Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I've been ruminating for a few years on the best way to go about increasing the economic resilience of our corner of the world. For a time I focused on a scheme to build business incubators, and spoke to various people including our local shire's business representative, the Department of Planning & Community Development and to Regional Development Victoria, trying to drum up support. My theory: build it and they will come! I even had spaces in mind to locate the two sections, which were the retail part (in Foster, our throbbing, pulsating commercial centre!) and the manufacturing part (to be in the abandoned factory in Toora). If I could persuade the Shire to buy the Toora factory and finance the purchase of a CNC milling machine, and then somehow get a shop in Foster which could be split up into a series of little retail spaces…but my scheme never seemed to get any legs. The factory in Toora sold to someone in Sydney for what sounds like a pie-in-the-sky scheme to set up plastic recycling (and it looks more derelict and sadly overgrown by the day) and Foster also seemed like a closed door with no suitable spaces available. Plus no-one showed any enthusiasm for dropping serious money and effort into my proposal.

It all got too hard, and if something's too hard then the time or the idea isn't right. In the meantime, doodling around on other projects lead me to the Arduino processor and I started teaching my self to program it and dream vaguely of the commercial possibilities. And suddenly the world seemed to open up with lots of people talking about the new world made possible by the sudden miniaturisation and cheapness of this new generation of microprocessors. John Robb over at Global Guerrillas has been on a tear, with lots of posts on drones, drone warfare and his big push for resilient communities. And I was re-reading all my blog posts (for the first time since I started it!) when I clicked on the name of a commenter, leading me to the man himself, Mitch Davis, and his Hackvana site. Suddenly I saw the time was right! Mitch made a comment about electronics which chimed in with what I'd been thinking for a few years: to quote him
How lucky am I to be alive at this moment, when the hackerspace movement is taking off. Five years ago our "electronics" shops had ditched their components, and the world looked set to be slave to the consumerist mindset: We buy it, it fails, we throw it away, we buy it again. But a funny thing has happened in the past three years: The advent of inexpensive microprocessors, of open source hardware and software (I'm thinking in particular of the Arduino, that incredible gateway enabler) and the manufacturing power of China means that now anyone can get into electronics. And come to think of it, electronics isn't even the main point - it's just the vehicle. The main point is that we don't have to consume, we can realise how satisfying it is to create, to repurpose, to collaborate and share.
 So true: I did a big job up at Renmark in South Australia a few years ago and discovered getting bits from an electronics shop was a real battle in Mildura. At that time it seemed make-it-yourself was dying.

That was then, this is now! I contacted Mitch and he gave me some valuable pointers: to Hack Melbourne and to Little Bird Electronics amongst other things. Checking out Hack Melbourne I saw that one of the members was an old workmate of mine, Michael Borthwick, with whom I'd worked on a science museum in Malaysia back in the nineties, and he was into some wild stuff (check the Lunar Numbat Project!). Plus the Hack Melbourne seemed to be full of all the things I'd been idly kicking around: 3-D printing, electronic controls and monitoring, even DNA analysis. It seemed to be full of my kind of people. So following Mitch's advice I contacted Andy Gelme, the man behind it all, who replied to me in the middle of writing this post with an invitation to visit Hack Melbourne. Yay!

My plan is to hold a meeting in a couple of weeks (after my Hack Melbourne visit), advertising to all interested parties plus the Shire's people and get something moving. I have one schoolkid on the bus I drive who's really interested and another who might be. That's one eighth of my small sample. One in eight of the three hundred and sixty or so kids at the secondary college would be forty-five, plus a few maybe from the primary school, plus who knows how many out in the general community.

Before with the business incubators, it was a big up-front investment to get it off the ground. This is scaled way back on the financial front. Getting a space to operate in is still a problem, but I do have an interest in a factory at the bottom of the town where I'm sharing with my mate Scotty. Plus another mate Gunnar said the place he's renting in the middle of the town might be available soon. Hmm!

This time I feel like I'm in tune with the zeitgeist. Check out this item from Al Jazeeras The Stream all about hackerspaces in Africa. Cheers!


rgjohn said...

Hi Lloyd
Yep I reckon I might have a look at the Arduino processor. Sounds very interesting. And thanks for putting me onto Hack Melbourne ... why didn't I know about it before!
Not sure if I should raise this issue here but I'm really concerned about the proposed coal port at Port Anthony to ship "clean" brown coal offshore. Not sure if you have ever sailed to Gladstone or Mackay ... coal ships anchored for as far as you can see. It would be a real shame if this happened in Corner Inlet. Its such a beautiful area. I know it would bring employment to the area but there must be a better way to do it than this. Even if you don't agree with my view, could you put me in touch with anyone who does share my concerns.
I met you many (like 30+) years ago when we were building a mud brick place off Savages Rd. Had lots of fun building wind turbines etc.
Still not connected to the grid. Just need to find a reliable second hand battery supply.
Anyway, thanks for the links. I'll have a good read of the rest of your blog now.
John Weatherley

Lloyd Morcom said...

Hi John — yes, I share your concerns — I'm no fan of Port Anthony and the possibility of a big brown coal export industry. I think there may be an issue with the shallowness of the approaches to Port Anthony: the entrance to Corner Inlet is over a bar which has a break on it sometimes at low tide (I remember an alarming moment on that bar in a big easterly swell when I was a deckhand on the "Mary Norling", returning from shark fishing in Bass Strait in 1976). I also seem to remember some problem with coal mined at Gelliondale close to Port Anthony, which is part of the Latrobe valley coal measures: some contamination which made it commercially unviable. However a rail line from the Latrobe Valley is I guess a possibility if some really serious money is involved. And maybe the entrance can be dredged deep enough for big bulk carriers.

I don't know of anyone else in the area who would be against it. After all, South Gippsland is merely a thinly-populated industrial suburb of Melbourne. When my mate Chris Aitken ran as Green candidate down here he got 16% of the vote in the Federal election but more than half of that was because he was a very successful football coach at Welshpool in the seventies. The normal Green vote here is around 6%.

I have some friends here who dream of a progressive revolution in local politics, but I think they need to change their drug of choice to better cope with reality. If big money is involved, we will be swept aside. That's the simple reality of it. I wrote a letter to the local paper a few years ago pointing out the costs of a deep sea port in Corner Inlet and wasn't exactly overwhelmed with support.

I remember meeting you guys all those years ago! I borrowed some saw horses from you which I never returned. Sorry!

Scott said...

Hi Lloyd. We have a MakerSpace in East Gippsland (Bairnsdale) if you fancy having a look. Check out www.egmakerspace.org