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Paradise Lost and Found, Sydney in the 80s

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

What is paradise? For acclaimed author Jeanette Winterson it’s exactly where she lives - in a stone cottage with a garden that backs onto a wood full of owls and foxes and deer. But, as she knows only too well, it’s a place threatened by climate breakdown.

Both of us were commissioned to write pieces for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s Story magazine. We were given the theme of ‘Paradise’ to coincide with a production of David Williamson’s 1987 play Emerald City, which explores notions of Sydney in the 80s, a place where dreams are made and crushed.

Baz Luhrmann, Nell Schofield, and Gabby Mason in the 80s
From left to right, Baz Luhrmann, Nell Schofield, Gaby Mason in the 80s

“Paradise lost and found” was the brief. The editor thought that my experience of growing up in Sydney in the 80s could shed some light on what was really happening on the ground. And as my father had worked in the booming world of advertising throughout that period, I’d witnessed how easily people can be persuaded by false images.

Coincidentally, at that same time my dear friend Linda Jackson was being celebrated in a retrospective exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum called ‘Step Into Paradise’. The title of the show was taken from the sign that used to hang on the door of Flamingo Park, the dreamy Sydney boutique owned by Jenny Kee in which Linda sold her cornucopia of imaginative frocks. I simply couldn’t resist including stories about our relationship in the article.

I also wrote about climate change. I’d first heard about it in 1988 when I went on assignment to Antarctica for Vogue Living. Linda made me a printed penguin coat padded with ice-blue taffeta lining to take there. When I returned I joined every environmental group I could and became active on many fronts. For a long time, my focus shifted from culture to campaigns:

"As an activist, I turned my back on art, thinking it was a frivolous luxury in the face of climate chaos. Now I’ve embraced it, believing it’s the only thing that can inspire more love and respect for the incredible place we call home. As philosopher and former US soldier Roy Scranton writes in his book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, 'The fate of the humanities, as we confront the end of modern civilisation, is the fate of humanity itself.'

In her article, Jeanette Winterson referenced Noah and the floods; “The waters are rising. They will go on rising unless we cool our feverish planet. Who believes in Hellfire anymore? We all should. Look at California this year. Look at the cities in Europe that heated up past 40 degrees in August. Air conditioning just makes the problem worse. We are the generations who must act, and not act. Do more and do less. Every morning there is still time. For now.”

We're lucky because we live in our own patches of Paradise. But we are also acutely aware of how humans have changed those places.

The production of Emerald City was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic, just one of the new diseases ravaging the Earth. For the first time this southern winter, the Antarctic sea ice hasn’t formed. There’s even talk of the the Gulf Stream, which drives the planet’s weather systems, failing by 2025.

So what are we going to do about it?

Read my article for Story magazine, 'A Moment In Time'


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