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Visions, heroes and the makings of a green mythology

VAEE councillor Ragnar Haabjoern tells what has inspired him and takes us on his personal journey to where he is today. Am I making a difference? Does any of this matter? Does anyone really care? If you are a passionate environmental educator or conduit of sustainability beliefs, you have probably heard these doubt-filled questions pop up many times. When was that last time that you were reminded of this doubt? Was it that moment when you had your amazing grant proposal rejected? Or was it that not so positive meeting you had with that naysayer who gave you that look of that says oh no, what superfood has this greenie been munching on today? So awkward For all those ecologically aware educators, facilitators, councillors, managers, advocates, tradies, technicians, activists and scientists, for all those who time and time again stay true to their own convictions and conquer that doubt and adversity, well done for keeping strong. Though it does make me wonder where this special resilience resides that allows these eco-warriors to soldier on. Where does this ecological oomph originate, this intrinsic drive to keep going for the sake of that bigger picture ecological idealism? Since very recently becoming a member of the VAEE Council I have been thinking a lot about my own personal eco-journey, and why I have taken this path? How has it lead me to the VAEE? Why have I taken this road less travelled? And what fuels my strength? At the school I teach at, Westbourne Grammar School, a feature of the Year 9 orientation program is the Get to know the staff! presentation. I relish this opportunity as I see the great benefits for being vulnerable in regard to your own personal and educational journey rather than just presenting the job you are doing. There are also many intangible benefits from being transparent about the person you are, both inside and out, and your own values. Through my presentation to the commencing students I show pictures of my educational history and some of the important milestones that have altered and evolved the person they see before them. I am very grateful for my continual yearning for being a lifelong learner, even though counting the laps that I have made around the sun so far, some would comment that I should strap in because my life has really only just begun! The presentation I give to the students is light hearted, creative, very visual and gets snickers and murmurs from the audience especially when I show the students a photo of myself in their school uniform from a time when I was in their shoes, a year 9 student at the school that I now teach at. A theme that runs alongside the thread of passion for learning that I endeavour to exhibit during the presentation is the tracking of my ecological consciousness, or as Howard Gardener may say, the development of my Naturalist Intelligence. From a very young age, around the age of four, I was exposed to many outdoor pursuits including bushwalking, camping, skiing, cycling and sailing. I am certain that being exposed to the joys and freedoms that these experiences offered allowed me to appreciate nature on a deeper level and to develop a sense of place and connection to the environment that still remains with me today. Visions that I show the students to present and describe the shift in my thinking and feeling about the environment are images of smoke plumes coming from the Amazon rainforest, pop star Sting travelling the globe with indigenous leader Raoni Metyktire, and the beautiful sight of Greenpeaces flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, sailing the ocean. Even to this day these images unnerve me and stir something inside my soul. I can remember when I was just beginning high school that I just could not comprehend what was happening on the planet, all that destruction and death. It did not make sense to me as to why we would burn such a beautiful place, a place full of so many unique plants and animals and mysterious

native tribes with their ancient wisdom and magic. These deeply felt questions started me on that most powerful of paths the path energised by that most dangerous of questions Why? Just a couple of weekends ago, I got on my bike and rode down to Princes Pier to get up close and personal with one of those visions; a vision that has continued to this day to inspire my passion for living and working for the planet I got to embark on the new, purpose built Rainbow Warrior. When I first heard of the Rainbow warrior back in the mid-1980s I was hearing stories of how it was being a tyrant to big businesses plundering the environment and to governments who were exploding nuclear weapons, and how people were so upset with Greenpeaces activism that they in turn sought to blow the boat up. A quarter of a century later the battle remains. This time the arena is the Great Barrier Reef and Greenpeaces attempt to stop nine new coal terminals being built on this world heritage listed natural wonder. During my presentation to the new cohort of Year Nine Imagine program students I now show a picture of one of my personal heroes, environmental guru and the grandfather of environmental activism, David Suzuki. I present this image with a prelude statement, a statement of hope that they too will be able to have a hero in their own lives, someone who inspires them to seek further, delve deeper and provide positive influence to their own passions no matter what they may be. I explain that I was lucky enough to meet Suzuki in 2007 in Melbourne when he was on his autobiography book tour. I walked straight up to him and with such emotion in my voice I thanked him for inspiring me to seek an alternative vision for this planet. He acknowledged my gratitude, asked my name and said with a thoughtful grin Ragnar, the elders do know! My journey of environmental awareness from that moment of seeing a burning tree and the Rainbow Warrior has lead me, thus far, to 13 years at university, four degrees, an attempted PhD in Deep ecology, a Vision Quest, a multitude of nature based rituals and retreats, a permaculture design course and various jobs in natural resource management, sustainability and education. Along the way I have been fuelled by the wisdom of the elders and ancestors, visions of strength overcoming adversity and the amazing stories that continue to inspire me to do this work. And it is work! But for those who have been bitten by the Lorax we understand that it is the work that must continue to be done because unless we stand up and speak and act for the trees, the reefs, the rainforests, the air, the fish, the birds, the furry ones, the spiky ones, and on behalf of indigenous people, then if we do not do it, then who will? I have recently come across the book The Heroes Journey by Joseph Campbell. A dear friend and colleague mentioned this story to me and recommended the book after I had spoken of my own ecologically inspired journey. Not only do I feel strengthened by the heroes that have inspired me, but also that my own journey has an opportunity to inspire concerned youth in these difficult times. The wisdom nature has bestowed upon me allows me to be resilient in the face of nine new coal terminals, climate change, air pollution, chemical farming, suppressed passion and creativity, and species loss. I trust that my own heros journey will continue to allow me to repair and enhance the planet, to meet and work with more amazing people who also share common dreams of a sustainable future and to also guide more youth in showing what amazing things are possible when you are inspired by a combination of natures wonder and magic with their own hearts. So it is this story that I bring to the VAEE council table every time we get together. It is this story that shapes my thoughts and aspirations for the organisation and for the future of environmental education in Victoria.

Ragnar Haabjoern is a mentor as part of Westbourne Grammar Schools Year 9 Imagine Program and a VAEE Councillor. He is passionate about enhancing ecological consciousness by engaging with the creative and visual arts.