G’day from Footscray City College, Australia

Image: Footscray City College - oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

Footscray City College – oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

G’day from Footscray City College, Australia!

Footscray City College is a state school in the inner west of Melbourne, Australia. We have 46 different nationalities at the school, and almost 1,000 students. We overlook one of Melbourne’s great waterways, the mighty Maribyrnong River. We are an excited bunch of 14 and 15 year old kids with some great, committed teachers. We are exploring the city of Melbourne as well as the natural landscape that surrounds the city.

Here’s a film we made on our first day with Weather Stations

Our group are working with Tony Birch and the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas to improve our own writing and knowledge about climate change. Tony has written multiple fiction books including Shadowboxing and Blood. The Wheeler Centre is an organisation that organises talks and events for the public about lots of topics including writing, climate change and more.

Our goal is to get people talking about climate change and how it might impact on us in our own suburbs, streets and homes. We want people around the world to know that we’re thinking and uniting around the issue. Not only do we want people to think about climate change, we want to provoke them to action.

We look forward to sharing our work with all of the other Substations in Berlin this September!

– Students of Footscray City College Substation

Postcards from the Baltic Sea

  1. The Palace of Culture

Before heading towards the Baltic Sea, I have to stop in Warsaw and stay in one of those over heated small hotel rooms which stink of smoke. Well, each time I visit Poland, I get a mixed sense of desolation and nostalgia. Even though this time I come here for the Weather Station’s project to do with the issues of climate change, still, I feel I am a cultural tourist – wandering in those foreign streets reminiscent of some old Polish films I watched when I was in China.  From a historical point of view, one can say Poland is a sorrowful land, that gives an impression like the solemn landscape of Siberia seen through a Dostoevsky novel. As a Chinese growing up in a communist house, we had some interesting ideological connections with East European countries. Bolesław Bierut’s name is still mentioned a lot in post-Mao era China. As I walk along some stately broad street in the center of Warsaw, I feel I am back again in Beijing, passing through a gigantic brutalist urban space, trying to find somewhere agreeable to sit and think. Actually, the more I walk around Warsaw, the more the city resembles for me Harbin – the northern capital of Chinese Manchuria. Harbin has this particular style of architecture that shows up in Warsaw: a mix of classical European mansions and brutalist socialist buildings.

The Palace of Cultural and Science was the place where I screened my film UFO In Her Eyes some years ago. I thought it was a perfect place (a gift from Soviet Union) to screen a film about totalitarianism. The building itself reminds me of my mother. For about twenty years, my mother worked in the Cultural Palace of our hometown Wenling in South East China. The Cultural Palace of my hometown was not as grand as the one here, but its function and its style were very similar – serve the people with well intentioned entertainment. And my mother was proud of her job, until one day the building was torn down along with other socialist buildings in my hometown. For some nostalgic reason, I do hope this grand building survives in Poland, not only symbolically, but also pragmatically, despite its complex ideological background.

  1. Czesław Miłosz

Last night I was drinking with some obscure Polish artists in Café Amatorska, discussing the gloomy future of our planet. ‘Stop worrying! Humans will die, but the planet is not going to die! That will be the scenario. It’s a good scenario as far as other species concerned.’ They told me in Vodka infused loud voices: ‘Human species are over-rated! The most selfish species should have been wiped out long ago’. Obviously this bunch of Poles was not Christians. ‘You know what’s the most ecological way to live?’ A painter stared at me earnestly: ‘It’s this: we humans must stop giving birth. So the most destructive species can eventually die out. Charge me with the crime of Against Humanity? Oh yes, please!’ He concluded bitterly. Perhaps they were right, and were more absolute than me. The night continued with sarcasm. But I have never been a good drinker, nor do I like to indulge in fantasies of an apocalyptic world. So I left early with a headache.

This morning, on a train to the Baltic Sea, I am clear-headed, and want to write again. I enter the dinning car, ordering a bowl of Zurek – Sour Soup – meanwhile reading a book from Czesław Miłosz. Is there any connection between this sour soup and Milosz? There must be. Both are great stuff. Sour soup is one of my favourite Polish dishes. The thick broth comes with a boiled egg and sausages, a hearty thing to eat in the cold weather. Miłosz, the exiled poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was someone whose poetry I loved reading when I was still writing poems in Beijing. He was hugely important in China with his books – especially ‘The Captive Mind’ and ‘Miłosz’s Alphabet’. Exiled in France then in the USA for 30 years, his writings examined the moral and psychological pressures of life under a totalitarian regime. In that respect, Milosz is similar to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, except the latter went through a much harder life in Stalin’s gulags. I, naturally, feel akin to these writers, especially when they talk about the dilemma of the impossibility of returning to one’s homeland, and the alienation of living in the western ‘free’ world. Even though Miłosz had a good professorial position in California, he still referred to himself as ‘The Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue’. He returned to Poland after decades of life in the west and died in Kraków at the age of 93.  Some of best lines from Milosz in my opinions are these:

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

 

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

I close the book, thinking back to the conversation we had in Café Amatorska last night about the end of the world. Yes, no one believes it is happening now, as long as the sun and the moon are above.

  1. Gdańsk

It’s a three hour train ride from Warsaw to Gdańsk. I pass the grey yellow plains of April. Ah, northern landscape, I sigh. How ironic that a southern person like me has ended up in the north. All my adult life seems to be about living in the cold and big northern cities: Beijing, London, Berlin, Zurich. And how I dream everyday about returning to a warm and lush semi tropical land. I miss the heat and those big leaves and smelly flowers. In my eyes, those small-leaved northern trees are never as beautiful as the big-leaved tropical plants. But probably there are fewer and fewer big leaved plants surviving in my tropical land. This is not only a metaphor but a reality: the tropical land is going. It only exists in our memory or imagination. It only remains in an anthropologist’s photo archive. The Amazon rainforest appears only enchanting in those well-angled expensively-produced documentary films. Perhaps the day when Claude Lévi-Strauss finished ‘Tristes Tropiques’, the tropical land had already been swallowed by the northern civilization – the process that began in England with the pre-Victorian era factory chimneys.

Gdańsk is another sorrowful place. The most famous thing in recent history about the town is perhaps its German character. After the World War One, Germans formed a majority in the city and Gdańsk was not under Polish sovereignty. In accordance with the terms of the Versailles Treaty, it became the Free City of Danzig. In  1939, Germany invaded Poland and the attack began in Danzig; later on the Soviet Union trashed the city entirely. Double rape! No wonder the country has produced those incredible poets and artists in the last century. But the future of Gdansk looks uncertain – the houses have been re-built after the war but most of houses are empty and unemployment is high. People are poor here, with all their good qualifications fading in their drawers.

I stand by the once famous port, now abandoned, with broken ships and messy cranes lit along the bank. The area by the water is waiting to be ‘developed’, to ‘shine’ again. I try to stretch my imagination, visualizing the newly built budget hotels one after another along the harbor in the next five years, with the holiday makers from all over the word coming here to kill their summer days.

  1. Sopot

This is where the famous ill-tempered German actor Klaus Kinski came from. One could not be totally convinced that the eccentric German cinema icon actually was born in this calm and pretty little Polish beach town. Now the city has a population of 40,000. Most are elderly people, and then many tourists. On the beach, the Royal Hotel stands proudly on the white sand facing the peaceful blue bay. Somehow, those grand family houses remind me of the rich town of Deauville in northern France. Maybe Poland’s Sopot is the Deauville of France, if you restrict the comparison to landscape.

In the local library I meet a little group of readers who were given some photocopied pages of my novel. In fact, three pages out of my four hundred page long novel. They admitted that they didn’t have time to read through my book. One woman told me she hadn’t read a single book for years after she had her baby. ‘Of course, I understand that,’ I reassured her and everyone else: ‘Don’t worry, we will just chat.’ So we talked about the reality of being Polish, being Chinese, being in between German power and Russia power. It seemed to me that everyone preferred to be under German influence rather than Russian influence. ‘And what about Communism?’ I asked. A blonde woman shook her head violently: ‘No, communism kidnapped our freedom. We prefer to hide in the religious’. Then a man from East Germany added: ‘And capitalism. It’s better. There is no freedom anywhere anyway.’

  1. Hel

Hel is a pine-tree covered beautiful peninsular. ‘It is the end and the beginning of Poland’, as the locals jokingly claim. It is so long and slim that nearly every house is located right next by the water, with a great sea view.

We stay in the Marine Station where they have kept members of many endangered sea species in their lab. The grey seal is a big thing in the Marine Station. They even have four infant seals in the pool at the moment. As I stare at one of the large, fat, young seal babies diving in the water, I am almost sardonically surprised that this big sea mammal has managed to survive alongside human world for so long. And their great whiskers! I can only admire them. I am told that when they sleep, if they are in the water, half of their brains remain awake, so they can detect any danger around them. But if they sleep on the land, both sides of their brains go into sleep mode. I wonder, given human’s barbarian nature, wouldn’t the seals be killed more often on the land than in the water? In order to survive, perhaps they have to learn to not sleep at all.

In the noon, there are about 20 middle school students around the age of 15 walking me through the forest by the sea. Most of them are local, born in Hel with their parents working on the island for the fishing and tourism industry. The boys impatiently want to show me all the war remains on the peninsular. The girls are talking to me about the pollution in the sea. We enter the ruins of bunkers which were built during World War II and look at the burnt forest in the southern end of the land. Young, beautiful, but vulnerable, they seem to be hopeful but also fearful to leave this place and to enter the big cities for their future.

‘Hel is the most beautiful place in Poland. Look the sea and the forest here! But I think maybe California is better.’ A 14 year old boy remarks while I gaze into the shimmering sea shore.

Standing by the edge of the water, a naïve but profound question rings in my ears: where is our future? What is our future? Well, I think the sea is our future. The sea is the place that gives birth to everything. Yet, humans don’t want the sea, Humans want the land, the useful land. One of the ancient folksongs from the Baltic Sea region goes like this:

Now I’ll sing the sea into grass, the seashore into fish,
The sea sand into malt, the sea bottom into a field.

‘Can we imagine a human world without the sea? Or, the Planet without the sea?’ I ask the students around me. They look gloomy when hearing such a question. We wander about some more, strolling by the abandoned fortifications one after another under the bright burning sun of Hel.

Hello from Mount Seskin Community College, Ireland

Mount Seskin Community College recording a Weather Report podcast for Going Nowhere, Biennale in Melbourne. Recording at Contact Studio, South Dublin County Council Arts Office

Mount Seskin Community College recording a Weather Report podcast for Going Nowhere, Biennale in Melbourne. Recording at Contact Studio, South Dublin County Council Arts Office

When our school was invited to become a substation in the Weather Stations project towards the end of the last school year there was a vague understanding on our part that the project was something to do with climate change and writers from across the world. How we as a school community would engage with the project was not quite quantifiable, at least to us, at that point. Our school year opened with a presentation to staff on the notion of climate change. This provided a springboard for a storm of creative work that has seen our students from across the school working with two authors, Oisin McGann and Tony Birch. Our students have recorded podcasts of their weather memories in Rua Red. These podcasts have since become part of an art installation in Melbourne whilst the work of 1st Year, Jordan O’Toole, has been selected to be broadcast on Australian radio. Other students have visited the Civic Theatre to take part in a cli-fi debate. Still more got to visit the Science Gallery in Trinity College. Within the school, under the dynamic and creative guidance of a core team of teachers, students have been given opportunities to respond in a variety of ways to the issues and challenges raised by Weather Stations. Creative written pieces, tweets to Mother Earth, posters and a sculpture by 1st Years are just some of the ways in which our students have responded so far to the project.

A powerful aspect of the project is that both teachers and students can respond in a variety of ways. Some activities are whole-school based; specially designed lesson plans that are delivered to all students at a specified time or the suspension of class so that we can enjoy individual students reading their work over the school intercom. Other activities are driven by subject teachers with their own classes and this allows for individual, creative responses. The quality of the work is underpinned by the huge investment by the core teaching team here in school and the continuous support and encouragement of Tallaght Community Arts and Collective Action.

Our engagement with the project has been hugely stimulating and enjoyable. The response from both students and teachers is so positive and the success of activities creates energy for further engagement. We didn’t quite know where we were going when we set out on our Weather Stations journey but the trip so far has been great and we look forward to continuing to respond to the challenges of climate change over the coming months.

Ms Helen Taylor, Principal, Mount Seskin Community College, Tallaght, Dublin. Ireland

A Mighty Woman, the 11.15 train to Flinders Street, and thoughts on forgiveness

This morning I caught the train to Williamstown, a western bayside suburb of Melbourne. I was on my way to the funeral of Dot Cannon, an Aboriginal woman of great character. Dot was born in the state of Western Australia. As a so-called ‘mixed-blood’ child, she – along with thousands of other Aboriginal children – virtually became the property of a racist state government. Children were taken from their families, sometimes separated for life, and were able toP1060771 do little in their lives without the permission of the state. That Dot overcame the violence she was subject to is testament to the strength of her character.

Hundreds of people attended Dot’s funeral, each of them touched by her generosity. Most of the people at the celebration of her life were non-Aboriginal, including her husband of fifty-five years, Pat Cannon. As a couple, Pat and Dot embraced each other’s cultures; he her Indigenous story, she Pat’s Irish heritage, articulated through the great poets such as Yeats and Heaney.

I left the funeral and caught the train back into the city, looking out the window and marvelling at what I consider to be Dot’s capacity for forgiveness. I would not be presumptuous enough to say that she forgave those who were directly responsible for the attempted destruction of her family. Perhaps she did? Only those closer to her than me would know this. But I would say, with confidence, that she must have forgiven White Australia for its ignorance and mistreatment of Aboriginal people. Dot was not ‘colourblind’, but she would never let colour, or race, or prejudice of any kind stand in the way of her helping others, of offering friendship, of being there just when we needed her to be.  (As I discovered personally some years ago when I experienced a profound personal crisis).

When I got home, I finished reading a new and important book on climate change: Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall. The book deals with the peculiarities contained in the relationship between climate change and our ability to think about it, both rationally and emotionally. I also watched a program (on YouTube) where Marshall spoke with an audience and expanded on the issues raised in the book (followed by a conversation with George Monbiot, the environmental writer and Guardian columnist). Marshall is an impressive speaker and writer. He is clear, direct and engaging. While the issue may be difficult to deal with for some, Marshall’s is a guiding voice. Toward the end of the conversation Marshall spoke about forgiveness. I’m not certain about this, but I think that Marshall believes that we, having collectively damaged the planet, feel guilt over this, and subsequently turn away from considering climate change emotionally. I think he is also suggesting that we perhaps should forgive ourselves, and through the experience of forgiveness, turn to engagement and take responsibility for our relationship with the Earth.

So, the connection between Dot Cannon and George Marshall? Within an issue of complexity, something simple and instructive, I believe. We sometimes become stuck for ways to deal with problems that perplex us, or frighten us, or stand in the way of us ignorantly having a good time. Sometimes, we stick our heads in the sand. At other times, we look in the wrong places for a easy solution. Today, two people brought a thought together for me: the means by which we deal with one crisis in our lives can aid us in dealing with other issues of difficulty, seeming disconnected, but in fact not.

It’s not surprising that Dot Cannon loved the land – both the red dirt of the desert and the rich loam of her suburban garden. She nurtured her garden and it reciprocated, in its colours, and shapes, and scents, and the birds that found her waiting for them. I had not seen Dot for some time before she died. But I know that if I were to ask her advice on how to think and speak and write about climate change, she’d tell me to get out there … do the best you can.

Tony Birch

Mount Seskin Community College, Tallaght, Dublin – Weather Reflections

2nd year English class ( students 13-14yrs). Work developed following the Tony Birch creative writing workshop at Trinity College Dublin, TCD, September 2014

 

Mount Seskin CC Weather Stations webpage

 

10 OCTOBER 2014     A DESCRIPTION OF SKY

Last night when I went outside to look at the sky, it was like a blanket that covered us from the sun. It was quite humid out and it was spitting rain .I couldn’t see the blue of the sky. The sky was covered with a grey like colour. A few years ago the sky was covered with broken cloud and it was nippy (cold) just the way I liked it.               Chloe Mc Carthy

Weather Stations: Memory

I remember when I was 11 years old and it was extremely hot outside. I called into my friends’ houses. We all played a big game of football on the green. We played for ages and then we all got water guns and balloons and the biggest water fight ever. By the time we finished it was only 1 O’clock but we were all soaked.               Lee Hyland

Colourful sunset

 

As I look into the sunset the colours of orange and purple beam in the sunset, there are only a few clouds but it’s cold.

As I look to my left it is dark but if I look the opposite way it is purple and orange.

When I was young at this time in December it would most definitely be dull and rainy.

There would be puddles on the ground, the grass would be muddy and it would be misty.  Josh O’Keeffe

 

Description of the Sky

10/10/2014

The sky is white and calm.

It makes me feel calm and happy that it is not cloudy, rainy or sunny.

It is just right.

It is also windy and cold which goes well with the white sky.

By Awais Zafar

 

Description of the Sky
It was nearly seven o’clock and the sky above me was still bright. The sun made the whole sky light up. There were very few clouds in the sky tonight. I sat there in my back garden, lying down on warmish grass and watched the sun set. It was so beautiful and colourful. Pink spread through the blue gloomy sky.       Siobhan Samoila

 

Weather Stations

It’s about half 6 and I am looking up at the sky and the sun is shining beautifully. I love when the sun is shining because it gives me an opportunity to play my favourite sport football. When the sun is shining it puts me in such a happy mood.

It was the end of summer and before we go back to school me and my thought it would be great to end the summer on a high and go to the beach with the family and also our cousins. We checked the weather forecast to see if it could go ahead and it turned out that it was 17 degrees. So we grabbed all our gear and told our relatives and we all headed up to Bray beach. We were having so much fun building sand castles and putting our parents in the sand. The funnest part was splashing in the water with my 2 year old baby brother. Then all of a sudden it started lashing rain, then it started to hailstone. We all took our belongings and ran to the cars. While making our way to the car the hail was hurting my back because I was topless but thank god we got into the cars before it got really bad.           Tawwab Owalabi

 

My memory

When I was young I went to a place called Glendalough,

I was only about 6 and I was there with my family. It was very hot out, so hot we didn’t see one man there with upper body wear on.

It was from 27 degrees to about 35,

I fell asleep for 5 minutes and when I woke up it was misty, rainy and very dull and the dog was soaking wet, we all had to go home.     Josh O’Keeffe

 

 

WEATHER MEMORY

10/10/2014          Description of the sky

Today wasn’t a clear day at all it was raining all day. It was dull outside and very cold and foggy however there wasn’t that many people in class as well and the teacher still went on and on about work in school. When it was lunch time it wasn’t a highlight at all because I was drenched and really cold on the way to lunch and back. School was finished early today because there was a teacher meeting after school. I was so glad that school was over early. My mum came to pick me up from school after I was done. She asked me how was my day, and I didn’t answer. I went to bed early and when I woke up I was happy again.    Kashifa Morenikeji

 

 

Jobstown Flood

10/10/2014

In 2012 there was a flood in Jobstown. It was raining heavily all through the day and by the evening it had flooded. Water came into some peoples’ homes but my house was safe. Everybody was outside their front doors observing the flood. People were helping to push cars through the water. The people who went onto the street were wet all the way up to their knees. It was a surprise for me because I had never seen anything like this before in Jobstown.         Awais Zafar

A DESCRIPTION OF THE SKY ChloeMcCarthy

Colourful sunset Josh OKeeffe

Description of the sky by Awais Zafar

Description of the sky Siobhain Samoila

Jobstown Flood by Awais Zafar

Kashifa Moreniken a memory

My memory JoshOK

SKY DESCRIPTION Saoirse

Sky description WarrenDowman

WEATHER STATIONS Karl Byrne

Weather Memory Siobhain Samoila

Weather Station Siobhain Samoila

Weather Station Kristan O’Neill

Weather stations Tawwab Owalabi

Weather Stations by Lee Hyland MEMORY

Weather Stations by Lee Hyland Sky.

Weather Stations James PosseOliver

Weather Stations Dylan Byrne Carr

Weather Station Tori Deegan