IN LATE 2003 Fiona Armstrong and her husband Lane Crockett were driving from Melbourne to northern New South Wales to visit family and friends. She took a recently published American book called Good News for a Change: How Everyday People Are Helping the Planet, and started reading it aloud during the long drive. They were both so inspired that they finished the entire book in this way, taking turns to read and drive. By the time they had arrived at their destination, both were very clear that their lives were about to change.
“We decided to actively build the sort of world we wanted for our children,” says Fiona.
Growing up on the land
Fiona grew up on a 20 000-hectare sheep and cattle property in south-west Queensland. She was the sixth of seven children, two girls and five boys. Although she had never trained as a teacher, Mrs Armstrong home-schooled all seven of her children. Until they went to boarding school, their only contact with other students was through the ‘School of the Air’ program via two-way radio once a week. Fiona recalls that ‘classes were always in the mornings, usually with my younger brother playing in the corner of the room. The afternoons were spent working on the property. There were always a lot of chores to be done.’
On the property, everything was in short supply, particularly water. ‘“Turn off the tap” and “Shut the gate” were golden rules we all learned very early in life,’ says Fiona.
We had a big vegie garden and a huge orchard with mandarins, oranges and peaches, as well as a large grapevine – we grew the best black muscatels and navel oranges I’ve ever eaten. We milked our cows – also the source of amazing cream! – and produced, killed and ate our own meat. Killing a sheep was a regular event, and we would hang it in the meat house before cutting it up and freezing it. One sheep would feed us for weeks. And about once a year we would kill one of the Hereford or shorthorn steers for meat. We were a pretty self-sufficient family.
Fiona is the founder and driving force behind caha.org.au
Fiona is the producer of this 16 minute film called The Human Cost of Power.