I’m finding this uncharacteristically hard to write. Normally I can write anywhere – on a plane, in a labour ward, a paddock, a bath, a tent; through flu, hangover or post-operative haze. It’s all a bit Green Eggs and Ham; in a box, on a boat, with a fox, with a goat. Not today, however. Today, all is pixelated. And while last week’s death of the extraordinary ex-governor general, the Honourable Michael Jeffery AO AC, has not caused my discombobulation, the two things are not unrelated.

The common ground is the importance of systems; the criticality of fine working order to health, beauty and happiness. We tend to consider systems fairly mechanical; production systems, road systems, political systems. We think of order as imposed and restrictive. But nature’s order is quick and responsive, its sustaining systems ineffable and silent, too complex for formulation and too subtle for perception, until they go wrong.

Consider the ecosystem we call soil. “Until we come to grips with the interconnections between soil, water and biodiversity,” Michael Jeffery told me in 2013, “until we understand the continent as a totality, we’ll just get deeper into the mess.” By mess, he meant drought, soil loss, chemical dependency, poor nutrition and climate change. And so it came to pass.

Major General Michael Jeffery with wife Marlena in 2008. He said ''until we understand the continent as a totality, we'll just get deeper into the mess''.

Major General Michael Jeffery with wife Marlena in 2008. He said ”until we understand the continent as a totality, we’ll just get deeper into the mess”.Credit:Jacky Ghossein

Or consider living systems. I don’t mean any of the ologies – biology, physiology, ecology, though yes, they’re connected. I mean the tuned system of proximities and availabilities that supports a modern life like mine or yours. Water, Wi-Fi, privacy, air flow, space.



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