The Politician and the Gardener

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Brendon D’Souza sits down with Rev. Fred Nile to talk environment and his passion for gardening. 

I have to admit that I was little nervous prior to meeting with Rev. Fred Nile.

In my first political interview I would be speaking to the man called “controversial” by the press on numerous occasions for his support of the banning of face coverings, and his views on marriage and immigration.
Reverend Fred Nile is the National President of the Christian Democratic Party (CDP). He is a candidate for the State Election for the Legislative Council and his eight-year term on the council will draw to a close in March 2015. He says, “My Party has asked me to stand again even though I turned 80 on the 15th of September.” 33-years in leadership no doubt accounts for this request.

Any member of parliament spends countless hours each day under public scrutiny. As we follow on from our newspapers and screens, it’s easy to forget that politicians are real people with real lives. Of course our discussion would focus on his political career, but I had been told by wife Silvana Nero, in an earlier phone conversation, that behind the business suit was a family man who was passionate about gardening, religion and the environment.

I plan to meet the Rev. Fred Nile and his wife Silvana Nero at the Baringa Community Bush Garden Seaforth, located on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. A Chrysler 300 in Bright White pulls up, and out jumps Silvana, arms outstretched, greeting me with a kind kiss on both cheeks. Rev. Nile steps out of the car slowly and we shake hands. He also has a warm demeanor, and the couple make me feel like I’m catching up with old friends.
From the boot Rev. Nile lifts a rake and hoe to use as props for some photos we will take in the garden. From inside the car Silvana removes a delicate bouquet of roses, the same as those printed on her skirt. She grins, telling me how wonderful it is to see the garden. Silvana takes the lead suggesting that the couple could pose by the toolshed with the roses. Rev. Nile and Silvana swing the hoes pretending to plant some beans I have brought along, while I take their picture. Rev. Nile isn’t sure that Silvana is holding it correctly and shows her an easier way. They laugh. He drops in some seeds and brush the soil over the hole.

A childhood in gardens

Rev. Nile’s passion for gardening grew from watching the vegetables and plants grow in his household garden.

As a boy Rev. Nile’s parents would take him to the Cook Street Chinese Market Gardens in Mascot (now Tempe). The gardens were no longer being used as market space and Rev. Nile says, “I think the Chinese had left and gone to Ballarat.” Nile has fond memories of the space, describing it as a big space of sandy soil with overgrown shrubs and bushes. The garden became a playground for the many children living in the surrounding backstreets who were around the same age as Rev. Nile at the time. “I used to play cowboys and Indians, dig tunnels, and make little forts. It was very sandy so you could easily dig holes and tunnels.”

Gardening with ‘Pascale’

Rev. Nile now lives next door to his in-laws with his wife, Nero, who he married in 2013.

In his backyard Rev. Nile grows tomatoes and herbs with the help of his 80-year-old father-in-law Peter. Described by Nile as a, “Fine gardener,” Peter Nero is also in his 80’s and was more than happy to help build the gardens around the Nile and Nero home. Rev. Nile says, “We get along very well. When I came into Silvana’s life he said that it was like he gained a brother. That was very nice. Pascale is his Italian name but he told me to call him Peter. I was very interested in his skill in growing different herbs. We have herbs with most of our meals. Parsley, oregano, and basil and mint. We just go and pinch them from our flowerpots. [Peter’s] really got a green finger. I don’t really have a green finger but I’m very happy to be involved in it.”

Down to politics: Nile’s views on climate

I ask Rev. Nile his thoughts on the current state of the environment. We speak of energy resources and the environmental damages caused by CO2. The CDP website clearly states their recognition of two theories for climate change: human induced CO2 emission build-up, and climate change as part of the regular range of climate change cycles which have occurred throughout Earth’s history.

“It’s a controversial issue,” says Rev. Nile, “but I’ve always felt that if there’s a threat to the environment, it’s better to err on the side of caution. The Federal Government has said that to save emissions from the coal fire generators, we need to look at the use of uranium.” Nile recognises that countries including the US and France are dependent on nuclear power, while others like Germany have avoided it following the Fukushima disaster of 2011 in Japan. However, he states “I think [uranium] could be used on the proviso that we’ve got advanced plants to produce the power.” Plants which, “reduce the pollution coming from coal-fire generators”.

“I’m very concerned about the environment,” Says Rev. Nile. “I always quote the Bible where it says, ‘In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth and it was good.’ Now it seems like man’s trying to destroy what God has made. We should be very careful about protecting the environment that we live in, but also for future generations as well. Children and grandchildren.”

Perhaps this is behind Nile’s recent comments that there needs to be a  moratorium on the Coal Seam Gasindustry.

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Baringa Bush Garden

In the garden, Rev. Nile, Silvana and I admire a polystyrene cube adorned with the red and black bands and golden sun of the Aboriginal Flag. The cube forms the hive for a colony of Australian native bees, which help to pollinate the garden, and that Nile and Nero say make the most delicious honey. Starting in 2011, the Barringa Bush Garden. started after one of the co-founders, Peter White, attended a permaculture course. After an initial application was rejected, the garden team were finally granted this smaller site, thanks to a grant from State Premier Mike Baird. Work on a verge garden then also started in July 2013.

But Baringa’s success is about to meet a large hurdle. A recent decision by the Land Housing Corporation to sell the land immediately behind the garden to a property developer could result in the garden becoming a traffic island. There’s concern for the welfare of the garden, but they’ll lobby to protect the garden as much as possible. Both Rev. Nile and Silvana are charmed by the garden. Silvana recognises, “Gardening and cooking is what brings people together.” They both promise to look into the developments and will try to help as much as they can.

On being interviewed by Green Lifestyle

Rev. Nile’s narrates the story of his life, fondness for gardens, and politics to me. His eyes gleam as he reflects on the events that have led him to this point in his life. I become so absorbed by his carefully considered words and gentle tone that I forget that I am in the middle of an interview.

He ends with a statement about his future in Australian politics saying, “I’m very pleased to have the trust of the people of NSW to have been elected and re-elected for 33 years and I’m happy to continue to serve the people in NSW in the current State election if they wish me to continue and have the opportunity vacant for me. That’s our democratic society, it’s up to the people who goes into in parliament, and I’m happy to leave it in the people’s hands.”

Writer’s note: A version of this article was originally published at Green Lifestyle Magazine on Tuesday, 22 October 2013.

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