This post was written by singer-songwriter, activist and gardener NIDALA. Born of the Aboriginal Djugun people of the Kimberley, her music is an anthem for open hearts and raised fists. Driven by her relentless hope in humanity, her work dedicates itself to creating reconciliation; of ourselves with our emotions, of our bodies with our natural environments, and of Indigenous wisdom with innovative ideas. NIDALA invites us to think of our place in the world, welcoming our innate belonging to the Environment and stepping bravely into our responsibility to protect it.
The way I see my place in the world was gifted to me. It came wrapped in animal totems and stories by the fire, shared on land that my ancestors walked for over 60,000 years. We slept under its stars and drank from its creeks. My people are the Djugun and Yawuru people, from the Kimberley region of Australia. I was born into the most privileged lineage of all, one that still belongs to the land. This is the experience I live and write from.
The greatest understanding I have gained from my Indigenous heritage, is embodying the role of custodian. Depending where you are in the World this word may have differing connotations. You might think of Indigenous people, or you might think of the groundskeeper at your college, or even a school outing permission slip. The word ‘custodian’ in itself simply means the one who maintains, protects and takes care. At the deepest of my core I believe that Humans are the custodians of the Earth. We are not a blight on the planet, inherently doomed to destroy it. Neither are we extraordinary creatures above all else. Just like the bees pollinate the flowers, and the worms break down the soil, we too must do our work. And our work is simple; maintain, protect and take care.
The fun part is that there isn’t one ideal way to be a custodian. In fact there are as many ways as there are Humans on this Earth, and it’s up to you to decide what your way is going to be. If this part feels confusing or flat out terrifying, it’s because it is. Once you realise your role in the world and the importance of the work you’ve been assigned simply by being born human, it’s impossible to walk away from it and sometimes that is overwhelming. But we were born to do this and we did it well for millenia, it’s just that somewhere along the line we forgot. But when we step into our custodianship, we remember.
For me, finding the best way to embody this took a while. From human rights law to education, to gardening and academia, I tried out many hats but in the end it was music. The reason I am telling you my story is to demonstrate that the road to solutions is not linear nor obvious, but all it takes is a willingness to try something different and share that with the world. I wrote out the steps that I took not as a guide for anyone but rather a reminder that changing the world doesn’t have a mould. There is no archetype of the change maker, you don’t need to be a certain kind of way or even know all of the science. The right solution will feel simple and good. Find something you’re good at and that you enjoy doing, and use it for something larger than yourself. In a world that wants us to think that we no longer care for things outside ourselves, choose to show something different.
My ‘something different’ is carbon neutral music. Music in itself is already an incredible tool for change, simply by the fact that it creates a shared experience between people who otherwise might think they have nothing in common; it gives them something to talk about, a tune to sing alongside each other, and by doing so practice what it means to be together. But if we take this a step further, why not go from being together to working together? What if the musician didn’t just bring people to the space, but gave them somewhere to go? This is where music meets custodianship.
As I tried to turn this from concept to actionable reality, I took a few wrong turns. Most of them because I was getting lost in absolutist ideas of perfectionism. Do not be afraid of the mistakes and try not to overthink it, just start somewhere! In the end, these are the only things I needed to turn my music into a tool for custodianship.
I figured out what it was that I wanted to ‘maintain, protect, and take care’ of. The answer was the planet. Because both the idea of custodianship and the outcome were so broad I decided to focus on one project, the production of my upcoming EP. Though I was still unsure what the link between my music and the planet was, I knew that one was the goal and the other the tool to get there, and that was enough.
It led me to finding the connection, figuring out what effect my music was already having on the environment. This is where the concept of carbon neutrality comes in. Whenever you do something, it either produces or captures carbon. Carbon neutral simply means that you put in place measures to capture the equivalent (or more) of your activity’s carbon cost. The complicated part is figuring out the ‘parameters of your costing’ (which means what to include) and this is the part where my perfectionism took the greatest hit it ever has. Carbon neutrality is an imperfect science at best, precisely because no one knows what those parameters should be. For example in the production of my EP, there are obvious ones like driving to and from the studio or power usage, but what about the carbon cost of the guitars? Or the clothes I wore to the studio? Or the phone I used to organise it? Choosing parameters was hard and even when I did, getting accurate data was near impossible. But in the end, carbon neutrality wasn’t about perfect data, it was about trying to understand what my music was costing the Earth and taking responsibility for it. So I relied on estimates because trying out solutions today is the only way we can do better tomorrow.
My parameters included everyone’s driving (CO2/km), the merch, energy used during rehearsal and recording sessions at Rocking horse, and the energy used to power computer time during post-production (song edits, email communication for advertising, etc). I landed on roughly 4 tonnes, and since Australian native trees have an average capturing capacity of 1 tree = 0.2 tonnes, I needed to plant 200 trees for my EP to be carbon neutral. To start this journey at ‘neutral’ means that anything that comes from sharing this project isn’t used to make up for my deficit but rather to create a surplus for something good. This is how we begin to change the tide, not just by minimising our impact but by sending good things back out.
So I mapped a way for my audience to build towards something together, alongside me, to swell the tide even more. I decided to make the EP a fundraiser, where 40% of the proceeds goes directly to funding carbon capturing and community building projects. Every time someone listens to the songs, it adds to the flow of something good and worthwhile. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a few cents at a time because this is about giving people something to build towards together, a reminder that we are not alone in our role as custodians, and that we always have a way to give to the world no matter how small.
My music is now a channel for people to make change, in a way that feels good for them, while I do something that I love. It is simple and it feels good. This is how I know I have found my solution and this is what my custodianship looks like. What about yours?