Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Best travel money options for Australians

I have spent a lot of time overseas and settled on these as my top picks for ways of getting the most for my Australian dollar abroad.

Citibank Visa Debit Card

This will be on a Citibank Plus Transaction Account.
  • No annual fees
  • Visa card bulk exchange rate
  • No commission on foreign currency purchases
  • No fees or commissions on foreign ATM withdrawals*
  • A huge international network of Citibank banks and ATMs. You can use these to withdraw money fee free in places where local banks impose charges.
  • You can set up an Australian account with citibank Australia from any country where you can access a Citibank branch. 
  • No travel insurance associated with the card

Bankwest Zero Gold Mastercard

  • No annual fees
  • Mastercard bulk exchange rate
  • No commission or fees on foreign currency purchases
  • Free automatic travel insurance when you purchase travel tickets in advance on this card (there are certain conditions that apply - so make sure you fully understand them in the fine print to ensure that you are actually insured)
  • You will be charged a fee/commission by Bankwest if you get a cash advance at a foreign ATM*

Honorable Mention: Latitude 28 Degrees Travel Card

  • No annual fees
  • Mastercard bulk exchange rate
  • No commission or fees on foreign currency purchases
  • You will be charged a fee/commission by Latitude if you get a cash advance at a foreign ATM*
  • No travel insurance

* Foreign banks may impose a fee for using their ATM. In some countries all banks charge. In some countries none do. And in other countries some banks charge while others don't.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Work Coordination Manual for Community Organisations and Ecovillages

As a community development worker and especially since we started the Bellbunya Community, I have been interested in the way workload and responsibility naturally seems to distribute itself in voluntary organisations. It appears to me that, in general, a small group of overworked people tend to carry the majority of the responsibility. At the other end of the spectrum, another small group of people rarely get beyond good intentions when it comes to sharing the workload and responsibility. In the middle, the majority of people are willing to contribute as long as there is someone to coordinate and tell them what to do. As one of the small, overworked group in the middle, I spent a lot of time wondering about how to balance things out, to make things more efficient and enjoyable and avoid resentment and burnout.

This downloadable document represents the best of my thinking so far and builds on a model provided by Paul Mischefski. It provides effective tools for simplifying coordination of tasks across numerous dimensions in an organisation and for helping people who would normally be followers to gradually take on more coordination.

The system that I explain here is no silver bullet but, if applied diligently, it makes a big contribution towards a more equal sharing of the load. I provide examples from my community which you are welcome to adapt to your own needs.

Download the Work Coordination Manual for Community Organisations

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Colours of Empowerment - A Simple Tool for Effective Meeting Facilitation

In meetings, how do we make sure that topics flow, that everyone is heard, that everyone understands the topic before discussion about the topic happens, that frictions that may arise in the group do not prevent it moving forward, etc? And what if no-one is comfortable or highly skilled in facilitation?

The larger the group and the more complex the topic the more inefficient a meeting can become. This is because our traditional approach of raising your hand and waiting your turn before you speak does not recognise the multidimensional nature of meetings. A skilled facilitator can greatly help but, even then, will occasionally miss something.

Remember meetings you've been in where people are debating a controversial topic and lots of people want to speak. Lots of opinions and arguments are put forth and the fourth person to speak couldn't understand some key elements of the initial concept. So, everything from the initial point onwards has been lost in understanding and needs to be re-explained once the initial understanding is clarified.

Colours of Empowerment to the rescue! We started using this process for the complex and busy meetings in the early days of setting up the Bellbunya Community to ease the pressure and seemingly endless discussion on so many topics. It worked.

How it Works

1. Everyone participating in the meeting receives a set of five coloured cards, as listed below (in priority order):

  • Red - Process. There is a process issue - e.g. The discussion has gone off topic or over time. We need to stop and reassess.
  • Orange - Acknowledgement/ Emotions. To acknowledge emotions (my own or those I sense in the room) - e.g. expressing appreciation, recognising anger or tension or hurt feelings in the room.
  • Yellow - Clarification. I want to ask a question to help me understand (gain clarity) about what is beeing discussed.
  • Green - Information. I have information that could help others in the mtg understand.
  • Blue - Opinion/ Comment / Idea. I have an idea or opinion to share.
It's good to create coloured cards with the words in bold written on the back to help jog meeting participants' memories. It is also good (especially whilst learning how to use the system) to have a poster on the wall, listing the cards in priority order that meeting participants can see during the meeting.

2. Whenever someone wants to speak or ask a question, they simply hold up the coloured card that indicates the category of what they wish to say.

3. The facilitator gives the next opportunity to speak to whoever is holding up the highest priority card, regardless of the order in which cards are actually held up. Red is highest priority and Blue is lowest priority. So, if, for example, there is someone holding up a blue card, another person holding up a yellow card and another person who later holds up a red card then the red card holder gets to speak first. The blue card holder only gets to speak if there are no cards of any other colour being held up.


The Colours of Empowerment bring everyone along at the same pace. In a meeting, we can only progress at the rate of the slowest person and this process makes sure no one gets left behind. We give priority to making sure we are firstly on topic/time (red) and then that emotional needs arising within the meeting are being met (so that they don't get in the way of the process) (orange) and then making sure that everyone's understanding is clear (yellow and green) so that everyone can engage in the sharing of opinions/ideas etc (blue).

This system is not only faster and more efficient than the traditional system, it also:

  • Makes a meeting much easier to facilitate because people are showing what is going on for them with the coloured cards, rather than the facilitator trying to perceive what is happening. This produces good results and makes it less scary for inexperienced facilitators. Group members will help the facilitator by pointing out (for example) a red card that the facilitator has not noticed.
  • Increases group participation. 
  • Democratises the running of meetings through reducing dependence on a skilled facilitator, increasing participation of all people at the meeting and enabling less experienced/skilled people to step up and faciliate
  • Encourages quieter people by providing a level of non verbal communication that validates a whole range of different states.
  • Facilitates greater connection through enabling the sharing of emotional content effectively.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

3 Season Growing Calendar for South East Queensland and North Coast New South Wales

In the subtropics (especially SE Queensland and Northern NSW in Australia) people sometimes talk of three growing seasons (or 3 "summers") - tropical summer, European summer, Mediterranean summer. Each "summer" is perfect for growing the classic crops of those areas. This model has helped me better understand our growing seasons. We generally use it in my community (Bellbunya).

This page is incomplete and I will keep adding to it over time

Three Growing Seasons Summary

Tropical - hot, humid, wet. Summertime, after the rains start our wet season (usually by November/December, but has been late in recent years) until March/April when things cool down. Insects and fungal disease will destroy European and Mediterranean vegetables so grow tropical substitutes. Grow what they grow in South East Asia: tropical beans, sweet potato, ceylon spinach, Brazilian spinach, cassava, taro, pumpkin/melons, yakon, arrowroot, ginger/tumeric.
Cool temperate (North European Summer) - starts in Autumn (March/April) until the dry warm air (about August/September) as it cools and rains reduce. Grow what they grow in northern Europe: lettuce, brassicas (Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Calabrese, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Oriental Brassicas, Radish, Swede, Turnip), bok choi, carrot parsely, coriander, tomato, potato, broad bean, sweet peas
Mediterranean Summer - dry air, warm winds. Generally starts about August/September. You need to water (and protect the gardens from digging bandicoots). Grow what they grow in the Mediterranean: cucurbits (Pumpkin, Cucumber, Zuchini, Melon), tomato, eggplant, capsicum, corn, beans.

Tropical (SE Asian Summer)

What: Hot, humid, wet.
When: Summertime, after the rains start our wet season (usually by November/December, but has been late in recent years) until March/April when things cool down.
Issues: Insects and fungal disease will destroy European and Mediterranean vegetables so grow tropical substitutes. Think of what is grown in SE Asia.

Seasonal Tasks:
Fertilise the entire garden with an organically based fertiliser.
Watch out for caterpillars on citrus, impatiens and white cedar.

Ceylon spinach (sow direct, vine on lattice, perennial - ensure replacement crop is mature before removing old crop, salad or stir fry)
Brazilian spinach (sow direct, pereneal - ensure replacement crop is mature before removing old crop, salad or stir fry)
Cassava (should have planted in October to harvest in May)
Arrowroot / Cana (plant rhyzomes (?) (shoots with part attached tuber), matures after???, harvest for tubers, peel and cook as a potato substitute)
Madagascar Beans Phaseolus lunatus: This perennial vine produces bountiful crops of beans. Use them fresh as a substitute for broad beans or use the shelled dried beans, cooked in soups, stews and vegetable burgers!
Turmeric (Curcuma domestica), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Galangal (Alpinia galangal): All three of these common spices find their way into food we eat, yet few people grow their own fresh supplies. Start with a rhizome purchased from an organic market or green grocer. Simply plant out in the garden and harvest garden fresh rhizomes whenever you need them.
Taro Colocasia esculenta: The large, attractive leaves of the taro plant look great in a tropical garden. Plant it where the soil is moist or plunge potted specimens into a pond. One tuber multiples quickly, producing young tubers that can be cooked like potatoes. The easiest way to ensure you get a sweet, edible variety is to buy your planting stock from the supermarket or green grocer.
Peruvian Parsnip Arracacia xanthorrhiza: This root vegetable from South America produces long, cream-coloured, parsnip-like roots. You can also harvest the tops as a green vegetable or garnish. Propagate from root cuttings.
Water Chestnuts Eleocharis dulcis: Few plants are more productive with one corm producing 50 new chestnuts in one season! Turn you pond into a productive food garden.
Yacon Polymnia sonchifolia: Also known as sweet root, this hardy plant produces large sweet potato-like tubers that are crisp and juicy. Extremely productive, its grows easily from stem cuttings or vegetative tubers.
Perennial Coriander: As the heat of summer approaches, annual coriander quickly goes to seed and dies. Not so, the perennial coriander. This low growing perennial produces dandelion-like leaves and prickly seed heads. Keep removing the seed heads as they form if you want greater leaf production. Perennial coriander has a stronger flavour than annual coriander, so you only need a few leaves to provide that great taste.

Summer salad greens - dandelion chicory, nasturtium, green elk, minuba, mizuna, watercress, perennial sorrel
capsicum (sow direct or seed trays, r3 fruity, solanaceae/nightshade, detail),
choko (plant shooting fruit to grow on fence/shed),
cucumber (sow direct, r3 fruity, cucurbit family, detail),
eggplant (sow direct or seed trays, r3 fruity, solanaceae/nightshade, detail),
lettuce (easy, sow direct, r2 leafy, daisy family, detail),
okra (seed tray, r3 fruity, hibiscus family),
pumpkin (easy, sow direct, r3 fruity, cucurbit family, detail),
radish (easy, sow direct, r4 rooty, brassicaca family),
rockmelon (seed tray, r3 fruity, cucurbit family),
rosella (sow direct, r3 fruity, detail),
snake bean (easy, sow direct, r1 leggy),
sweet corn (sow direct, r3 fruity, detail),
sweet potato (plant cuttings, r4 rooty, detail), also non running sweet potato (Ipomoea babatus)
cherry tomato (seed trays, r3 fruity, solanaceae/nightshade,detail),
watermelon (seed tray, r3 fruity, detail),
zucchini (seed tray, r3 fruity)

Cool temperate (North European Summer)

What: cool, not so wet
When: Starts in Autumn (March/April) as it cools and the wet season ends until the dry warm air (about August/September) .
Issues: less insect activity, great for growing traditional European vegetables, especially brasicas.

Grow what they grow in northern Europe: lettuce, brassicas (Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Calabrese, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Oriental Brassicas, Radish, Swede, Turnip), bok choi, carrot parsely, coriander, tomato, potato, broad bean, sweet peas

Seasonal Tasks:
Slowed growth during winter provides an opportunity to tackle major landscaping projects like making new garden beds, paving, constructing pergolas or building retaining walls. Small chance of occasional frost. Generally rain should have finished by April but in recent years it's gone until end of June. Attention should be paid to making optimum use of scarce water resources.
Fertilise fruit trees, citrus, passionfruit, native plants and emerging bulbs, then water well.
Plant sweet peas, strawberry runners, seedlings, bulbs, trees and shrubs.
Trim plants that have become too rampant over summer.
Raise the cutting height of your mower in preparation for winter.
Lift, divide, propagate and replant herbaceous perennials.
Plant deciduous trees, shrubs, frangipani cuttings, roses.
Prune deciduous plants and swollen gall wasp stems on citrus, roses.
Relocate poorly positioned trees and shrubs to new areas.
Control bindii weed in lawns (look like carrot leaves) to avoid painful burrs during summer.

Cassava (plant (October) sections of stem including 2 or 3 nodes, harvest (May) as will not grow any more this season and gets woody with age. Harvest by removing entire plant, peel roots/tubers and remove dark areas (toxic). Cannot be stored as toxins (black areas) will grow. Cook like potato - best to steam then bake. After harvesting, cut stem into 6 inch sections and store in slightly damp sawdust until they sprout (October) and can be planted)

Plant: (months just give approximate idea)
March: carrot, cauliflower, French beans, leeks, lettuce, silver beet, spring onion & radish, capsicum, cucumber, eggplant, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potato & tomato
April: beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, radish & spring onion, Brussels sprout, capsicum, endive, French beans, garlic, kohl rabi, leeks, onions, potatoes, silver beet, spinach, sweet potato & tomato
May: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, kohl rabi, lettuce, radish, silver beet, spring onion & turnip, beetroot, broad beans, Brussels sprout, capsicum, celery, chicory, endive, French beans, garlic, leeks, onions, parsnip, peas, potatoes, spinach, swede, sweet potato& tomato
June: carrot, cauliflower, kohl rabi, lettuce, radish, spring onion & turnip, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, celery, endive, French beans, garlic, leeks, onions, parsnip, peas, potatoes, silver beet, spinach, swede, sweet potato, tomato
July: carrot, kohl rabi, lettuce, radish, spring onion & turnip, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, celery, endive, French bean, garlic, leeks, peas, potatoes, silver beet, swede, sweet potato, tomato.
August: kohl rabi, lettuce, radish, beetroot, carrot, capsicum, celery, cucumber, eggplant, French beans, okra, potatoes, pumpkin, silver beet, spring onion, squash, sweet potato, tomato & zucchini

Warm Dry (Mediterranean Summer)

What: dry air, warm winds.
When: Generally starts about August/September and goes until the rainy season hits - hot and humid (usually November/December but has been late in recent year - could be February).
Issues: You need to water (and protect the gardens from digging bandicoots). Grow what they grow in the Mediterranean: cucurbits (Pumpkin, Cucumber, Zuchini, Melon), tomato, eggplant, capsicum, corn, beans.

Seasonal Tasks:
Prune fruit trees?
Fertilise bulbs, pawpaws, citrus and water well.
Protect seedlings from snails and slugs with non-toxic, iron based baits.
Repot and fertilize indoor plants.

Plant: (months just give approximate idea)
Cassava (plant (October) sections of stem including 2 or 3 nodes, harvest (May) as will not grow any more this season and gets woody with age. Harvest by removing entire plant, peel roots/tubers and remove dark areas (toxic). Cannot be stored as toxins (black areas) will grow. Cook like potato - best to steam then bake. After harvesting, cut stem into 6 inch sections and store in slightly damp sawdust until they sprout (October) and can be planted)
September: carrot, choko, cucumber, eggplant, French beans, lettuce, radish, spring onion, squash, tomato, beetroot, capsicum, kohl rabi, okra, pumpkin, rockmelon, rosella, silver beet, sweet corn, sweet potato, watermelon, zucchini
October: capsicum, choko, cucumber, eggplant, French beans, lettuce, okra, pumpkin, radish, spring onion, tomato & zucchini, rockmelon, rosella, squash, sweet potato & watermelon, sweet corn
November: capsicum, choko, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, squash, sweet corn, sweet potato, radish, snake beans, tomato, zucchini, okra, pumpkin, rockmelon, rosella, spring onion, & watermelon

Thursday, 10 December 2015


Conspicuous consumption. Body image issues. Overwork. Stress. Unemployment. Need to get ahead. Financial insecurity. Cram school. Global financial crisis. Climate change. Family breakdown. Peak oil. Xenophobia. Lack of time. Suicide. Drugs. Gangs. Suicide bombers and fear of terrorism. Loneliness and social isolation. Racism. Disconnected neighbourhoods. Affluenza, Most of the media and politicians of my home country (Australia) are pedaling values and attitudes that generate unhappiness.

Fortunately, there is growing interest in true happiness (and I don't mean pleasure; I mean an ongoing feeling of deep connectedness and "okayness" that can also incorporate times of sadness and grief without becoming depression). Research shows that key contributors to deep, lasting happiness include:
  • continual personal growth (and choosing to view challenges as opportunities to grow)
  • strong personal relationships - friends and family
  • Helping others/acts of kindness without any expectation of return (generosity)
  • Doing things that are meaningful (in relation to my values)
  • Being appreciative /grateful
Activities to increase your deep level of happiness:
  • Regular (as often as possible) loving kindness mediation. It only takes a few minutes. Try this simple loving kindness meditation to start you off.
  • Perform random acts of kindness for others, especially anonymous ones.
  • Be intentionally appreciative: for example, each Sunday night share 5 things that you are grateful for from the week that has just been. Better still, do it each morning when you wake up.
  • Write down your own personal values and ask yourself of simple things you can do to live more in line with these values.
  • Do the exercises on the Making Australia Happy website.
  • Learn and use the Quick Coherence technique - it is quick and simple -> heart focus, heart breathing, heart feeling
  • Watch Making Australia Happy - ABC TV series
  • Watch "Happy" a 1hr documentary - by Roko Belich

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The best free crowdfunding tools for good causes

I was in Nepal in 2015 to support the Global Ecovillage Network response to Nepal's devastating earthquakes. I got involved with a great, local NGO called Nexus Culture Nepal, which, like most NGOs, needed funding. So, I researched crowdfunding tools and found that some of the best are actually free.

All crowdfunding websites can receive donations via credit card from anywhere in the world. However, there will be some restrictions on what countries they can pay to, due to different laws in every country.

Australian based Not For Profit. Crowdfunding platform for social causes - funds can go to individuals or organisations of any type (including companies). Chuffed does not charge any fees. However, credit card fees are charged by the credit card processor (about 2-3%). The project to be funded can be in any country. However, the person, organisation or company running the fundraiser should be from Australia, US, UK, Canada, the Netherlands or Belgium. Funds will be transferred to your bank account in Australia, USA, UK or Europe. For other regions you need a paypal account. They now also have an office in the UK.

Philanthropic project of a German software company. Charge no fees and pay all the credit card processing fees themselves. They even have a network of philanthropists who may provide additional financial support to your project. Will send money anywhere in the world, however, if you are not a registered charity in Germany you can only receive up to 2,500Euros per quarter in donations.

USA based crowdfunding site. You will receive the donations (via stripe, wepay or paypal). They seem to be open to other countries running fundraisers direct, which then depends on if you can get your own paypal, stripe or wepay account to work in your country. Youcaring charges no fees but the payment gateway (paypal, stripe, wepay) will take 3% or so.

USA based crowdfunding platform by Indiegogo, one of the biggest crowdfunding companies. For individual and social causes. No fees except the credit card fee charged by the payment processing gateway. According to the website, in most cases, a donation to a personal fundraiser is considered a gift and not taxable income to the campaign owner (but best to check with an accountant).

Communities by Bendigo Bank
Available for Australian projects, there are no charges except the credit card processing fee of 1.5%, which is the lowest of all the platforms. You must open a Bendigo Bank account to be able to receive the fnds.

UK based charity Provides financial support, through on­line crowdfunded donations, to local businesses in the developing world with the aim to promote growth, education, and training to local communities and generate employment and new services.

Long walks / pilgrimages of the world

I have discovered that walking is one of the most powerful ways for me to truly experience a country and its people - the longer the better. I love the simplicity of life, the experience of community with other long distance hikers and the spiritual journey. There is an incredible freedom that comes with choosing to pare back ones possessions (as Peace Pilgrim said "Anything that you own that you don't absolutely need is a burden." and this becomes very evident when you have to carry it on your back day after day). I will gradually expand this list as I discover more long walks in different countries...


Generally, all tracks require you to be self sufficient, with food, tent, maps and compass and good navigation and survival skills. Trails may be unmarked and/or overgrown in areas. Long tracks go through remote country. You will often need to arrange food drops in advance and be very aware of water resupply opportunities.
Costs: You will usually require camping permits for national parks you pass through at about USD$3/day plus food costs. Also, arranging food drops can be a significant cost, depending on how remote they are.

  • Bicentennial National Trail - 5330kms from Cooktown in north Queensland to Healesville near Melbourne. It's one of the longest trails in the world.
  • Bibbulman Track - 1003kms Along the south west coast of West Australia
  • The Overland Track - 73kms in Tasmania. I have included it because, although short, it is one of the most beautiful tracks in the world.
For more long walks in Australia, see John Chapman's list and the Wikipedia list.

New Zealand

Te Araroa - 3000km route from Cape Reinga in the North of New Zealand to Bluff in the South
New Zealand's Trail. Takes in spectacular New Zealand landscapes, from beaches to volcanoes to forests to cities.


Walking the Appalachian trail transformed my view (positively) of the USA. I reckon it's the best country for long distance walking, in nature. Locals are friendly and supportive. It's often possible to resupply on route by hitching a short distance off the trail.
Costs: Generally, there are no fees or permits required on for thru hikers on the long trails but check first. So, all you will need to spend money on is food and replacing worn gear (eg shoes) and an occasional hostel if you want to take a break off the trail and have a shower. Budget about USD$10/day if you are doing a full long trail.
  • Appalachian Trail (AT) 3,500kms in Eastern United States, from Georgia to Main National park Free camping Walk between March and October. Can walk without any advance food resupply arrangements - by hitching off the trail into a town every week or so.
  • Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) 4,286 km bordering the Sierra Nevada mountain range, west side of USA. USA/Mexico border to Canada, passing through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. There is also a corresponding bike trail that runs parallel to the Pacific Crest Trail for 4,000 km.
  • Continental Divide Trail (CDT) 5,000 km between Mexico and Canada following the Continental Divide along the Rocky Mountains and traversing Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. The "Triple Crown" is the achievement of hiking the full length of the 3 trails - PCT, AT and CDT.
  • John Muir Trail 358km in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, from the Yosemite National Park to Mount Whitney. Best time to visit is from July to September, though snow may still linger on the higher passes. Free camping. Carry own tent and food.
  • For more long walking trails in the USA, see the Wikipedia list


Camino de Santiago de Compostella Pilgrimage - 800 kms from France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Many alternative routes and possible starting points much further afield. Lots of road walking through towns and villages. Lots of relatively cheap pilgrim accommodation available and meals.


Bruce Trail - 850km from Niagara to Tobermory, with side trails extending out to 250km.


Israel National Trail - 990kms.


Shikoku Pilgrimage - 1,400km Accommodation in small, family-owned inns for 4,000-8,000 yen per night (depending on if you’d like food with your stay).

United Kingdom

Cotswold Way - 162km from Chipping Campden in the north to the city of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other Countries

Wikipedia has an extensive list of long distance trails by country.