Alison Buckley

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Alison Buckley is event coordinator for Armidale’s Sustainable Living Expo. She is passionate about local and global communities responding positively to the challenges of climate change.

> Tell us what has been planned for this year’s Sustainable Living Expo in Armidale on September 13-21.

The main event will be Live.Garden.Farm at the Armidale Showground from September 19-21. We are very excited that the Rotary Club of Armidale has joined SLEX this year as an organising partner with a gardening expo. 

So many people are passionate gardeners, and this will be a great opportunity to learn how to make climate friendly gardens. There will be exhibitions on display and workshop forums with TV host, landscape designer and author Brendan Moar, and Jerry Coleby-Williams and Jennifer Stackhouse from ABC Gardening Australia. 

Over 60 exhibitors will be at the Expo offering sustainable products and services, 36 forums with guest speakers including visionary farmer and author of ‘Back from the Brink’ Peter Andrews and experts on Peak Oil, Climate Change, permaculture and architecture. There will also be a variety of other workshops on sustainable living, gardening and farming, regional produce and wine making, as well as music and entertainment. In all, Live.Garden.Farm will cover a broad spectrum of sustainable issues and will demonstrate ways people of all ages can be involved. 

One of the key events of the week will be a Community Forum to outline a sustainability vision and initiative for Armidale Dumaresq Council and the community. This will engage community organisations, government departments, educational institutions and the general community in implementing processes to reduce the environmental carbon footprint in our area.

Once again the successful Sustainable Living Tours will be held on the weekends of September 13/14 and 20/21, where people can visit homes to see sustainable living in practice. It includes straw bale houses, solar power, grey water systems, a wind farm, retro fitted houses, Australia’s first small plot intensive farm (SPIN) and organic gardens. Owners will share their ideas and practical advice with visitors.

Australia’s Open Garden Scheme has joined SLEX and will open four outstanding local gardens from September 19-21. 

> How are local schools involved in SLEX?

There has been an enthusiastic response from the schools we have approached to participate in EdFest at the Showground on September 19. We have invited all Year 5 students at schools in Armidale and the surrounding area to take part in this event. 

A day of interactive activities with a sustainable focus has been planned to inspire the students and engage them in projects and provide information they can take back to their schools and homes. After all, the kids are often the drivers of change, and we want to provide them with the information they need to become powerful sustainability advocates in the community. 

Activities will include how to make compost, a recycle race, a sculpture workshop using recycled materials, stories of progress and positive change, insects alive, a biodynamic chain and a host of informative workshops. 

> How do you see communities responding to sustainability at a local level?

One of the really interesting aspects of my job is coming into contact with so many people who are already driving environmental and community projects. 

I really think Armidale is unique in that it has a progressive community and also an enormous pool of expertise, not only from the University of New England and TAFE, but Council, businesses, government departments, community groups and passionate individuals with their own start up projects. 

This community has been anticipating climate change and peak oil for many years. When you think of Landcare, Sustainable Living Armidale, Transition Armidale, Citizens for Wildlife Corridors, the Tree Group, the National Parks Association and the many farmers groups adopting sustainable practices, you have a very good platform on which to build. Armidale has its own electric vehicle project, and there are many ideas for developing many other sustainable industries in our region. 

> What response has SLEX had from government and the business community? 

Last year SLEX began with a very short lead time. We were grateful for the sponsorship support we received from Country Energy, Armidale Dumaresq Council and the New England Credit Union. 

This year we have been overwhelmed by the sponsors who have stepped in with more support. Our three original sponsors have generously continued, and we now have Richardson and Wrench, the Department of Environment and Climate Change, TAFE New England, Jobs Australia, The Armidale School, Forsyths and Invest Blue as well. We also have over 60 exhibitors, many of whom represent the local business community. 

> How did you become involved in the event?

I came to Armidale in 2006 from the Mid North Coast and volunteered for the Armidale Food Coop, which was just beginning.

I met Liz Moffit, who also runs the Grassroots Eco Store, and we were both tree changers looking for a sustainable lifestyle. As a result, I mixed with so many people with the same outlook and was encouraged to respond to an Expression of Interest advertising the job as SLEX Coordinator. I was successful. 

It was a big task last year, as there was only five weeks to engage sponsors, organise the marketing campaign and engage exhibitors. The response was very encouraging and led to a decision to make SLEX an annual event. 

> What has been your career path so far?

After trying my hand at many different jobs after I left school an opportunity arose to go to New York for a three month holiday. Three months turned into three years, because I was fortunate enough to be offered a job as an assistant producer in one of the city’s top photographic studios. I felt really lucky, because New Yorkers love Australians and our strong work ethic. That opened so many doors. 

When I returned to Australia, my New York experience was a catalyst for finding more work in the same field. I worked in Sydney for some of Australia’s top photographers, as an agent producer in the advertising industry. Then I started my own company, which I ran for eight years. 

After that I wanted to become more involved in community projects, became a sea changer and enrolled at UNE in Indigenous Archeology as an external student. While I was living on the Mid North Coast I saw an advertisement for a production manager with the National CROC Festival. It is a national touring festival for school students in remote areas to address health, careers, reconciliation and other issues through activities and performance.

 I travelled to Weipa, Katherine, Derby, Geraldton, Port Augusta, Swan Hill, Moree, Alice Springs and Thursday Island. It was the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life, but the most satisfying. On so many levels the festivals brought communities together, and the opportunity to meet so many people tackling big issues in a really heartfelt way was really rewarding. 

What impressed me about the festivals was the way they facilitated communities to work together, to create a celebration which helped to resolve some deep seated issues and boost the local economy.

My next project was as production manager on an AFC funded film, “Adrift”, directed by regional film maker Simon Portus. It was made in Mylestom, where the Bellingen River meets the coast and was accepted into 15 international film festivals and the Sydney Film Festival. I love film as a story telling medium and particularly developing the film industry in our region.

> How can communities adopt more sustainable practices?

There is so much information about at the moment that it can be really overwhelming for people to know how to adapt it successfully into their own lives. Fundamentally, the national challenge of climate change is in the hands of the government and its legislation. But it is also widely recognised that communities and individuals need to drive this at a grass roots level. 

We have to change our consumption patterns, be more careful about the way we use energy and water and minimise waste. People are so busy in their everyday lives that sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start and what to do. It is a transition period, and what SLEX aims to do is to help all members of the community to find ways they can incorporate more sustainable practices in their day to day lives. Once we start and are successful, we are on the road. It’s a journey we all have to take. If we can be positive about it, rather than fearful, I strongly believe that our quality of life will improve along with the environment in which we live. 

> Thank you Alison.

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