Bringing Back Bartering and a Kindness Economy

Bringing Back Bartering and a Kindness Economy

This is a story mostly about Rob. For about 10 years Rob lived rough, camping up at Hanging Rock which is known for its icy, snowy winters. Rob is as tough as nails, his face wears the scars of weathering the elements and his body carries the stress of sleeping on the rocky ground for many years. Despite his very hardened exterior, Rob is a bit of a softy by nature. As often happens, kind people often attract other kind souls; enter Bill and Geraldine. Concerned for Rob’s welfare in the freezing hills, they offered Rob a caravan and in doing so coaxed him out of a life of solitude and probably some loneliness. And so Rob found himself living in a caravan at Geraldine and Bill’s place for free, or at least, no money exchanged hands. Instead, Rob became a carer for Bill who was sadly dying and a support for Geraldine who in her late 70s, was struggling on the upkeep of the small Nundle farm.

Rachel met Rob when he offered to fix her car tyre which had recently gone flat thanks to a sharp stone. “It will save you thirty bucks” he said. Rachel was greatly appreciative, as money was always tight lately and in thanks gave him a jar of her homemade jam. Turns out Geri and Rob had been given notice at their rental and were pretty desperate for somewhere to live. Fortunately, Rachel had a rental which included a small cottage and a converted shipping container cabin currently being used as an AirBnB. Rob and Geraldine couldn’t afford much and Rachel wasn’t keen on capitalising on the misfortune of others, so they negotiated a low price which worked for all of them.

Geraldine was awash with grief and had become very withdrawn from society and yet she always demonstrated kindness in little gifts of plants and fruit and treats for Rachel’s daughter Maisy. Rachel wanted to offer her something in return and so looked to her strengths; exercise. Geraldine now does pilates with Rachel twice a week with payment partially in cash, partially in soup, fruit, crocheted hats and other edible delights. Returning to exercise and regular social interaction has helped give Geri the confidence and motivation she needed to get back out into the community.

The kindness economy is still central to life in the country, particularly in isolated areas where it ‘pays’ to have people within coo-ee to call on in times of need. It’s pretty costly (dollars and emissions) to call on a plumber to travel 100km to pump out a full septic. I’d much rather borrow the neighbour’s pump and can guarantee he’ll be thrilled with payment in home-brewed beer (he was by the way). The ‘trade’ of services for goods is also known as ‘bartering’ and usually cash is not the main currency in the trade- although sometimes it is included to help even things up a bit. As small business owners, whilst we do value money, especially CASH, our core business is strengthening community relationships and educating people on how to live a more autonomous life with less dependence on the system. And yes, I am absolutely that person with a (small- don't go getting any ideas!) stash of cash, mainly earned from exchanges with locals. Often this cash is directly passed back to a local business with no middle man taking cream off the top.

Back to Rob for a moment. Rob has understandably lost a lot of faith in the system. Numerous expensive medical specialist visits and an operation later and he has basically been declared an invalid for life with no hope of rehabilitation. Unable to formally work with what WAS a severe limp from his degenerative spinal condition, he was still not deemed worthy of the Disability Support Pension. Well this enraged Rachel and she set to work on turning things around for kind-hearted tyre-fixing, unpaid palliative career Rob. Whilst Rob couldn’t afford the hour long one-one-one pilates sessions, he is a natural green thumb and he now pays Rachel in vegetable and herb seedlings. The happy news is that Rob’s movement has improved significantly and his days are now filled with a sense of purpose. His vegetable seedlings are in high demand in this little mountain community.

For those of us surviving on a shoestring, the kindness/barter economy means we can live very cheaply and yet much more richly and meaningfully. We have traded pigs for sheep, raw milk for maths tutorials, tomato sauce for chooks, jam for old timber posts, a herbal consultation and remedies for a homemade colloidal silver machine and beeswax for herbal remedies. Rather than a mindless, cold tap of the card or phone against an eftpos machine, the barter exchange is filled with a warm smile and gratitude for the skills and strengths of another. Not to mention the quiet joy found in a simple act of kindness.

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