When it comes to fresh starts and making significant life changes, Indira Naidoo is the first person who comes to mind. She has led a deeply interesting life and is one of the most articulate and knowledgeable people I know. She has a passion for community, sustainability and collaboration, and is incredibly generous with sharing her knowledge and experience.
She is an extraordinary communicator who truly makes a positive difference to our greater community, both locally and abroad. Indira walks the walk and radiates an intense, warm and all-embracing energy. She has had an amazing career and life journey – I love her sense of curiosity, her courage, but above all, I love her compassion. Indira Naidoo is a force of nature. - Kylie Kwong
Community x Kylie: Indira Naidoo
Indira Naidoo isn't sure what to call herself anymore. Since quitting her job as a television news anchor and current-affairs reporter more than two decades ago, she's added media manager, climate activist, gardener, author, producer, breakfast-radio host, sustainability consultant, curator and connector to her CV. But as impressive as that is, Naidoo's not convinced.
"As I age, I feel like I know less and less," she says. "I look at my potted curry-leaf tree on the balcony, and I think, there is so much about you that I will never even begin to understand."
During her time working as a journalist for the ABC and SBS, South African-born Naidoo, realised she was telling the same story over and over again. "Particularly in television news, the story told is often, 'Here is an ethnic group fighting another ethnic group. Here is the war, and here is the famine.' But that pattern is being driven by food and water shortages, and when I realised that, it started this journey back to community."
Her community for the last 20 years has been Sydney's inner-city suburb of Potts Point. It's there where her enthusiasm for gardening began. "If I put a seed in, can I get a tomato and what would it taste like?" Her curiosity quickly evolved into a way of life. "I realised it was so much bigger than me. The fact that a little bee could come along and, within a few weeks, turn my flowers into zucchini. Real change is possible when you put yourself in the grand scheme of things."
Naidoo's "grand scheme" included a gig working with the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation in Geneva; being selected by former US vice president Al Gore to study the effects of climate change; and two best-selling books, The Edible Balcony and The Edible City. "Realising that I was part of the problem, I realised I could also be part of the solution," she says.
Circa 2020, Naidoo's thirteenth-floor edible balcony, with its four-year-old passionfruit vine, flowering broad beans, chillies and herbs, is her sanctuary. "I have about 30 different edibles at the moment," she says. "A lot of the things I like growing give me multiple benefits – edibles that happen to have beautiful fragrances and flowers, too. You don't have to just grow potatoes."
What she'd like to see is every new warehouse and office block, from Bunnings to Woolworths, fitted with a green roof in the future. "There are really very few incentives to get on board with greening our cities in Australia," she says. "When you go to much poorer countries, and see the speed at which they are adapting, it's very frustrating."
For that reason, she's committed to using her extensive broadcasting and communication skills to help grow awareness around food security. Whether it be via her former gig hosting 2CH breakfast radio, the SBS TV series Filthy Rich and Homeless (now in its third season), or as MC of the New South Wales Green Globe Awards each year (she was recently announced the weekend host of ABC Local Radio's Nightlife program). Naidoo is also a volunteer ambassador for Wayside Chapel, a charity a few streets over from where she lives, and consults with multiple businesses and community groups about how they can green small urban spaces and reduce their carbon footprint. "I just keep interconnecting people," says Naidoo. "I'm passionate about making interconnections between different organisations that lead to change."
Change comes in many guises, and sometimes it's as simple as getting a bunch of businessmen to take their shoes and socks off and feel the earth between their toes. "We don't get that joy from concrete, steel and tarmac, and we're never going to. But we need to be reminded occasionally."
People are busy. Naidoo gets it, but she doesn't like it. "Busy tends to stifle a lot of open, creative thinking," she says. "It's why gardens are so powerful. Being with plants and engaging in the natural world helps you stay connected."
Her advice, inspired by Wayside Chapel's retired pastor, Reverend Graham Long, is simple. "That little voice that we try to block because it's inconvenient? Listen to that voice and follow it. It's almost always as closeto your authentic self as you can be. And that rarely puts you on the wrong course."
Introduction by Kylie Kwong. Words by Maggie Scardfield.