A bedtime story for grown-ups - Spectra

25TH MARCH - 6TH MAY 2022


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A bedtime story for grown-ups

THE HARD WAY | A bedtime story for grown-ups

Assembly for the Future | Live from Planet City 2029
Dispatch by | Dr Jen Rae
Future generated with | Michele, Lisa, Dearna, Aushaf and Andrew

Today, like most days before, for as long as they could remember, Marco and Pip huddled together under the playground slide waiting for the school bell to sound at 3:25pm on the dot.

Sometimes during the long days, they played marbles with the smoothest of jagged stones, pick-up-sticks with broken gum tree branches or talked about what used to keep them awake at night…dormant volcanos suddenly erupting, the inescapability of black holes, or what happens if you fall into quicksand.     

The slide was that old-fashioned kind – metal, with chipped blue handrails. On a hot day it could burn your legs, but on a day like today the thermal conduction of a winter sun on its surface kept them warm and its aspect sheltered them from a bitter wind and whirling sand. It was Monday. They knew this as the last two days blended together in seamless monotony. The bell reminded them of times when going to school, packed lunches and swimming lessons were just a part of everyday life. Marco and Pip met in kinder and now nine years later, they were as close as family. With the others now gone, they were family. 

To honour their feelings and stories of the easier times, when the school bell rang Pip would fix Marco an after-school snack of food foraged and scavenged. Today, the spread included some stale crisps, a jar of gherkins, mallow cheesewheels and pig face daisies. The daisies tasted like figs reminding Marco of riding his bike with his Mum to backyard laneways picking fruit that hung over fences in the summer. Pip and Marco had a deal. They could only talk about the easier times after the school bell. Too much talking about the past and questioning only led to nightmares which neither of them were keen to seed by reflections and old memories.    

In his early years, Marco remembered being picked up from school by his Mum. Each day, she would surprise him with a new snack – a jam donut from Crusts, a mango from the market or a purple jelly snake from the lolly stash she kept in the car’s glovebox. She would kiss him on top of his head and wrap her arms around his back holding him long enough to almost take his breath away, before taking his Paw Patrol lunchbox from his hands and swinging his Bluey backpack over her shoulder. She would take him to her studio to draw and paint, before heading home to prepare dinner. Oh, how he missed her honey-soy chicken wings, sticky and crisp, reading in the bathtub, and warm lavender scented wheat bags tucked with him under the doona on nights like these. What he didn’t know back then, was how his Mum spent many nights in futility attempting to reconcile with his father who became lost in the global economic fallout. Only once, did she have a slip of the tongue with him in earshot saying that his father chose the easier way by leaving…by disconnecting from all his relations. Since Marco could walk, his Mum taught him that the law is in the land, not in man. All humans are related to all other lifeforms in an unbroken chain that linked millions of years ago, and it is our role to accept the reciprocal responsibility for care for one another and all sentient beings, even if it feels like the hard way – something foreign, uncomfortable and/or unknown. “Begin with humility and curiosity, my son. Don’t let fear be your poison”, she would say.

Pip tossed mallow cheesewheels like popcorn into her mouth and began talking with her mouth full. Pip’s

big sister Meg went to the same school. Meg would meet her at the bicycle shed, cycle home and fix her a Vegemite sandwich before retreating to the study for homework. Pip would lounge on the sofa, scroll ABC Kids programs on the iPad and snuggle with Banjo the cat until her Mums came home. Pip’s Mums were ‘ists’ – all the ists she could think of – activists, artists, unionists, socialists, antiracists, altruists and anti-materialists. Some said alarmists, especially when they were organising rallies to demand action on climate change, chaining themselves to the entrance of Woodside’s Karratha LNG plants, striking for human rights and advocating for a universal basic income. Unlike Marco who was bathed in serotonin and oxytocin from sunrise to bedtime, Pip’s household was a hotbed of cortisol and adrenaline. At least her Mums tried to make a difference and taught the girls about the value of social participation, caring for Country, and to never forget that at the heart of capitalism was misogyny.

Suddenly, their ‘after school’ snack routine was disrupted by something feverishly scratching on the other side of the slide. Pip nudged Marco to take a look since curiosity was east on his moral compass and he was closest to the sound.

He slid the makeshift tarp door open and before he could exit, an echidna bolted inside their shelter. Startled, both Marco and Pip moved back quickly to avoid injury from the echidna’s quills. Fortunately, and unbeknownst to them, echidnas don’t release their quills in defence like porcupines. The echidna then arched upright and rested in what seemed like the most uncomfortable slouched position. She then let out a sigh and said “hello” in clear English. The youths shook their heads in disbelief and before they could respond, the echidna continued speaking and pointing to Pip. The echidna told the youths that she had been monitoring them for some time, first for her own safety and secondly for theirs. She expressed concern about their food situation knowing that Pip did the bulk of sustenance sourcing while Marco managed shelter repairs and water collection. With winter continuing and limited food provisions threatening Marco and Pip’s survival, the echidna offered a gift. She reached out her short sturdy limbs gesturing to the youths to take hold of her front claws in theirs. A small jolt ricocheted through their bodies from head to toe before the echidna released her grip. In each of their hands she left a quill. She instructed the youths to hold the quill when searching for food. Many protein sources were still on or underground and she explained which ones would provide them tasty nourishment – termites, witchetty grubs, bogong moths, crickets and honey ants. The quill would give Pip and Marco the capacity to electromagnetically sense insects in their food foraging. After a few tests finding insects with the echidna, she said her good-byes and exited through the flap. Pip started a small fire while Marco collected sticks to skewer their game. For the first time in a long while, they fell asleep feeling cared for and satiated. 

A week or more later on a non-school bell day, Pip and Marco were playing an improvised game of kubb using whatever they could find for batons, kubbs and a king. This game normally kept them busy for hours and it would have on this day if they weren’t interrupted by a red deer hind (female) who ran through knocking over all the kubbs. She jumped and pranced in a circular performance kicking and bucking in a way that looked almost intentional and rehearsed. After their encounter with the echidna, Marco and Pip prepared themselves for what came next. The hind finally stopped, approached the youths and slightly bowed her head before saying hello. She informed them like the echidna, that she too had been monitoring them, first for her safety and secondly for theirs. The hind warned them that they couldn’t stay in one place for too long. The time would come for them to leave. With departure imminent, she offered them a gift. The hind once again bowed her head and invited Marco and Pip to rest their foreheads on hers. A warm pulse surged through their temples before the hind stepped back releasing the conduction. The hind instructed the youths to raise their right hand to their right temples when feeling insecure or uncertain. “Be perceptive and alert now and when you move on” she said. “The wind carries scent through the air.” Identifying smells, sounds and shapes that don’t belong is your primary defence against predators or dangers in any environment, she advised. And, as quickly as she came, she left. Marco and Pip sat down amongst the fallen kubbs. Neither had considered what it would mean to leave this place.

Weeks passed with Marco and Pip continuing their ‘after school’ routine. They hunted for insect game with their quill and new electromagnetic sensing capabilities. They learned different techniques of drying insects and grinding them into powder, boiling, roasting, and ways to mix in nettle, borage flowers and dandelion root. Then, in early spring a swarm of bees appeared. Marco and Pip heard them coming from miles away even though it took time to decipher the sound as it initially competed with the wind. When the swarm arrived it immediately nested on the top rung of the slide’s steps. They were magnificent to watch – an undulating cluster of gentle movement of worker bees protecting their queen contrasted by the high-pitched whining sound emanating from the rapid contraction of their wings. Marco and Pip’s deer instincts were on alert. Would the bees force their displacement from the slide shelter? Before they had enough time to contemplate their next move, the bees released from the top run and moved slowly towards them. Their reflexes weren’t fast enough to run and if they did, there weren’t many places to hide. Momentarily startled, the stood still. The swarm rose above their heads and began to form a kind of directional wave in the sky above them as if to gesture ‘follow us’. 

Reassured by their attunement to the swarm, Pip and Marco grabbed their shoes, what they could quickly stash in their backpacks and shadowed the swarm for what seemed like hours. The swarm led them up a rocky slope, towards a clearing and to the edge of a precipice before vanishing out of sight. The height was dizzying and the view distressing. Pip held Marco’s hand. Charred spires and a burnt landscape in 360˚ degrees as far as they could see. Everything unrecognisable. They inhaled the wind. The smell of rain in the distance, fresh shoots of eucalyptus trees and human sweat. With each of their right hands up against their right temples, they honed in on the human scent to locate its direction on the wind. In the far-off distance, a speck on the horizon, were two Country Fire Authority (CFA) trucks heading in their direction.


This bedtime story was written by celebrated children’s author Blair Kelly in 2029 after being rescued from the deadliest bushfire in Australian history. She met Marco and Pip (names changed to protect their identities) in a Red Cross humanitarian relief camp. The youths spoke about sheltering in place under a playground slide for 304 days after fires ripped through their village. They were the sole survivors. BK sends this dispatch from the future to all our relations in 2022 appealing to them to take the hard way in climate emergency activism – untether from patriarchal institutions that reward productivity over humanity; disconnect from endless meetings, long commutes and busy-ness; stop the swipes and refreshes of Instagram grids, news and Twitter feeds; let go of your devices and release yourself from interrupting pop-up ads and reminders; turn off the channels and unsubscribe from 24/7 entertainment; and, release yourself from goods and services entrapments sold as time savers and conveniences. These are weapons to burn you out and to keep you in a constant state of threat. Your kids and future generations need our presence and mindfulness to guide them in the years ahead. As AP1957 famously said, “mycelium is what teaches us to hold hands together”. Become the mycelium – it is our way of uniting the pasts, presents and futures.

– BK, November 2029