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Alice in nature's wonderland

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Pope Francis calls on us to care for our common home, to look after our Earth and its people. This message resonates daily with Alice Dunlop in her work at Catholic Education SA and her sustainability consultancy Little Earthies, as LINDY McNAMARA reports.

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Little did Alice Dunlop know at the time that spending the school holidays on her grandparents’ farm in Springton with her family would have such a lasting impact on her life.

Today the mum of two is a lead learning consultant for the Catholic Education Office and also runs a sustainability consultancy – Little Earthies – both of which enable her to share her passion for the environment and live the call from Pope Francis to ‘care for our common home’.

While promoting connectivity with nature and implementing sustainable practices in everyday life are noble and now very much in-vogue causes, Alice said her love for the environment was nurtured from a young age when she spent a lot of time on her grandparents’ farm.

“We lived near the beach and most school holidays we’d go to the farm and grandpa had a big veggie patch and it was very permaculture driven,” she explained.

“At the time I didn’t think that had much influence at all, but when you look back it obviously did!”

Always wanting to become a teacher, Alice combined her university studies with a degree in earth sciences and when she graduated set about educating young minds at Marymount College in her role as a sustainability coordinator.

A few years ago she established Little Earthies to complement her part-time work. The consultancy sees her running online workshops for teachers (the Melbourne Archdiocese being one of her recent clients), as well as reflection days which often incorporate participants spending time enjoying the beautiful Botanic Gardens.

“We begin our day together guided by meditations where I ask them to go and be at one with nature for two and a half hours.

“Some initially think that this is going to be too much time and they will get bored, but 100 per cent of the time they come away saying it is the best thing they’ve done. Finding time to be at one with nature reenergises you and gives you a sense of healing,” Alice said, adding that for children the exercise sometimes becomes a form of prayer for them.

With two young children of her own – Olive, 3 and Heysen, 18 months – Alice said she is particularly concerned that the kids of today are spending too much time indoors using digital technology, rather than experiencing the wonders of the great outdoors.

But with the growing popularity of nature playgrounds and the “waste revolution” gaining traction, she is hopeful that things are starting to turn around. Pope Francis’ encyclical LaudatoSi’
has also focused worldwide attention – both Catholic and secular – on “integral ecology”, or more specifically caring for Earth and its people.

“When Laudato Si’ came out it was very affirming but also confronting because there are some strong statements that even myself, as an advocate for this work, I had to look at my own patterns of living and think, I’ve got to really change.”

Alice and husband Shad are trying their best to meet Pope Francis’ call to resist consumerism and reduce their impact on the environment. In defiance of modern trends to have the big family home, they have deliberately decided not to extend their Kangarilla home. Outside there are veggie patches, a worm farm and chooks and they hope to install solar panels in the future.

Olive and Heysen are encouraged to be outside as much as possible and Alice said one of her recent favourite activities with them was “lying on the grass and looking up at the stars”.

A member of the Brighton parish, Alice admitted that while studying at university she became disconnected with her Catholic faith but through her work as a teacher and promoting the environment her commitment to God and His creation had been strengthened again.

“It was through the quiet times and connection with nature and thinking about the wonder and awe within the creative world where my spiritual journey and faith was reignited

“Then studying a masters of Theology completely blew my mind because I had done the science and always been faith-based – but that challenged me even more.”

Now, through her work with CEO and Little Earthies, she finds her faith renewed daily.

“Through the courses I am meeting a range of people and hearing about their faith journey and that enriches mine. It is so rewarding.”

And at the same time she hopes she is providing a good example for her own children – just as her grandparents and parents did for her both on the farm in Springton and on the coast.

 

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