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Running out of time on a fragile planet: Rod Taylor

Cover image: Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet

The fragile state of our planet prompted author Rod Taylor to collect stories about the impact of climate change in his book Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet. I asked Rod what inspired him to start writing.

Rod Taylor – inspired by nature

Rod: In late 2016 I was an IT consultant, not a bad job, paid well. By night I was a science columnist for Fairfax and doing radio, occasionally for the ABC.


So while things were pretty good for me personally, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of humanity. My scientist friends were telling me ever more alarming news about the state of the planet. Things are looking really grim and we’re running out of time.

Author Rod Taylor

Author Rod Taylor


Then Trump got elected, which is a pretty clear message that a lot of people have no idea of how serious our situation is, often viewing it as a green-left socialist conspiracy to attack our freedom.
What to do? I am by nature a problem solver and it was clear to me that the only way forward is people. People are the solution.


While I am by nature optimistic, this is profoundly gloomy. I can’t live with that, so I decided to write a book.

This book would tell the stories of people who inspire me and, I hope, the reader.

We have a maggot farmer, a politician, a physicist and a guitar-playing part Maori. According to the title, the book charts ten journeys, but really it’s eleven because it’s partly mine too, as I navigated this path.

Thanks Rod.

Rod’s book features contributions from:

The Activist: Simon Sheikh
The Solar Pioneer: Professor Andrew Blakers
The Maggot Farmer: Olympia Yarger
The Accidental Activist: Charlie Prell
The Thoughtful Salesman: Leonard Cohen
The Politician: Susan Jeanes
The Climate Game Changer: Inez Harker-Schuch
The Advocate: Professor Kate Auty
The Lady with a Laser: Monica Oliphant
A Question of Hope: Dr Siwan Lovett

 

Here’s an extract from the book. Thank you so much Rod for sharing this with us.

 

The Activist: Simon Sheikh

Extract from Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet by Rod Taylor

 

Outside it was beautiful and sunny, but it was a bleak day. Donald

Trump had just delivered his inauguration address and already

he was attacking climate science. The world had just broken

temperature records for the third year running, while then Prime

Minister Turnbull was blaming renewable energy for blackouts in

South Australia. All this was just as the nation was about to record

mean temperatures for the month (0.77°C above average) and

eastern Australia would be hit by a run of heatwaves.

 

After reading all this grim news I met Simon Sheikh, but he

was cheerful, friendly and upbeat. We were about to record a live

interview, but it was he who started asking me questions. How long

had I done radio? How did I start writing for the newspaper? What

were my plans for Fragile Planet? I could see he’s a good operator

because of his genuine interest in other people and it was hard not

to be carried along by his enthusiasm. It gave me a glimpse of how

he’s been able to stir people out of their complacency to get them

active with groups such as GetUp.

 

Like anyone I don’t mind talking about myself, but we were

about to go on-air and I needed to get ready, so after a few minutes

I had to cut in, “Hey, I’m supposed to be interviewing you.”

Transcribing the interview later, I was struck by his use of

language, which was peppered with words like “passionate” and

“enthusiastic”. I made a note to learn about how a person could stay

hopeful in the face of relentless bad news.

Simon’s father was born in India and spent time in Pakistan.

 

Somewhere in his heritage is Saudi Arabian, which is where he gets

his surname. On arriving in Australia, his father quickly detached

himself from his ethnic background and assimilated. He’s even

largely forgotten his native Urdu. Sheikh, who was born in Sydney,

says he doesn’t think too much about this, but sometimes wishes

he knew more about his mixed background. He thinks of himself

as Australian and was surprised one day when his wife Anna Rose

told him most people don’t think of him as a “white Australian”.

 

Simon is tallish with soft features and breaks into an easy smile.

His Indian heritage is visible but not dominant. If you meet him on

the street, you’ll see he’s obviously not “full blood white”, but with

the ethnic mix in Australia, it’s hardly noticeable. What stands out

more is his surname, which, with his public profile, has made him

a target for online racist attacks. Even in a multicultural, relatively

progressive nation, some of these forces are just below the surface.

Still, he’s prosaic and shrugs it off. “That’s the nature of modern-day

engagement on things like social media.”

 

His sister Belinda died before he was born and his mother had a

bout of encephalitis when she was much younger. Later she suffered

mental health issues, which left Simon’s father the job of looking

after him. Sheikh describes those times in a Sydney Morning Herald

article. His mother’s mental health worsened during her pregnancy,

and by the time he was born, Simon’s parents were living apart.

His mother was becoming increasingly delusional with psychotic

episodes.

 

Simon had to deal with his mother’s instability such as the

day she set fire to the kitchen while cooking chips. It wasn’t made

easier living in the inner-Sydney neighbourhood. Enmore was a

rough neighbourhood back then and drug and alcohol abuse was

common. It was an unsettling start to life as he recalls, “I’d often hear

huge fights as I lay awake at night. I remember being scared a lot.”

“I slept with an axe next to my bed after being threatened for

not paying enough protection money to a local gang.”

 

When Simon was 10 or 11, his father had a major heart attack

leading to a quintuple bypass. Now the young Sheikh found himself

caring for his father as well as his mother. He says his father “really

didn’t recover full strength for quite some time” and at various

times both parents were dependent on welfare.

For Simon, it was a formative moment that could have gone

either way. In an ABC interview, he told Richard Aedy:

 

[His father] would come back from work, in those years that

he was working, cook dinner, ensure that I was studying, and

then go back home again. Every single day. And that put in

place for me a regimen that was very helpful in keeping me

grounded and particularly in keeping me away from a lot of

the troublemakers that I grew up around.

I had a year or two there where things could have gone

wrong.

 

By Year 7, Simon was showing glimpses of his future life and the

energy that would propel him into national prominence. Already

he had an emerging political awareness and a sense of social justice.

His first rally was against the rise of Pauline Hanson. It was, he says,

something he did with encouragement. “I was lucky in high school

to have teachers help propel that along.”

 

Simon’s impressions from the “fairly poor” community of his

childhood have stayed with him. “I got to see a few challenges faced

by the people around me.” There were sole-parent families and most

parents didn’t manage the finances very well. There were high levels

of drug and gambling addiction. His parents had other problems,

but he’s grateful for the strong grounding they gave him. “I owe a

lot to my dad,” he says.

 

After a day at school, he would go off to private tuition, which

was something few other parents could manage. Today he can

see that it was the commitment of his parents and their focus on

education that got him into university. “They were always putting

every dollar they could into education,” he recalls. “Growing up

the way I did meant I learned to be self-sufficient and to navigate

systems to achieve the best outcomes.”

 

LINKS:

Website: https://tenjourneys.blogspot.com/2020/04/ten-journeys-on-fragile-planetcoming.html

One Comment Post a comment
  1. koalamintpluto46047 #

    I highly recommend this book. The individual portraits are inspiring and give one hope for the future.

    February 19, 2021

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