COVID. A used bandaid. A piece of pipe. Some were fresh – likely bits of deck rubber from stand-up paddle boards that came in with tourist boats that dotted the waters off the beach – but others were weathered and windblown, clearly washed up on the tides from who-knows-where and who-knows-how-long ago. In 15 minutes we collected a couple of dozen bits of rubbish, from the fist-sized to the tiny.

Despite the beauty of the beach, and the apparent isolation of the place (it’s not a Gold Coast beach packed full of people after all), the signs of human habitation, and of disregard for our natural environment were obvious. I was the sadder for it.

And I was confronted by it too. It’s easy enough in moments like these to blame the careless who dump their rubbish wherever they please. I don’t do that…so it’s not my fault….right?

But I’m as much a consumer as anybody. My house is filled with plastic junk that features built-in obsolescence – products destined for land-waste from the moment I purchase them. I buy food and drink packaged for my convenience in single-use plastic, barely softening my conscience with the “I recycle” excuse. Each piece of plastic made up of materials dug from the earth, processed and squeezed and manufacturered to within an inch of its life. Used once. Discarded.

All of it at risk of ending up in ocean, breaking up and floating about into the great Pacific garbage patch, or washing up on a pristine beach on a remote island (if some unlucky and curious Swallowtail Dart or Loggerhead Turtle didn’t take a nibble first). My consumerist tendencies end up in the most unlikely places.

There’s no simple answer of course. It’s not that easy to opt out of the capitalist, consumerist society I live in (and if I’m honest…enjoy the benefits of). Taking care of my own wake and my own waste is a start. Reducing, re-using and re-cycling goes the mantra – and it’s a fair thing to ask and encourage.

So I come home from this holiday with a mind full of memories, with a phone full of photos, and with a renewed desire to do right by our planet and by the children and grandchildren who’ll inherit it. That’s probably three pretty good things to bring back from a holiday (just a shame I had to go so far to be reminded of that third one).

Take a walk some day in an unlikely location. See what you notice. See what it reminds you of. See how it challenges you.

there’s a drawer in my study

There’s a drawer in my study.

From the outside it looks like any ordinary drawer. It has a wood facia, and a simple aluminium handle. It’s like any other drawer in the cabinet.

But inside this one hides something that fascinates me every time I open it.

It’s full of superseded electronic equipment. Maybe you have one too.

There are about four different old model iPhones and an old-school iPod. There’s a very early Samsung phone or two and a stand-alone digital camera. A fairly original iPad whose battery died and rendered it dysfunctional. There’s a couple of cheap mp3 players and a small stack of USB memory sticks with enormous capacities (one holds all of 64mb!). There’s even a genuine 1980’s Sony Walkman, and it’s cousin – the ’90s era Discman (if you don’t know what those do don’t be ashamed, just ask your parents).

Just opening the drawer is a walk down memory lane. I remember when each of those devices arrived, heralding new possibilities, new technology, new connectivity, mult-functionality. Each seemed to promise a whole new world…and for a time each delivered.

Portability, storage, connection, communication. Even coolness (let’s be honest, I’m not now nor ever have been cool, and even an iPhone wouldn’t have changed that, but dreams are dreams). Each device tells a story to me, and I often find myself spending a few minutes reminiscing about an earlier stage of life in which that device played some part, or about an earlier, simpler time (that Walkman…and a 1982 mix-tape!).

They remind me of just how much more capable 2019 era devices are. My phone can perform every function that I find in my drawer, but faster, more effectively and more intuitively.

But they tell other stories too, stories that I’m finding myself much less comfortable sitting with.

Stories of waste.

Stories of consumption.

Stories of chasing fashion for its own sake.

Stories of designed obsolescence and rabid consumerism (my own, just to be clear).

Stories of the relentless pace of change.

The drawer is a reminder to me that I (and lets be honest, we) have been writing cheques that our planet just cannot continue to cash. We continue to pursue more and more and more, faster and faster, fancier and fancier. And the cost to our planet, our environment, and maybe even our selves seems to be getting higher and higher and higher.

What cost to produce this drawer full of now useless, superseded electronic items that are mostly less than 20 years old? Or the companion pile of outdated laptops that sit on a nearby bookshelf (maybe I’m a low-level hoarder)? What cost for all of this designed obsolescence and now superseded technology?

I don’t know the answers, I just now I sit less comfortably with the story of this drawer every time I open it.