Are those four people you are with your flatmates?
Eilish half-shrugs and says, “Yeah, some of them.”
Some of them? “Well … I live in a really big share house.”
How big is big? “Oh, there’s about 40 people that I live with in all.”
Then Eilish laughs and has to explain. “It’s a student cooperative in Newtown called STUCCO. This old glass making factory that this architect started and then the University of Sydney put money behind it thirty years ago. It’s like eight units with 5 people living in each place. STUCCO … for ‘student cooperative living’.”
“It’s for students who might be disadvantaged economically or needing help with accommodation so they can come to Sydney and attend uni. I grew up in Murwillumbah near Byron Bay, not from the wealthiest of families. STUCCO basically means people like me can live in Sydney and … not go bankrupt and have to move back home!”
A lot of the students living at STUCCO come down from Newtown to shop at Addi Road’s Food Pantry Marrickville. They usually work as a team, combining their individual choices, using a shared vehicle or even just catching the bus, making a trip out of it together.
Eilish relates living at STUCCO and shopping at Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville to having grown up in Murwillumbah. “In a low socio-economic community you see straight away how much income affects what people buy and how they act. You take nothing for granted. I think people from a background like that are actually more inclined to be environmentally conscious – because they see the outcomes and possibilities pretty immediately around them. Just collecting waste and reusing it. Unfortunately, we’ve been given this idea that we can’t create change without having money first. But we can make change. And we don’t have to be rich to do it.”
Currently Eilish is doing her Bachelor in Education at the University of Sydney. She plans to become a primary school teacher. She thinks a lot about the kids she will teach – and the future they might have – in everything she does. “I want the kids I teach to have a place as good as we have it now. It worries me quite a bit,” Eilish admits. “Seeing the damage that is happening globally … just how broad it is, the environment, the global pandemic … we need a mass collective movement to find a solution. We need everyone in the same boat to fight these things and protect the environment. So I want everything I do in my life – economically, environmentally – everything I use and implement in my own life – to be something I can really teach kids and just not be a hypocrite when I teach them.”
“Coming here to the Food Pantry is part of that. 100% for sure,” she says. “I want to try my best with my friends not to waste food. If I can’t afford to buy ethically-sourced food, then I can at least be someone at the other end and get involved with a place like here, shopping and supporting that thing of not wasting food.”
Eilish laughs again. “It doesn’t hurt that it’s cheap too.”
“Like I say, society tends to push this idea on to you that whatever you do individually might not mean that much and you can’t make real change unless you have economic power. But it’s not true,” she says. “You can benefit the planet and help stop waste even if you are economically disadvantaged. You can find new ways that aren’t the norm that can have an impact for the better. It’s why my friends and I are here shopping for food. We’re making an impact together.”
– Mark Mordue