Beck: Lovely ones Welcome to this episode of Hello, Rebecca Ray. I am so excited to have Dr Anika Molesworth with me. And Anika and I were connected via Pan Macmillan. Anika has a new book coming out to be published at the end of August in shops probably on the first day of September, called Our Sunburnt Country and I can’t wait for you to meet her. Anika is a farmer, scientist and storyteller.
She has been widely recognised for her work in agricultural and food systems, and generating climate change awareness, who her awards include young Farmer of the Year in 2015, and Young Australian of the Year New South Wales finalists in 2017. And Nika is passionate about ensuring the best possible future for the planet, people and the food on our plates. And I can tell you what I’ve read from her books so far, that it’s already pressed on my heart.
So I’m so excited to have this conversation. Thank you so much for your time today. Anika to just pop in to a zoom call with me to chat about this important stuff.
Anika: will thank you so much for having me, Rebecca. I’m so excited to have a chat with you.
Beck: Absolutely. In your book, you talk about your grandmother. And I feel like we had very similar grandmothers, although perhaps my grandmother didn’t have the sass that your grandmother had, that we’re both children of the depression, though.
I think perhaps your grandmother was maybe 10 years older than mine, at the time. But I grew up with a grandmother who actually both my grandparents who cooked all the time and saved absolutely everything because they were children of the depression.
And I remember shaking my head one day we had, my nan was making a pork roast. And she lived with my parents at the time that I happen to be living there as well. And she’d made this amazing roast with crackling on the top of it. And the whole family was like salivating at the smell of this and she pulled it out, put it out, pulled it out of the oven, put it on the bench in order to rest for I don’t know how long meat rests.
I don’t know. I’m not a cook. We’re gonna talk about that in a moment. And then, so we’re all sitting out on the balcony just waiting for this meat to be ready. Just this collective warmth of Holy shit. We’re going to have one of Nan’s roast dinners like that would just the best, you know, like no one made a roast like a and then silently in the background.
We heard this chewing and I look over to the balcony. And my Weimer, for those of you that don’t know what a Weimer is, I have a 12 year old Weimer on a he was about it was much younger than 12. At the time, he was probably only two or three. There are a German working dog or what’s called a gun dog.
So there they used to be used for hunting and you know, kind of collecting birds and things like that. And when they were used as part of hunting, and Henry had stealthily picked up the entire roast off the bench, the entire roast and managed to bring it out to the balcony and proceed to do like devour what he could have it before we actually noticed him.
Now, that’s distressing in and of itself when you’re really looking forward to a roast in it right. But my nan in all her wisdom, she says Don’t worry, we could just take off the outside and then eat the rest of it. And I was like then we’re done for pork roast like no, we can’t do that. And yet that moment really epitomised for me.
Her child of the depression mindset that never left her that her experiences as a child was so formative in terms of not having access to food all the time that you don’t even waste a roast that a dog has attempted to devour, you know?
Anika: Yeah. Oh wow. What an amazing story and I can just visualise that dog thinking he’s the luckiest dog in the world.
Yeah. And that’s absolutely my experience. Yeah, growing up in a house alongside my grandmother where she did not waste, you know, any little morsel of food. And I write in my book about, you know, coming into her house in the weekends, and you know, there would be the bananas going black in the fruit bowl, and I would like, you know, take a wide berth thinking, oh, gosh, like they’re going to be sliced up for my afternoon fruit salad.
And I don’t want them absolutely not. But yeah, my grandmother, you know, would not waste food. Never ever would sheep, throw out black bananas or, you know, bread that had grown a little bit of blue falls on the the end, you know, that would be trimmed off, but then we would still have to wait the bread.
And it was just this completely different mentality around food and respect for food. That’s, you know, you know, be thankful that you have actually food in your pantry and you will eat it and you won’t let it go to waste. Yeah.
Beck: How did you go from so we’re talking about your upbringing in Melbourne.
So the city, Melbourne, how did you get from there not wanting to eat black bananas, and yet being shaped by your grandmother’s mindset, to now being on a farm just outside of Broken Hill, a farmer yourself, and now driving forward the message of a climate crisis and how it’s more important than ever, that we be mindful of where our foods coming from? How Where is that gap? Can you talk me through that story?
Anika: Yeah, so I think I was a very, you know, lucky as a child that I had parents and grandparents who did sort of reinforce these messages that, you know, respect your food, eat your food, don’t leave the table, you know, when you’ve got half a plate of food still there.
And as a child, you know, it didn’t sink, you know, of course, and I thought, you know, I am so lucky to have, you know, a full pantry, a full, full fridge that I was blasay about the food. And my deep respect for food didn’t come up, you know, came much later, when my family had purchased a farm out near Broken Hill in far western New South Wales, when I was 12 years old. And then we went into a decade long drought here.
And it really opened my eyes because, okay, we were here on this beautiful piece of land, we were talking about, you know, what we were going to do here, you know, a future that we were going to raise sheep, and those sheep would be, you know, trucked off and sold to people who would eat them and like nourish them.
But then the drought came and the rain stopped falling, the vegetation slowly disappeared. And we were pretty much unable to run sheep anymore. And, you know, everything started to, you know, the, the dots started to join in that.
Okay, I could see how people and businesses were being impacted by the degrading environmental condition. I could see the toll on people’s mental health, as the drought dragged on the years and years, and people were really stressed. And they were worried and, you know, where was the income going to come from if we can’t raise sheep?
And when is the rain going to fall and all of these conversations, and it was sort of in my late teens, that I started to understand the term climate change and what that actually meant. And I developed a really strong, you know, curiosity, curiosity about this, because I had fallen in love with this farm, I wanted a future out here. And I started to realise that my future was in jeopardy.
You know, the climate projections, were saying that it’s going to become hotter and drier, that, you know, the way that we run farms is not going to be what the way we’ve run them in the past that there will be food insecurity issues in front of us. And I also became incredibly concerned that this was an issue that wasn’t being taken seriously.
You know, it wasn’t being addressed in the urgent manner that it needed. And so that’s, you know, developed my, I guess, my advocacy for this issue and wanting to speak up about it and wanting to say, you know, this is my home, this is my land, this is my future, which are all being threatened by our inability to tackle climate change in the way that needs to be tackled. And, you know, at the end of the day, it relates right back to the food on our plates and our family sitting around the kitchen table. That’s the bare bones of that.
Beck: So it’s hard for me to listen to you talk and be able to see your face at the same time. So listeners, for those of you that are listening, I’m, we’re actually doing this, this recording right now on video. And I can see etched in every corner of her face, the sense of uncertainty around this, and the fact that this might have started occurring to you as a team.
But even now, you’re obviously you’re living this now, this is, this is not something that you want to read in a book somewhere about a threat in the future. This is actually something that is your reality today. And so can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to be living in that? Given that?
I would imagine, we could say that two thirds of the population of our country live along the east coast of Australia, you know, very much coastal and not rural. And I feel like the messages between the different realities of living, get lost in translation at times, can you please talk to me about the realities of your day to day life and how this occurs for you?
Anika: Yeah, I do find climate change an incredibly personal issue. I do feel as though it is impacting me and my family, our livelihoods, my future. And so from a purely selfish perspective, or reason I want things to change for the better, I want to shift that trajectory. And I found it really interesting.
You know, in the last few years, when I’ve gone to Sydney to give presentations about climate change, and food insecurity, and I arrive in Sydney at it’s a beautiful, rainy day, and someone says, Oh, I’m so sorry about the rain. And I sort of think, Oh my gosh, like, I’ve been in drought for five years, like, there is nothing more beautiful to me than, you know, seeing the rain fall and, you know, my heart aches that it’s not falling, where my family farm is, because we’ve had to sell all our sheep, you know, I walk out in the paddocks, and you know, almost have tears in my eyes some days because it, it looks so barren, it looks so lifeless.
And I have seen it in the years when it is so full of life when they’re just wild flowers copying the land, when there are 1000s of Emerald budgerigars, like flying from tree to tree. And it is the most magical of places, and it just fills me with, you know, wondering, or when I get to walk along, you know, the dry creek and see the corellas roosting in the Old River red gums, when I get to walk out in the paddock and see my horse grazing.
I do feel a real sense of, you know, a connection to this place of belonging to this landscape, and then a responsibility to care and look after it. And I really do understand that the land will only be able to care for me to care for us if we actually care for it.
And so this is what I try and communicate to people who do live on the eastern seaboard, and you know, haven’t been able to step foot on a farm or not for a long time, is remind people that there is so much beauty out here in you know, the vast expanse of Australia. But it is also incredibly fragile. And the way that we are living the way that we are interacting with the planet is doing harm to it at the moment.
And people who live very closely and work very closely with nature, who are farmers, we see those changes are occurring already. And they are causing stress and they are causing worry and uncertainty of what the future will hold if we don’t actually change the way that we are living alongside the planet.
Beck: I really want to get into in a moment. What we what we can do what is the basis of your message and where we can start to make change. And because I’ve seen you write so incredibly beautifully about food, and especially about the knowing where our food has come from and treasuring each mouthful that we take.
I want to get into that. But before we do that before we kind of talk about steps that we can take to honour the fragility of the land. I want to talk to you about perhaps something that is a little more a little Emotionally deeper, when you’re facing, you know, such a personal issue as your own livelihood because of the climate crisis.
What are the strategies that you use to cope? Because I can imagine that you have seen friends, perhaps even family move away from the land, because it’s no longer possible to continue, perhaps the generational lifestyle, but this being passed down to them that they had as part of their dreams, like you do. How do you stay there and keep going?
Anika: Yeah, it has been terribly difficult to see and hear about some of the things that are happening in the region, as you say. I mean, there have been fourth generation farmers walking off the land in this region over the past few years. And there are people who have had those properties in their family since their great grandparents, like those places a part of their, their family, their heritage, and they no longer know how to, you know, raise, you know, raise livestock to earn an income.
And so they are leaving these places. I’ve walked out in the paddock and seen you know, little kangaroos because there’s not enough vegetation on the ground. And it absolutely, you know, breaks my heart when I hear these stories, and I see these things and I then, you know, read in the newspaper, how we’re opening up a new coal mine or something like that, and you know, I can see how these things is just so related.
And yet, as a nation, we don’t seem to see them as related or we don’t even see some of these things. We don’t even hear some of these stories. So for my own personal resilience, how do I sort of manage I’ve I’ve had to learn over the past few years how to actually cope with these stories and you know, these impacts and to continually look at the science and to see how bad you know the projections are and it’s it’s a fair few things. So each morning I get up for a walk with my dog and so I go out into the paddock.
Beck: Wait, can’t go any further until we have details what kind of dog do you have?
Anika: I have a German wirehaired pointer is a beautiful, scruffy playful boy.
Beck: Probably in the same genus somewhere down the line as one run is Yeah, absolutely right taste.
Anika: So we go for a walk in the paddock and you know, watching the sunrise over the landscape looking at the beautiful little flowers that are emerging from you know, the morning jus it’s, you know, it reinvigorates me and re-energises me for the day. Um, I also, you know, have some amazing networks not, you know, because I don’t see many people face to face here. We live very remotely. Yeah. But I have a beautiful
Beck: Hold on, like, Can we do details again? Yeah, far out. Are you so for example, the nearest town and by town, I mean, like general store or place you could go by perhaps petrol or groceries?
Anika: Well, I’m probably pretty lucky. And that’s, that is only 20 minutes away from me. So yeah.
Beck: Yep. What about the nearest major town?
Anika: Um, so after Broken Hill, it’s probably mill Jura. So that’s about four hours away from us. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. Um, yeah, so I have connected with farmers all around the country. And we have a beautiful, you know, supportive online community.
And we just absolutely encourage each other and cheer each other on. And understand, you know, when someone’s facing a bushfire or a flood or a, you know, a disease outbreak, you know, where they’re offering support and words of encouragement and, you know, an ear to listen to the heartbreak and the trauma.
And I think just having that kind of community support, even though a lot of us you know, we’ve never met each other face to face but we’re here and we get it. We know that it’s, it can be difficult being on a farm and being so remote. But to remember that we’re also very connected and you know, that there is a beautiful rural community, you know, thriving still, which I love and I love being part of this community.
Beck: Do you feel like there’s a sense that you can only understand if you’re going through it, so is there is there a Connect between perhaps city folk. And I know this is not even what we ever planned to talk about. But I’m curious, Is there like a disconnect between people who are facing this trauma on a daily basis, because there’s something about ongoing trauma, right. I, my specialty is trauma.
I’ve spent a lot of time in clinical practice treating emergency services personnel, and mainly police and military personnel and dealing with PTSD. And one of the things that I’ve noticed that is actually quite different. So trauma plays out very similarly across human beings, particularly if it becomes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so something that’s more ingrained rather than an acute response that then resolves.
But there is a difference between sustained trauma that becomes almost your normal, and trauma that’s happening to a collective that is almost again normalised culturally or normalised by the media, or whatever it is. So for example, I used to sit down and talk to a police officer, let’s say I’m having a conversation with a police officer, what they think is normal, is absolutely not normal for the standard human being in terms of what they see and what they’re exposed to.
The when you’re talking to a farmer that has been generationally traumatised, because of watching, you know, grandparents, perhaps having to pass down a farm that no longer operates in the same way because the land doesn’t respond environmentally, in the same way. That trauma also becomes normalised.
So you kind of sit in this space, where if we were to look at it clinically, we could actually point out real signs of trauma in people’s psyches. And yet, because you’re living it and seeing it on a daily basis, and it’s happening to everyone in the rural, rural areas, it kind of becomes something that you live in therefore becomes normalised.
And so I’m wondering, is there a disconnect between that was a really long tangent to come back to? Is there a disconnect between if you’re having a conversation with someone who’s, you know, from the city, and you kind of feel like there’s a sense of fuck you don’t get it? Like, honestly, I can’t, I can’t even describe it to you because you don’t get it?
Anika: Well, one of the sorts of motives that I use in the book is, you know, talking about this planetary illness as though it is a human illness.
Yeah. And in the first chapter, I talked about how my elder brother became, you know, severely ill with chronic fatigue syndrome when I was a child, and, you know, that sense of helplessness, watching a family member watching a loved person, you know, become bed-bound, you know, unable to refer to his mouth and you know, that worry, that anxiety that feels around when someone you love so deeply, you know, are they going to survive.
Those questions running through your mind? And I relate that to what’s happening with our environment and sort of describing how our planet is sort of becoming an ailing patient. And there are a lot of people who are, you know, feeling grief, who are feeling frustration, who are feeling helpless of, I don’t know what to do, like, how can I help this patient our planet? And so I think it’s about framing the climate change story like that in ways that people can go, Okay, yeah, I, I have experienced, you know, the grief of losing someone that I love deeply.
And so I understand that concept of the loss of worry of helplessness.
it’s this loss of solace, that when an environment or a place that you care very deeply about is being degraded before your eyes, it’s a feeling of homesickness while being at home, you remember a happier time a happier place, but it’s not as it is now. And I think,
Beck: as a concept
Anika: Yeah. And I think also when we talk with, you know, our parents, our grandparents about what it used to be like when they described, you know, the rivers running clear when they described, you know, the forest, they used to walk through the bird songs that they used to hear.
And we sit back and we think, well, I don’t hear those bird songs anymore, that forest has been removed and is now you know, apartment blocks, we can start to see that, yeah, our planet really has changed in a very short period of time. And I think perhaps, you know, we do need to feel that heartache first, before then we go, Okay, well, now I need to do something because I can’t accept that heartache. I can’t accept a deteriorating condition.
And I think we have to be very careful sort of moving people from that place of grief and an overwhelming sense of helplessness to Okay, well, what am I going to do about it? Where do I go from here? And this is where I want to take people with my book, it’s opening their eyes of, you know, the planet is ailing, you know, we have damaged the environment, we have lost species that will never return. But do we get into helplessness and allow the places and species that remain the same unfortunate fate?
No, we have to do something. Because we have a privilege and responsibility being alive at this point in time that we have to act, we have to do something, and we can do something. And that’s my message of the book that each and every one of us can do something that will help fix the situation.
Beck: And this is where you talk about climate courage, isn’t it? Can we talk about how we get from that state of helplessness because I’m going to be completely transparent? That’s where I am.
And it’s not just a sense of helplessness, it’s a sense of shame, as well, I, I experience on a daily basis, this sense of is the planet too far gone for what I could potentially do to even make a difference.
And then the secondary kind of pinpoint that my mind lands on is that I’m unskilled and incompetent. So how that actually plays out is I’m not the best cook in the world. And I happen to live in an area. So I live in the hinterland in of the Sunshine Coast, which is kind of like an hour north of Brisbane.
And it’s a beautiful area where I can go and purchase beef straight off the farm, if I want to there, you know, there’s farm produced fruit and vegetables available each weekend. But because I’m not the best cook in the world, I don’t necessarily have available to me this suite of seasonal based recipes to go, this is what you can make next. And so there is a large part of me that goes, I’m time poor, I’m doing the best with what I’ve got that my best is not good enough.
And I don’t have within me the capacity to make a difference. And so then there’s this cycle that happens emotionally. I don’t know whether this is normal or not. But this is my experience. What happens emotionally where I kind of cycle between helplessness and shame and helplessness and shame. And it results in inaction or just continued habits because that’s what I’ve always done, which compounds the shame, because I’m fully aware that we’re sitting in the middle of a climate crisis. Does that make sense?
Anika: Absolutely. And yeah, I think so. So many people feel that way. And may also I feel that way, too. And I think a lot of people end up in that default position of doing nothing. I mean, it’s easier to tune out to pretend it’s not happening to alter ego. Someone else needs to deal with this, because I can’t because I don’t know how to I don’t have the time I don’t have the networks.
We make up these excuses. Why, why this is not my issue to fight. You know why I can sit this one out. And unfortunately, I think too many people feel that way. And I think there’s a lot of reasons that we have come to that conclusion. And I think a lot of it has to do with the poor storytelling around the climate change issue, that it has become, you know, so big and overwhelming and complex, that we go, oh my gosh, I cannot deal with this on my plate. today. I’ve got 20 emails in the inbox. I’ve got kids that need to go to school. I can’t do with climate. Ha,
Beck: It’s too hard, it’s too big.
Anika: Exactly. And, look, not everyone can do everything, of course. And we shouldn’t. Yeah, we shouldn’t end up in that position or feeling okay, well, I feel so guilty. And I feel so full of shame that I’m just going to block my ears and pretend to start happening. I think it’s just about realising, well, what can I do? Like, what is my sphere of influence here?
What is actually something I can change? Is it you know, something as simple as, you know, not selecting goods at the supermarket that are wrapped in plastic and styrofoam. You know, just choosing something that’s not in those containers.
Overly packaged containers? isn’t something as simple as saying, Okay, well, I’m going to try, you know, a few meat-free meals a week, and I’m going to look up a recipe and I’m going to find a recipe I love and we’re going to, you know, to do this for a little bit. Um, you know, is it someone who works in local governments and wants to have more courageous conversations about recycling programs in in their town, in the council area, or, you know, a tree planting in the local community garden? I mean, everyone’s life is so different and so nuanced.
There is no easy answers, or, you know, one size fits all solutions. It’s about each of us going okay, well, what’s my sphere of influence? What changes can I make? What changes can I control? And when we do those small steps, and even though they do feel so small, so ridiculously small in the scale of what’s happening?
If everyone did that, you know, if, if all the 24 million people in Australia just in one step today, that’s 24 million steps further forward? We are. Yeah. And I think that’s what then gives me, you know, courage and hope that we can all easily make a few small tweaks in our lives. And when we realise that, okay, well, that wasn’t too hard, maybe I’ll try something else, maybe I will be a bit more courageous, I will step my foot out a bit further from my comfort zone, and I’ll write a letter to my local newspaper, I will actually send an email to my local MP and say, this is an issue I care about.
And this is an issue I will be voting on, you know, being a bit more courageous with our language, not, you know, maybe we should do this, maybe, you know, we have to do this. And I’m going to do it. And I’m going to tell my family and friends why I’m doing it. And I’m going to invite you to, you know, be part of this with me, you know, how do you recycle in your household?
Have you set up a worm farm or a compost heap, because this is something that I’m doing in my home, and I would love to get your ideas, and I’m going to share, you know, some, some videos or photos or stories, while I’m going through my own journey. And that’s how we inspire people. And I think because friends and family is our most trusted messengers. If we share these stories, and these learning journeys, people listening in, and courage is contagious.
Beck: Oh, my goodness, like, I’m speechless, because listening to you speak, really stirs something in me the same as when I read your writing. And there’s something about your call to small responsibility that I think is doable, I think it’s something that we all need to listen to. And I, well, I don’t want to sit here and say, so tell me the answer.
And put all that pressure on your individual shoulders to fix the rest of the climate crisis in Australia. What your message is for, towards climate courage and towards taking one small responsible action on a daily basis.
I truly want to get behind. And I really want to thank you for being able to speak about something that is so incredibly personal to you, and so incredibly woven into your DNA that is affected by what everyone else’s everyone else is doing. But you speak about it from a place of not blaming, and I’m so grateful for that.
And I admire it so much, especially your resilience to be able to continue going so Please can we keep in touch about this? And listeners, I desperately want you to get your hands on Anika’s book when it comes out.
I’m talking to Dr Anika Molesworth and her new book is her first book and new book, you would not know that she’s a first-time author, her writing is ridiculously beautiful. I’m envious. It’s out on the 31st of August.
So go and get your hands on it. It’s called our sunburned country. And in the show notes, we’ll have a link to be able to pre-order her book as well. Pre-orders make a huge difference to authors, lovely ones. They tell publishers that this book is desperately wanted by you. So they help Pan Macmillan have faith in the Nika as an author. And they also tell book retailers that this book is necessary. And it absolutely is. So please go and preorder it find the link in the show notes. Where can people find you, Anika?
Anika: So I’m on a fair few social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, I have a website and Anikamolesworth.com. And yeah, I would love to keep in touch with anyone who’s interested in these issues and wants to, you know, feel a bit of courage and inspiration and because we’re all in this together, and we’re all gonna get out of it together.
I love that so much. This is Anika lovely one. So go and jump on it and please pre-order her book. I will catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello, Rebecca Ray. Lovely ones.
Lovely ones if you have gotten something out of this episode, I’m so happy to hear that and I’m so grateful for you listening. Thank you for being part of my community and thank you for being with us today. If you’d like to explore more, my latest book setting boundaries has just been released. I’m very excited and also very nervous that it’s now out in the world. If you want to get your hands on it, you can do so at rebeccaray.com.au/books and I will catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello Rebecca Ray soon.